In January 2007, when Apple announced its plans to sell a phone I was not convinced. Five years later it has been a massive success. So was I wrong?
I've take a look at the blog (iPhone: I'm not convinced) I wrote after being escorted into a briefing room at the Moscone Centre following Steve Jobs keynote so that I and other journalists could get a chance to play with the a prototype iPhone.
My scepticism about the iPhone was unusual, at least for a Apple-centric journalist - in those days Apple wasn't as well liked as it is now, so we Mac journalists were some of the few that defended the company. So why did I go against the trend, and why am I admitting it now.
I had a few theories about why the market would be a tough one for Apple to enter. At that point the smartphone everyone associated with the category was the Blackberry. The Blackberry back then was a phone used by professionals who needed to check email at all times of the day and night (it's only in recent years that it's become popular with looters, and look where that's got RIM). There were also phones from the likes of HTV that ran Word and Excel. What could Apple possibly bring to this market.
Having given up on the business market, I looked at the newly emerging consumer market for the iPhone. If Apple was right and ordinary people wanted to have access to email on their phone, then there might be a market for the iPhone, which crucially, was far easier to use than the Blackberry handsets and Windows phones.
Except I though that there was a problem with the consumer market. At that time 3G was just starting to make an impression on the UK, companies like 3 were spending a lot of money telling us about it. I wasn't all that keen on paying more money for my mobile so 3G just didn't interest me. So what if I could make a video call, or send a photo to a friend. Data costs money. I suggested that: “The only way the networks can get us to use these features is by giving them away.”
It's funny how, with the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see that my argument wasn't flawed, it was just solvable. The smartphones that were so popular with the business users were surpassed by the iPhone because it ended up having a massive ecosystem of apps around it that back in January 2007 we really had no way of foreseeing.
It doesn't matter that Word and Excel still aren't on the iPhone because there are tons of other ways of accessing and updating documents and spreadsheets. The iPhone wasn't the only device that gave you access to your email, the internet, even a window to your Mac or PC back in the office. But it was the one device that did it well. Who cares if it wasn't, and still isn't that good as an actual phone. It's not like we use it to make calls.
I was right that consumers didn't want to spend money on data but there was a solution to that too. What ended up happening was the mobile networks (at least in the UK) gave the original iPhone users free (almost unlimited) data plans. They sucked us in and now we are hooked. At a time where it seemed the only point of 3G was to send photos and browse the web (actually, that wasn't even the web), Apple put a device in our hands that opened up a whole new world, and the networks took away any worry about how much our new browsing habit was going to cost us.
And now look. We all wondering around using our Google Maps (not for much longer) to navigate, and then once there we are 'checking in' on Facebook so our friends know where we are. Or an even more extreme example, we are finding our where our friends are via Find My Friends. Who could have anticipated such life changing opportunities were just around the corner.