By the time the iPhone was released on June 29, 2007, Apple was already in the midst of an incredible decade-long revival under Steve Jobs. Entering a crowded mobile phone market was a risk, but their new product outperformed even the most optimistic predictions and it would eventually help Apple become the richest company in the world (going by market cap).
Most technology experts knew the iPhone was going to be a hit even before they got their hands on it when it was first announced earlier that year. Small issues were noted (like its high price and the fact that it was only available through one wireless carrier) but, by and large, the hype and excitement drummed up by the media turned out to be appropriate in hindsight.
In the wrong hands, however, hindsight can be a dangerous tool. It can, for example, be used to find the few people who publicly poo-pooed the iPhone when it first came out. It's almost unfair, then, that these doubts about the most popular consumer electronics product of the past half-century can be itemized in a neat little list some eight years after they were expressed. Even more cruel is that this can be done by someone like me, who loudly called the iPhone "stupid" to anyone who would listen back in 2007. However, I didn't have a platform to publish those views at the time (and if I did, they weren't archived), so I am exempt from any retroactive chuckles.
Here are 13 of them.
1. "The iPhone doesn't go on sale until June in the U.S. and possibly not until next year here, so why worry, if you need a phone now? BlackBerry Pearls are mighty fine."
2. "Apple's decision to make the iPhone a closed system that third parties won't be allowed to write software for is stupid."
—Stephen Ballantyne, writing in New Zealand's National Business Review.
3. "Is it really as stuffed with innovative features as Steve Jobs made it sound from the stage at Macworld Expo last week? Nah. Most of those features have been around in one form or another for years. Apple just put them all together."
4. "Widescreen pocket media player? Been done. Handheld Web browser? Been done. Quad-band GSM phone? Been done, in almost every way imaginable. Camera? Wi-Fi? Bluetooth? Old news. Even the all-touch-screen phone interface Jobs gushed over ('We're going to use the best pointing device in our world—we're born with 10 of them, our fingers') has been around since 2001."
5. "But does Apple know what users will actually do with the iPhone? Nope."
—Frank Hayes in Computerworld.
6. "Apple's real problem may be that the new iPhone, like its namesake, is a solution in search of a problem."
7. "If Jobs tied a couple of tin cans together with a string and called it a telephone, a million Macolytes would call him a 'visionary minimalist' and shell out $500 for it."
8. "The more gadgets you cram into one package, the more things there are to go wrong—and the more likely it is that something will ... Do you really want your business communications dependent on the health of your music player?"
—Mike Himowitz, writing in the Baltimore Sun. Himowitz was not helped by the headline Newsday decided to use with this syndicated piece: "New Multifeature iPhone Not Likely to be a Huge Hit." (It was "Steve Jobs Has More Selling to do on iPhone" in the Sun).
Himowitz had one more crack at the iPhone after he had tried it out for "a few weeks" and conceded that "the iPhone is, indeed, a fantastic gadget—a stunning example of industrial design that borders on art." Still, he wasn't convinced...
9. "The iPhone has two serious flaws. First, it's awkward to handle. At 4 1/2 by 2 3/8 inches, it's half an inch wider than my regular cell phone—too wide to hold comfortably. And the iPhone is slippery—too easy to drop."
10. "The on-screen keyboard was too small for my big fingers and lacked the tactile feedback that makes the tiny, thumb-based keyboards on other PDAs usable. A stylus with handwriting recognition software would be a great addition to future models."
11. "I still wouldn't buy one for everyday use. In fact, most of us can get the iPhone's most important bennies from a newer Apple toy that's a better value—the iPod Touch."
12. "To summarize: the iPhone is expensive and fails miserably at its primary function of making telephone calls, but other than that it's really great. Sign me up!"
—Kevin Drum inWashington Monthly, quipping on an aside from a separate (positive) review of the iPhone.
13. "We like our strategy. We're selling millions and million and millions of phones a year. Apple is selling zero phones. In six months they'll have the most expensive phone by far ever in the marketplace."
—Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer talking about whether or not the iPhone will be a worthy competitor to the Windows Phone in an interview with CNBC.
Since Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the computer company has released hit after hit with the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. However, over their 40-year history, Apple has released a few forgotten products. Here are 11 of them.
1. APPLE IPOD BY HP
Believe it or not, Apple wasn’t the only company to make the iconic iPod. In 2004, Apple partnered with Hewlett-Packard (HP) on the HP iPod (or Apple iPod + HP). At the time, Apple didn’t have the same retail reach as it does today and HP didn’t have a portable music player. The companies joined forces to help each other in the growing music market. Apple could sell the iPod (and iTunes) through more retailers, while HP could have “their own” mp3 player. The partnership only lasted for a year, as Apple refused to service and repair the HP iPod.
2. APPLE MACPHONE
In 1982, German designer Hartmut Esslinger was commissioned to come up with a production line for Apple Computer. He conceived the Apple MacPhone prototype, a landline telephone and tablet combination with a connected stylus and Mac operating system. Although the product was never released, the Apple MacPhone was the precursor to the iconic iPhone.
3. IPOD SOCKS
Introduced in 2004, Apple sold iPod Socks in various colors. A six-pack retailed for $29 and were made to stylishly protect an iPod from scrapes and scratches from daily use. Apple later discontinued the iPod Socks in 2012.
4. ADJUSTABLE KEYBOARD
In 1993, Apple released the Apple Adjustable Keyboard that featured the ability to split in half for better ergonomic typing. It came with a separate numeric keypad with function and navigation keys to the right of the numbers. The keyboard retailed for $219, which is about $369 today. Now that’s a lot of money to spend on a keyboard.
5. IPOD HI-FI
In 2006, Apple designed a speaker system made specifically for the iPod called the iPod Hi-Fi. With the hefty price tag of $349, the iPod Hi-Fi was met with criticism due to the lack of battery charging, AM/FM radio tuner, and compatibility with newer iPods and the iPod Shuffle.
It was discontinued a year later and according to an official statement from the computer company, “Apple has decided to focus priorities on the iPod and iPhone and will not be making more iPod Hi-Fi units. There are over 4,000 accessories in the iPod ecosystem and hundreds of speakers systems designed specifically for the iPod, which provide customers with a wide variety of options.”
The Apple Time Band concept was featured in a Japanese magazine called Axis in 1991. It resembled an Apple Newton personal digital assistant that could be worn on your wrist like a watch. Almost 25 years later, Apple released the Apple Watch.
With the emergence of America Online (AOL) during the early '90s, Apple wanted to get Mac users connected to the Internet with eWorld, an online web portal and “Town Hall” that featured email, news, and community bulletin boards. It launched in 1994 with a price tag of $8.95 a month with just two free hours of online time. It cost an additional $7.95 an hour for day time hours or $4.95 for nights and weekends after that. It's no surprise that eWorld ended just two years later. Apple just couldn’t compete with AOL because it was only open for Mac users and didn’t include a web browser.
8. APPLE EMATE 300
In 1997, Apple made a “budget” touchscreen personal digital assistant for the education market called the Apple eMate 300. It ran the Apple Newton OS and was designed for word processing, note taking, and sketching. The Apple eMate 300 also retailed for $799 and was discontinued a year later (along with the entire Apple product line) when Steve Jobs returned to the computer company and released the original iMac.
In early 2001, the “Flower Power” iMac was released after Apple ran out of colors towards the end of the original device's run. It was a throwback edition to Steve Jobs’s hippie roots in the late '60s and early '70s. The Flower Power iMac was considered tacky at the time and was discontinued five months later during the summer. In addition, Apple also released and discontinued a “Blue Dalmatian” iMac, which was blue with white spots.
10. MACINTOSH BASHFUL
During the early '80s, Apple created a tablet prototype called “The Bashful” in reference to one of the Seven Dwarfs from Disney and the computer company’s “Snow White Industrial-Design Language” they used throughout the decade. There were a number of variations of the Apple tablet that included an attached keyboard, a floppy-disk drive, a stylus, and a handle for mobility. It even featured a version that included an attached phone. More than 25 years later, Apple finally released a tablet with the iPad.
11. THE APPLE COLLECTION
Back in 1986, Apple didn’t just make computers and electronic accessories, it also had a fashion and lifestyle product line with The Apple Collection. A year after Steve Jobs left Apple, the company released Apple-branded clothing and accessories, which featured sweatshirts, belts, wristwatches, stadium cushions, sneakers, jean jackets, Swiss Army knives, and playing cards. The Apple Collection even featured a sailboard with a big ol’ Apple logo on its sail for $1100.
More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.
If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:
"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"
The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.
Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.
"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"
After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).
SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR
Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.
Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.
WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT
Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.
When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."
But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.
WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT
When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.
The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.
Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:
"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.
Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."
THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP
A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).
Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in TheWall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:
In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:
Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.
* = A Note on the Airing in 1983
Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!