One of the reasons I hate it when people “call bullshit” on technology that still hasn’t played itself out in the market yet (cough, VR, cough), is that it’s just too easy.
Most new products fail. So when journalists “boldly” say that something sucks, is stupid, or won’t work with consumers (before most have even touched it), it’s usually not insightful courage, it’s just a simple thing called “playing the odds.”
Which brings us to the debut of the iPhone in 2007.
Oh, yessss… How sweet it is to look back upon the doubters. No, I didn’t write a review at the time, but I was an early iPhone believer. And unlike the four establishment techies who were afforded early access to the device for review, my opinion of the iPhone was primarily informed by Steve Jobs’ stagecraft during the initial reveal of the device months before its release.
Of course, the would-be cool kids had their own opinions about the iPhone. So for the 10-year anniversary of the massively successfully and culture-changing device, we’ve decided to recount a few of the choice negative takes on the iPhone in the days and weeks preceding its June 29, 2007 debut in the U.S.
Up until then, Apple’s primary focus had been desktop and mobile computers, the iPod, and assorted software. The idea that Apple could somehow tackle the famously challenging mobile market was, in the eyes of some, Apple being arrogant, again.
Thankfully, the internet has a great memory, and at least a few of the websites that published scathing takes on the still unproven iPhone have had the courage to leave those horribly wrong screeds online.
“The iPhone will be a major disappointment.” That was the sage wisdom from Advertising Age just days before its release. The story, titled “Why the iPhone Will Fail,” argued that the single-use (music) success of the iPod wouldn’t be mirrored by the iPhone because it’s a multi-function “convergence” device.
“Convergence devices, for the most part, have been spectacular failures,” the piece argued. But the only spectacular failure here was the decision to compare hybrid devices of the past to the next natural evolution of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones.
Similarly, some of the same financial news sites that now regularly trumpet Apple earnings were predicting doom for Jobs’ latest “insanely great” product.
“The iPhone isn’t the future. It isn’t a revolutionary mobile device ushering in a new era.”
“The iPhone isn’t the future. It isn’t a revolutionary mobile device ushering in a new era,” was the word from TheStreet.com on the day of the iPhone’s first on sale date. Chief among the reasons the site believed the iPhone wouldn’t succeed? The fact that, at the time, the iPhone was only available on one wireless carrier in the U.S., AT&T.
It wasn’t an outrageous claim, as many at the time wondered about the feasibility of forcing users onto one carrier to use the device. That exclusivity in the U.S. ended a few years later, in 2011, when Apple delivered the iPhone 4 on Verizon. But it turned out that early adopters needed to make the iPhone a hit were (often grudgingly) tolerant of AT&T’s sometimes spotty service, paving the way for additional iPhone users in subsequent years.
Dow Jones’ MarketWatch was just as doubtful: “There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive,” the site chirped, just one month prior to the iPhone’s release. “These phones go in and out of style so fast that unless Apple has half a dozen variants in the pipeline, its phone, even if immediately successful, will be passé within 3 months.”
Even the tech industry continued to lob skepticism at the iPhone in the days leading up to its release. “We Predict the iPhone Will Bomb,” read the headline on TechCrunch. What followed was a laundry list of flaws that would presumably sink the device, including poor battery life, the virtual keyboard, and cracked screens, among other deficiencies.
Those dark warnings were echoed even in the general media, with The Guardian telling its readers that the iPhone would “struggle to break into the mainstream because of a lack of a 3G connection.” Additionally, the site hit the same refrain as Advertising Age, citing studies that claimed users don’t want “convergence” devices.
Aside from a general bent toward the pessimistic, what all these prognostications had in common was a major flawed assumption: that the mobile phone and PDA handsets and platforms were fine as they were, and not ripe for disruption.
The other thing, which is something critics consistently ignored with the Jobs-run Apple, is the public’s appreciation for taste. The iPhone wasn’t just another mobile handset, it was the result of a consistent focus on design aesthetics, something the mobile industry was in sore need of at the time. Beyond world-beating sales, the best proof of the iPhone’s success is how many imitators it gave rise to in the years following its debut.