The first iPhone wasn’t really unprecedented, but rather an elegant mix of lots of existing technologies. It was the way those things were mixed together inside an compact, elegant design that made the iPhone the culture-changing product it turned out to be.
The iPhone, which went on sale a decade ago this Thursday, was originally promoted as a phone-slash-music player that also happened to be an internet device. But it was the pocket-size internet device aspect of the iPhone that ended up sending sales through the roof (and wireless networks reeling).
But the tech folks and journalists reacting to the first iPhone back in 2007, of course, had no way of knowing any of that. Most took the device at face value, focusing on what it could and couldn’t do versus other smartphones on the market at the time. Few had the foresight to sense the iPhone’s real implications. That’s why it’s interesting, and in some cases amusing, to read the first takes from 2007. Here are some of my faves.
Tech Porn 2007
Brian Lam from Gizmodo loved the first iPhone despite its faults:
“Look, I’m not saying wait for version 2.0. You don’t need new hardware to love the phone; version 1.1 should do it. Wait until Apple updates the software. That was a hard thing to write, since I’m thumbing through my own iPhone like a teenager with his first Playboy.”
Still, Lam had some solid points about the limitations of the first device, which were significant:
“The real elephant in the room is the fact that I just spent $600 on my iPhone and it can’t do some crucial functions that even $50 handsets can. I’m talking about MMS. Video recording. Custom ringtones. Mass storage. Fully functioning Bluetooth with stereo audio streaming . . .”
Wired‘s Scott Gilbertson was far from impressed:
“On one hand it’s a truly remarkable device — easy to navigate and use — but at the same time it has some serious shortcomings. I’ve made a number of calls and the sound quality has varied immensely — ranging from something like a echo sealed in a bottle ten years ago and reopened in your ear to perfectly crisp sound.”
AT&T (which had an exclusive on the iPhone) was probably at least partially to blame for that.
When the iPhone appeared in 2007, Motorola was the second-largest cellphone maker in the world, behind Nokia. Motorola’s CTO at the time, Padmasree Warrior, wrote a blog post after the announcement of the iPhone in which he demonstrated a thorough understanding of the trees but a near-total misunderstanding of the forest.
“There is nothing revolutionary or disruptive about any of the technologies. Touch interface, movement sensors, accelerometer, morphing, gesture recognition, 2-megapixel camera, built in MP3 player, WiFi, Bluetooth, are already available in products from leaders in the mobile industry – Motorola, Nokia and Samsung. So, what appears to be the initial pricing at $499 and $599 with a minimum 2 year service agreement seems a stretch.”
Warrior left Motorola after the company’s R&D labs, which she oversaw, failed to come up with a big hit to follow the Razr.
Apple considered one of the iPhone’s biggest technical achievements to be its ability to smoothly scroll through content at the touch of the user’s finger. When Apple got this working internally, many of those who saw it became convinced that a touch-screen phone with no physical keyboard could actually work.
For many users, it did work. Here’s Daring Fireball’s John Gruber after using the touchscreen for the first time:
“The high-resolution screen is gorgeous. Helvetica has never, ever looked so good on screen. Everything is very fast, very responsive. When you drag something — whether it’s the slider button to unlock the phone, a zoomed-in photograph, or a web page — the drag keeps up with your finger. I haven’t found a single element of the iPhone UI that doesn’t feel super-snappy. The whole thing feels very realistic.”
MacWorld‘s Jason Snell also touched on the touch screen in his 2007 review:
“Within a few hours with the iPhone, my finger was flying over the keyboard, and I’m sure my fingertip was only getting roughly close to the correct letter most of the time. But the iPhone’s software, with remarkable consistency, knew what I had meant to type. I assume that with some practice, two-thumb typing would be even faster, but with my index finger I managed to type faster than I ever have on a tiny device, physical keyboard or not.”
Local Man Says
Not everybody agreed with Gruber and Snell. Not even everybody at Apple. According to Brian Merchant’s new “The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone” book on the making of the first iPhone, Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller fought tooth and nail to put a physical keyboard on the iPhone. After all, it launched in the middle of the Blackberry craze, and a big reason people liked that device (aka “Crackberry”) was its physical keyboard.
After the launch of the iPhone, consumers continued to argue about whether Apple made a mistake by making the device’s keyboard a virtual one. Here’s one contrarian take in the comments under a 2007 Engadget story:
“Im not impressed with the iPhone. As a PDA user and a Windows Mobile user, this thing has nothing on my phone… No thanks, Apple. Make a real PDA please.”
(The user might as well have added: “You kids, get offa my lawn!!”)
Several TechCrunch writers flew off the handle in their first reactions to the iPhone, and one of them, columnist Seth Porges, also seized on the touch screen as a major shortcoming.
“That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone. Don’t be surprised if a sizable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out emails on the road.”
To his credit, Porges added at the end of the piece: “Here’s hoping my dire predictions come to naught.” They did.
The Wisdom Of Steve Ballmer
You can’t write a piece like this and not include Steve Ballmer. Just wouldn’t be right. Here’s the former Microsoft CEO getting it all wrong on the iPhone back in the day:
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60 per cent or 70 per cent or 80 per cent of them, than I would to have 2 per cent or 3 per cent, which is what Apple might get.”
Much later Ballmer thought better of his initial reaction, telling Bloomberg:
“I wish I’d thought about the model of subsidizing phones through the operators,” he said. “You know, people like to point to this quote where I said iPhones will never sell because the price at $600 or $700 was too high. And there was business model innovation by Apple to get it essentially built into the monthly cell phone bill.”
No Hype Like iHype
Here’s David Pogue leading off his January 7, 2007 article “The iPhone Matches Most of Its Hype“:
“Talk about hype. In the last six months, Apple’s iPhone has been the subject of 11,000 print articles, and it turns up about 69 million hits on Google. Cultists are camping out in front of Apple stores; bloggers call it the ‘Jesus phone.’ All of this before a single consumer has even touched the thing.”
Down at the end of the piece Pogue writes: “But even in version 1.0, the iPhone is still the most sophisticated, outlook-changing piece of electronics to come along in years. It does so many things so well, and so pleasurably, that you tend to forgive its foibles.”
The Long View
“Look at the iPods of five years ago. That monochrome interface! That clunky moving touchwheel! They look like something a caveman whittled out of a piece of flint using another piece of flint. Now imagine something that’s going to make the iPhone look like that. You’ll have one in a few years, and it’ll be cheaper, too. If you’re not ready to think different, then think ahead.”
Since these first takes were written, the iPhone has, for many people, become the center of their personal computing universe. It’ll be fun to see whether the iPhone can stay in that spot as the world changes around it during the next 10 years. I personally won’t wager a guess for fear of being quoted in one of these “look-how-clueless-they-were” articles in a decade or so.