eWEEK at 30: Apple Redefined the Smartphone as a Fun-to-Use Device

eWEEK 30: The iPhone wasn't the first phone to offer the Internet, music and email. But it was the first to make it fun and it changed the mobile industry.

The day the first iPhone was introduced, Apple's lead engineers were in the audience of San Francisco's Moscone Center, drinking heavily.

Each time a portion of the 90-minute presentation went off without a visible hitch, the person responsible for the featured technology would drink from a shared flask of Scotch.

As Fred Vogelstein tells the story in Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution, the engineers were exhausted and terrified and the iPhone was nowhere near ready for spotlight.

It would crash without notice or reason. It randomly dropped calls. On many units—only about 100 had been created—there was a noticeable gap between the screen and the plastic edge. The engineers had even hard-coded the demo devices (Jobs secretly had several on stage with him, so that if one crashed, he could discreetly swap it for another) to show a five-bar cell connection no matter what.

But Jobs had set his mind on what he wanted and when he wanted it. So he willed and bullied and negotiated and cajoled his development team until it became reality. And it was an instant success.

"People were always saying, 'Wouldn't it be nice if my iPod and my phone could be one device?' and then Steve Jobs was on stage introducing it," said Jack Narcotta, an analyst with Technology Business Research (TBR). "At a time when BlackBerry was trying to figure out how to be a little less square, Apple comes out with this thing that's all glass and no keyboard."

The iPhone was by no means the first smartphone, and neither was it the first phone with email or an Internet connection or access to music or applications. But it did all of these things more simply and more attractively than any previous mobile phone. It was designed by designers for consumers, instead of by engineers for business users, and it brought pleasure to the experience of interacting with a device that had generally been treated as a work tool.

"Before, when you'd use email, the calendar, the browser on a phone, you would go in, get the information you needed and get out as fast as you could," Jan Dawson, principal analyst with Jackdaw Research, told eWEEK.

"Apple made music an immersive experience. It made the Web an immersive experience. The iPhone made you want to spent time in the personal part of your life with your smartphone," Dawson said.

For these reasons, Jan. 9, 2007, is a dividing line in the world of mobile phones. There is everything that came before it—Motorola's first cell phone call in 1974, Gordon Gekko's DynaTAK 8000X in 1983, the Symbian-running Nokia 9000 Communicator in 1996 and the first BlackBerry with a fully functioning phone in 2003—and everything that happened after Jobs took the stage at Macworld 2007 and announced: "Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone."

Seismic Changes

At the time of the iPhone's introduction, Nokia, Palm, Samsung, BlackBerry and others were already selling smartphones, but these were devices that came with detailed manuals that people tended to dutifully read so they could understand how to use their many features. The iPhone was more intuitive and shipped with a brief tip sheet.