By JOHN F. McMULLEN
On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs gave a masterful presentation at MacWorld in San Francisco, introducing the first iPhone. I've been watching presentations by Jobs since the early Apple II days-- at an International Apple Core meeting, a Rosen Research Conference, and introducing the NeXT operating system NeXTStep during his "years in the wilderness" away from Apple. I saw those in person and have watching countless videos of his product introductions and talks, including his wonderful Stanford University Commencement Speech in 2005 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc). Jobs was an outstanding speaker with a flair for the dramatic who knew how to captivate an audience (often made up of Apple fanatics, already panting to be captivated).
The iPhone introduction was special, though, even among all the mezmerizing Jobs performances that I’ve witnessed. It was special to me because I have used it a number of times to kick off lectures on a subject that I'm passionate about "Creative Disruption"-- how technological innovation changes the world around us, often under the radar until we or someone close to us loses a job. Even without my particular focus, the presentation was special -- Jobs was masterful, teasing the crowd before defining the product, extolling its features, and then demonstrating them.
He began by stating that Apple was introducing three major products -- an improved iPod, a superb Internet phone (Apple's first), and a powerful portable Internet device (also Apple's first). He repeated the names of the three devices over and over as the crowd roared and then said "Ok -- you got it" and then confirmed that the "three devices" were really one -- the iPhone!
Looking back from my perspective, that was not only the day that Apple introduced a breakthrough product, a portable phone with features better than any to date; it was the day that Jobs changed the world for millions:
- By eliminating the need for carrying BOTH a cell phone and a music player and by linking iTunes and the music player to the Internet, Apple put the final "nails in the coffin" for Tower Records, New York City's famous Colony Records, and the legion of small music stores throughout the country.
- Through the inclusion of a digital camera, began the deathwatch for Kodak and the many mall film processing stores throughout the country (there are now more pictures taken on iPhones than any other camera in the world).
- With the introduction of the on-glass pop-up virtual keyboard, Apple dramatically reduced the weight of the unit and threw competitors such as Blackberry, Qualcomm, and Palm into downward spirals.
In short, Apple had not only introduced a product to do battle with its competitors in the computer and electronics industries, it had caused major disruptions and loss of jobs in two non-computer industries -- music and photography. It had also given Apple a major stronger position vis-a-vis the cell phone carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) than any mobile phone provider previously had.
It was a masterful performance and laid the groundwork for the introduction of the iPad three years later. Soon Google, with its “Android” operating system supporting devices for many manfacturers, was to enter the fray as the only real competitor to Apple.
The real age of Mobile Computing began on that January 7th day with Apple's iPhone introduction -- an introduction that, in retrospect, changed our understanding and appreciation of computing. There was, however, one "nit" that has just come out. The introduction was a scam! Instead of Jobs saying "The iPhone is ..", he should have, to be truthful said "The iPhone will be .. " or The iPhone has been designed to .." The iPhone didn't work and the introduction had been gimmicked to make it appear that it did. Jobs had never gotten successfully through any practice for the introduction as the phone kept malfunctioning either through hardware or software problems.
According to a recent (and, in my opinion, very well done) book, "Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution" by Fred Vogelstein, Apple engineers were so concerned that things might blow-up completely at the introduction that they sat together in the dark Moscone Center with flasks of scotch being inbibed as each of their particular presentation section successfully completed. Each understood what a disaster it would be for the company if the product blew up during the introduction. They also understood well what it would also do to their careers; if they didn't, Jobs had made it very clear for them -- Vogelstein quotes one of the engineers describing how Jobs drove them, "Mostly he just looked at you and very directly said in a very loud and stern voice 'You are f-----g up my company' or 'If we fail, it will be because of you.'"
To make up for the many problems, Apple gimmicked the introduction by:
- Having AT&T set up a portable cell tower so that cell reception would be guaranteed.
- Programming the demo machines to show “five bars” of cell connection strength no matter what it really was.
- Changing the Wi-Fi frequencies to Japanese frequencies, not permitted in the US, so there could be no contention from any in the audience.
- Setting up multiple demo phones so, if one crashed with memory problems, Jobs could seamlessly switch to another.
With all of the potential disaster points, the introduction went off without a hitch --- it was flawless – some of the originally fearful Apple execs said it was the best introduction that they had ever seen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7qPAY9JqE4) – and those drinking scotch were fairly inebriated by the end of the introduction.
By the time the iPhone shipped a little over six months later, on June 29th, the problems had been corrected – the only post-shipping problem was incidents of “dropped calls” and Apple was able to blame AT&T for that (later analysis showed that Apple was at least partially culpable for the problem). Apple is now on its model 5S and phones bearing the Android operating system are collectively selling more than iPhones – so Steve Jobs changed the world by lying to us.
It’s not unusual for technology executives to claim features for their systems as being present when they really aren’t – they believe that their technical staff can make the necessary changes before the system is delivered. I know that I did it as an officer of a Wall Street Consulting firm when making pitches to prospective clients – when asked if we had some system routine that I knew we did not have, I’d quickly analyze the complexity of the change and, if I determined that our programming staff could rapidly implement the modification, I would confidently say “Yes,” sometimes tempering my answer with “I should have an analyst sit down with your operational staff to insure that what we’re doing totally fulfills your requirement” -- that would lock up the definition for our programmers. If I knew definitely that there was no-way-in-hell that it could be done in a reasonable amount of time, the answer would be “No. We’ll have to estimate that as a post-implementation modification.” – in other words, let us put the system in without it and we’ll make the change – and bill you for it.
If the above sounds harsh or deceitful in some ways, it is – but it led to successful and customer-satisfied implementations for Morgan Stanley and Company; Smith Barney, Harris Upham; Dominick & Dominick; Alex Brown & Co.; Wheat First Securities, Bankers Trust, and many other firms that existed in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s (before the great mergers of the 1990’s) ---- but I always had a working system with software that could be modified by a crackerjack programming staff; Jobs did not really, according to the Apple sources interviewed by Vogelstein, have anything working in the iPhone.
What he did have was supreme confidence in both his employees and himself and was willing to play “you bet your company” on this confidence – and he changed the world as we knew it – now it seems that we “always had cell phones” – but it was only less than seven years ago that Steve Jobs lied to the world.
Creative Disruption is a continuing series examining the impact of constantly accelerating technology on the world around us. These changers normally happen under our personal radar until we find that the world as we knew it is no more
Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at http://www.johnmac13.com; hear my interview of The Westchester Guardian Editor Hezi Aris at www.blogtalkradio.com/rapidtalk/2013/10/13/the-johnmac-show