November 13, 2015 Last Updated 8:20 am

On the return of a most prized possession – my first iPhone

Eight years after first buying my first iPhone, it is found and returned to me desk where I can be reminded of some of the lessons learned over the years about what real product innovation looks like, and why patience is so important when in the midst of change

The damn thing had to be around somewhere, unless someone saw the value in it and swiped it. But where was it – my original iPhone, circa 2007. I wanted to find it as much as the guy who has an old rookie baseball card, it had value, if only in my own eyes.

TNMs-iphone-lgNear my desk, on a bookshelf, are at least six iPhone boxes going back to the iPhone 3Gs. I had skipped the 3G because of AT&T’s 2 year upgrade policy.

But soon I would get a new iPhone every year, having someone I could pass the one year old model down to. It has been a great way to make sure every one gets a better cellphone each year – I get the new one, they get my phone. Let’s hope everyone agrees to continue this policy.

But where was the first iPhone, the one bought in the fall of 2007?

Time for a new phone

My Sanyo phone was not my first cellphone, but it was the one that I had to replace when it remained in the pocket of my swim trunks as I dove into a pool in Arizona in the late summer of 2007.

In a cartoon, the character who suddenly realizes they are about to jump the abyss would freeze for a second in mid-air, long enough to turn to the audience and say “oh, oh.” I swear that happened to me. I knew immediately I was about to do something stupid.

I was out of the pool immediately, but nothing I could do would bring that phone back to life so it had to be replaced. The problem was that our carrier was Sprint, and the phone I wanted, the iPhone, was only available via AT&T. Dreaded AT&T, the only company in the world that gives Comcast a run for its money for being a greedy, unresponsive Goliath.

AT&T was the only carrier to have the iPhone because Verizon had said no. And AT&T only had it because they had just acquired Cingular.

“They would have been stepping in between us and our customers to the point where we would have almost had to take a back seat … on hardware and service support,” Verizon said at the time, pretty sure it had made the right decision.

So, an iPhone purchase meant changing carriers, or at least transitioning over. It also meant paying a rather outrageous amount for the phone – at first $600. But then Apple lowered the price to $400 in September, right around the time I jumped into that pool.

Those that bought the iPhone for $600 “cried foul” in the words of the NYT. But Apple’s Steve Jobs said the company would offer early buyers of the iPhone a $100 store credit. The story went on to explain how consumer electronic prices were falling dramatically, giving as an example the fact that you could then buy a 42-inch HDTV for only $1,522 now.

The original iPhone

It didn’t come with 3G data service. It didn’t come with third party apps, except the two apps from Google (YouTube and Maps). It was slow and heavy compared to cellphones offered today.

It was also radically different from its competitors.

It was actually thin compared to other phones and beautifully built with its medal back. But it did something radically different from other phones: put it all together.

“It’s OK – we’ll be fine,” Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry

The Blackberry was for email, other phones were for calling, and most were now offering texting. Some could be used as music players. But the iPhone would be the first device that never left your side, and you didn’t mind. (If you remember beepers, then you know that just because something remains at your side all the time, that doesn’t mean you think that is a good thing).

Now, 2,975 days (or so) since acquiring my first iPhone I wanted to get it back. Why?

It isn’t nostalgia rather than having something around that reminds me what real change looks like. Each year Apple, Google, Samsung introduce new models of their phones, tablet, TV devices, but I feel like the executives have forgotten what it looks like to innovate, to create a product that the consumer is so satisfied by that the market is completely transformed.

It is good to be reminded, also, that not everyone could see it at the time.

“There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive,” MarketWatch said in 2007.

Ballmer-laugh-iPhoneMicrosoft’s then CEO Steve Ballmer simply laughed.

And remember the Flash controversy?

“Flash and Java are both pretty basic parts of the web experience,” said one website in giving ten reasons why you shouldn’t buy an iPhone. “And yet Steve Jobs and his lackeys have arbitrarily decided to exclude them from the iPhone web experience. So much for “the internet in your pocket” blather that Jobs was spewing earlier on. It’s more like the “crippled, crappy, lame version of the Internet in your pocket” instead.”

Slate said that the “iPhone’s style and user interface are pathbreaking, and (as the iPod proved) aesthetics do matter. But the iPhone is—so far—not a product that will turn any industry inside out.”

But Lev Grossman of TIME thought differently about the new product.

“You’ll have one in a few years, and it’ll be cheaper, too. If you’re not ready to think different, then think ahead.”

Before they stopped listening

For me, the original iPhone contains in it a bunch of lessons I don’t want to forget.

First, that a new product can evolve over time, and that it is sometimes OK to build slowly. iPhone sales in 2007 did not exceed 1.5 million units. But in the fall of 2008, after introducing the iPhone 3G, sales jumped to over 6 million for the quarter. (Last holiday season Apple moved 74.5 million iPhones.)

Second, you have to listen to customers. Think of how many changes Apple made early on in the life of its new product: it added Verizon, it added 3G data, it lowered the price. Most importantly, it did something it that Steve Jobs was rumored to be firmly against, it began to allow third party apps the year following the launch of the product.

I really don’t think Apple listens anymore – at least not to criticism. Take this story about the Mac app store under the headline No One Minding the Store. The developer is upset because he thinks no one at Apple is properly maintaining the Mac app store. I found it mildly funny knowing what all publisher’s know about the Newsstand (and now the Magazines & Newspapers category): no one has been minding the store for years. Now there is the Apple TV app store, giving the company a third app store that is poorly designed and maintained.


Finally, it takes time for even the best designed and produced product to take hold in the market.

And that is the biggest reason why having the original iPhone sitting at my desk is important to me. For every replica edition, and Apple Newsstand, and Google Currents, and Notify created, there are still good digital magazines, newspapers and books also being produced. It may take time for readers to find them and begin to demand them, but it is still early (I hope).

Note: the screenshot of the iPhone above really is from my own unit. But what can’t be seen is the huge screen damage that has occurred as an area of pixels have died.

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