iPad: A Look Back to 2007

27 December 2010

I had just recently watched (again) the tech conference “All Things D” from 2007 where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates shared the stage with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. Having the luxury of hindsight, I think it is safe to conclude that Steve knew the iPad was coming and that he had to bite his tongue real hard to keep from revealing it. In fact he did tell an Apple secret at “All Things D8” a few years later about the iPhone and iPad.

About 30 minutes into the interview in 2007 they are talking about the landscape of the two companies (Apple & Microsoft) and how they each see them. Steve starts to get this grin on his face briefly and goes on to speak vaguely about the future.

Bill Gates:

...we’ll look back at this as one of the great periods of invention.

Steve Jobs:

I think so too. There’s a lot of things that are risky right now which is always a good sign and you know, you can see through them, you can see through to the other side and go yes this could be huge but there is a period of risk that you know, nobody’s ever done it before.

Kara Swisher:

Can you give me an example...

Steve Jobs:

I do, but I can’t say… crowd laughs… and so, but I can say though when you feel like that, that it’s a great thing, that’s what keeps you coming to work in the morning. And it tells you there is something exciting around the next corner.

Looking back at this exchange, I can see a glimmer in Steve’s eyes because he knows that Apple has been working on the iPad for some time and the market has been wanting, waiting, wishing for some type of breakthrough tablet device.

Apple had just announced the iPhone in January 2007 and the D Conference was in May and the release date for the iPhone was in June. Now fast forward to June 2010 at “All Things D8” where Steve Jobs reveals his secret.

Walt Mossberg:

So when you built this OS, this multi-touch, gesture OS for fingers, you didn’t do it in a tablet right away. You did it in the phone. What was the... did you consider doing the tablet when you did the iPhone or was it just a natural progression, the iPhone came out, it was a big hit...

Steve Jobs:

I’ll tell ya kind of a secret (throws his hand up and rolls his eyes and pauses for a moment) ...uh it actually started on the tablet first. And uh, I had this idea of being able to get rid of the keyboard and type on a multi-touch glass display, and I asked our folks if we could come up with a multi-touch display... This was in the early 2000’s… Now we were thinking about building a phone at that time. And when I saw the rubber band inertia scrolling and a few of the other things, I thought oh my God, we could build a phone out of this. And I put the tablet project on the shelf, because the phone was more important and we went and took the next several years and did the iPhone.

Now to me that was quite the revealing combination of interviews concerning the timeline and marketing strategy of Steve and Apple.

The iPad was introduced in 2010, yet work had actually begun on it in the early 2000’s, so that means roughly ten years of research and development had been put into the iPad and 7 years into the iPhone. That’s a lot of time and even more work. Incidentally, I think that it is truly amazing that Apple kept those projects a secret for so long.

Steve said the phone was more important over the tablet and that is why they shelved what would become the iPad somewhere in the mid-2000’s. Why was the phone more important I wondered. My theory is that they [Apple] figured that they could put a phone to market and have the public adopt it much easier than a tablet. After all, everyone had a cell phone, or nearly everyone by this time. People were already familiar with phones, knew what they did and how to use them. Some of them had rudimentary apps produced by the carriers themselves and Blackberry was a big hit. Thus ushering in the early phases of smartphones. But nobody had done a touch based device like what the iPhone would turn out to be. There was Palm, Microsoft and a few others with stylus based devices, and touch wasn’t really feasible with them. Personally I owned a Palm Pilot (I forget which one) and I used it literally for about one month and then never picked it up again. I had wasted $200.

Today we all know how the iPhone revolutionized, and I don’t use that term loosely, I mean it,revolutionized the mobile industry and personal communications in 2007. To some it is still debatable, but the iPhone is the smart phone standard for all others to meet. During the first three years of the iPhone we had many so-called “iPhone-killers” introduced and every one of them have fallen by the wayside. 2010 has had some very good devices released and the ones coming out today are actually giving Apple some competition, which is great for the consumer.

The tablet (iPad) was shelved in favor of pursuing a phone (iPhone) likely because they [Apple] felt that a tablet would not have been received as favorably as a phone would. No one had any kind of tablet worth it’s weight to compare it to. It is doubtful that the iPad would have had near as much success as the iPhone because no one could assimilate to it yet. But after three years of the iPhone and the sweeping success it gained, people could easily adopt the iPad, because they already knew how it worked and what it could do thanks to the iPhone. You see the iPhone people could assimilate to because of the phone part of it and it was small enough to carry around. Now that people were conditioned to the iOS way of doing things, the iPad was a no-brainer for Apple to release a few years later. The inroad for the iPad was paved by the iPhone.

I can only imagine the excitement Steve and Apple have been feeling for the last ten or so years working on these two projects and having to keep it all top-secret for so long. Steve knew they had a major hit on their hands, but just had to work on it and bake it for a while to make sure it was just right and that the timing of the market release could accept and sustain it.

During the D Conference in 2007, it was clear to me that Bill Gates and Microsoft had nothing (and still don’t) as revolutionary coming down the pike as Apple did. They really got blind-sided by these products. Bill seemed to be stuck on the legacy way of doing things, and not really innovating. Just like Steve said, “If you have to use a stylus, you’ve already failed.” That is so true no matter what way you look at it. That is due to the popularity of the iOS products and that you never see anyone walking around town or at Starbucks using their mobile device with a stylus. Microsoft clung to the stylus and still does somewhat today; they really believe in it.

Ten years in the making, the iPhone and iPad are the gold standard for their competitors to meet and they are all still playing catch up.

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