Today most people would regard Steve Jobs as the inventor of the iPhone. I want to share the story of the iPhone that I believe is true, even though I don’t have any proof. It is based on storied I heard and observations. None of this is confidential information I gained while I worked at Motorola in 2004.
How Motorola invented the iPhone
Back in 2004 the RAZR was the best selling phone in history. Apple was starting to dominate the music industry with the iPod and was getting ready to launch the iPod nano. Apple was happy, things were looking good.
Motorola had a team in Libertyville working on customer trends, lifestyle, and technology trends. At the time, a few Motorola phones had music capabilities, and the company saw an opportunity to converge the iPod and the RAZR.
The story is that Ed Zander, Motorola’s president at the time, had a meeting with Steve Jobs to share this idea. Apparently, Steve was not very interested in the idea. Then Ed said something that changed Steve’s point of view (and probably the world):
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“When you leave the house, you always bring the three things: keys, wallet and your cell phone. That’s it. Your iPod is not in this list.”
At that point, Steve understood Motorola’s idea and agreed to build a product. The Motorola ROKR E1 was launched on September 7th, 2005. It was the first phone to work with Apple’s iTunes, a truly revolutionary concept. Yet it was fatally flawed.
There were a few key problems with the ROKR: it could only store 100 downloaded songs at any given time, probably a limitation imposed by Apple to avoid direct competition with the iPod. There was no USB interface, which made the process of getting music into the phone incredibly slow. Apple did not seem to be particularly excited about the ROKR, Ed Zander complained to Apple about lack of support and undercutting it with the Nano.
However, the biggest flaw was usability. Like most cell phones in 2005, the user interface was not intuitive. Here is where you can see the genius of Steve Jobs at work: Steve understood without great user experience the idea of a music phone was going to fail.
Most likely, Steve became frustrated about the lack of UX focus at Motorola, and thought he would execute on the same idea on how own. Development on the iPhone started that same year, in 2005. . It was a monumental task. Building a cell phone operating system from scratch is not an easy task, even for Apple. The iPhone shipped June 2007. The rest, is history.
The iPhone was not perfect when it launched. At the time, it was a closed system that did not allow any third party apps. Apple asked developers who wanted to innovate to basically create a browser app optimized for the Safari mobile browser. After a few months, Steve saw the opportunity in an ecosystem and opened the iPhone to 3rd party apps. Today, the breadth of iPhone apps is one of the strongest selling points, and the focus of the “There is an App for that” ads.
Before Apple fanatics show outside my home with pitch forks and torches, I am not trying to take credit away from Steve. People who know me know I am not a fan of Apple products (I love my Windows Phone and yes, I have a Zune and it is great), but it would be foolish not to recognize Steve as an incredible innovator.
My next post, in fact, will cover the three reasons why Steve was a genius, from the perspective of the Adaptive Marketer.