Time has compressed the memory of that historic morning at Macworld, January 9, 2007, like a zip file. When I unpack it, I get a brief flash of filing into the room at the Moscone Center in San Francisco that was already synonymous with Apple Computer Inc. keynotes. I remember sitting to the left of the stage, watching Steve Jobs walking out to the bass rumble of a James Brown bop. I remember putting on what I thought of as my game brain — trying to think like a skeptic, not the wide-eyed Apple fanboy I was underneath. Reporters knew they had to resist the “reality distortion field” that Jobs was famous for erecting around shiny Apple products that wouldn’t last long (Apple Cube, anyone?) with a big assist from his keynote cheering section. So I would try to see the much-ballyhooed iPhone, if it was actually called that, for what it really was.
And then I remember that game brain being utterly defeated.
With every innovation Jobs unveiled on this marvelous new “multi-touch” device, it became more and more clear that the phone game had been utterly changed; we were witnessing a leap forward at least as great as that of the original Macintosh. The question in 2007, as in 1984, was: would enough people buy this product to make a difference? My final uncompressed memory of that day at Macworld was making my own purchase decision. The iPhone only came in $499 4GB and $599 8GB versions, and would only launch on the Cingular network. So I wouldn’t be ditching my 160GB iPod for one any time soon, even if I could get out of the two-year Verizon contract on my Palm Treo smartphone. (Because yes, that’s what we called phones with tiny physical keyboards back then.)
Watching that keynote again in its entirety, 15 years later, on my sixth model of iPhone, what jumps out is how innocent everyone in that room was — Jobs included. In early 2007, even the great visionary himself couldn’t foresee the wild, weird future of developer-driven iPhone apps. They were called “widgets” back then, and there was only one outside developer, Google. Not even Google CEO Eric Schmidt, bounding on stage to shake Jobs’ hand, had a clue that the two companies would soon be locked in fierce competition over a vast new touchscreen market. Twice, Jobs mentions how much of the iPhone has been patented, so perhaps he did anticipate a lawsuit like the one that dragged on for years with Samsung. But nobody foresaw the rise of Twitter, Facebook, or the vast circus of disinformation and division that would soon fill these supremely easy-to-use screens.
But that’s just the tip of the iPhone iceberg. All sorts of intriguing historical notes jump out from a rewatch of this famous keynote in 2022, starting with one that has nothing to do with the iPhone at all.
Oh, the rivalry!
In an Android vs. iPhone world, it’s hard to recall that Apple once defined itself primarily in opposition to Microsoft. But most of the first 20 iPhone-free minutes of the keynote are filled with deft, stinging swipes at Apple’s giant Seattle rival — so much so that you kind of want to grab the popcorn. A Microsoft executive, Jim Allchin, is called out by name for saying he’d prefer to buy a Mac if he wasn’t at Microsoft. The launch of the Zune, a would-be iPod competitor now most famous for its cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, is demolished in a single pie chart. A new Mac vs. PC ad, where the PC (John Hodgman) has to go in for major surgery to have Vista installed, is debuted. “If I don’t make it,” Hodgman tells the Mac, “I want you to have all my peripherals.” Peripherals? How very 2007.
Oh, the humor!
Now that it is on top of the world and chasing a $3 trillion market capitalization, Apple doesn’t go after rivals by name anymore. The opening chunks of Tim Cook’s keynotes are taken up by less popular products (even I, an Apple Watch owner, snooze through the Apple Watch segment) rather than the entertaining battle of a tech underdog hungry for relevance. So it’s refreshing to re-experience the sly sense of humor that Jobs displays throughout this keynote — one that both stood in opposition to his reputation as a hardass and complemented it, by poking fun at himself.
One of those self-deprecating digs stood out to me at the time. I’d recently moved from being a writer at Time, where Jobs would actually call me to pitch stories, to being an editor at sister publication Business 2.0, where Jobs wouldn’t even allow Apple ads to be placed (despite some of those ads having quotes from my reviews in them). The reason? Jobs was pissed at a Business 2.0 cover story, years earlier, for speculating on what an iPhone might one day look like, and blacklisted the publication. So when Jobs put up a fake iPhone image — an iPod with a rotary dial on it, basically — I found myself laughing harder than most.
Oh, the name!
On a rewatch in 2022, it seems bizarre that Jobs pauses a moment before introducing the name of the iPhone. Didn’t we already suspect that’s what it was going to be called? We did, but we also knew that another Silicon Valley company, Cisco, had the trademark on the name. Jobs was being more than a little honey badger-ish (to use an anachronistic meme) by publicly naming his device the iPhone; Cisco would file a lawsuit against Apple for using the name two days later. A settlement with undisclosed terms would be reached in February 2007, and in June Cisco would license another name it owned to Apple: iOS.
Oh, the OS?
In the absence of the iOS name, it’s jarring at 15 years’ distance to see Jobs say “iPhone runs OS X,” the Mac operating system, with “real desktop class applications.” It’s true that the iPhone OS and Mac OS X share a kernel, but they were, and still are, fundamentally incompatible. Anyone expecting to run their OS X apps on the iPhone would soon be disappointed.
Oh, your daughter.
The iPod stood astride the world in early 2007; so much so that Jobs’ first job was to sell the iPhone as a larger-screen version of the famous music and video machine. He accomplished this with the help of a playlist of “favorites” on shuffle. Perhaps this genuinely was his favorite music, or perhaps like the Mac iPhoto app slideshow he’d claimed earlier to have made himself (featuring models on a day out at Mammoth), it was in fact put together for him.
Regardless, it’s notable that the first song played in public on an iPhone, selected at random, was “Daughters” by John Meyer (a friend of Jobs’ and a Macworld veteran who would end the keynote with a live performance). Jobs clicked away from the song pretty quickly. Now that we have the autobiography of Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the daughter he denied for many years and had a complicated relationship with until the very end of his life, we can see why. “Fathers be good to your daughters” was not a lyric that really filtered through in the Jobs household.
Oh, the dinosaurs …
Apple and Google were about to find themselves on top of the world, thanks largely to the iPhone’s introduction. The two other companies on stage that day did not fare so well. “You can’t think about the internet without thinking about Yahoo,” Jobs said, introducing Yahoo co-founder and CEO Jerry Yang. To which many 2022 denizens would be forgiven for responding: Ya-who?
Sure, the media brand still exists, having been purchased by Verizon in 2017 for $4.5 billion. But that’s a fraction of what the company was worth when the iPhone launched; a year after he was on-stage with Jobs, Yang would turn down a $44.6 billion offer from Microsoft. Both Yahoo and Microsoft would struggle to stay relevant thereafter; not even offering free email to compete with Gmail in 2007 nor buying Tumblr for $1 billion under former Googler Marissa Mayer in 2013 would help Yahoo survive in its original form.
The other dinosaur on stage that day: Stan Sigman, CEO of Cingular Wireless, a company he had just sold to AT&T. Speaking haltingly from cue cards, Sigman was the epitome of the old-school CEO from an era where media presence wasn’t everything. He would retire later that year, leaving the iPhone exclusively in AT&T’s hands until the Verizon version launched two years later.
Apple had flipped the wireless industry’s business model on its head.
By then, Apple had flipped the wireless industry’s business model on its head; the makers of handsets and handset software would be in charge of our brave new world, not the providers of networks on which they ran.
Oh, how easy we were to please!
It’s quite a delight to see the audience gasp at “pinching” and “zooming” on a smartphone screen for the first time. Or to hear cheers for a 3.5 inch display size, which would seem minuscule today. (The smallest iPhone now sold by Apple, the SE, has a 4.7-inch screen, with displays running as large as 6.7 inches in the iPhone 13 Pro Max.) Jobs is delighted to show off the utterly un-optimized New York Times front page on the Safari browser; these days we’d run screaming from such a tiny text-filled mess.
And when Jobs introduces “visual voicemail,” it takes a second to remember that he’s not talking about the automatic transcript version in today’s iOS; merely being able to choose which voicemail to listen to first was enough to wow the inhabitants of 2007. (For younger iPhone users, a “voicemail” is like when you leave someone a voice memo in iMessage, but for some reason you decide to do it after “calling” their “number” in the phone app.)
Oh, no ‘one more thing?’
A surprise at the end became so traditional at Jobs’ keynotes that he would forever be associated with the catchphrase “one more thing.” But he didn’t use it in 2007, despite having two mics to drop: Firstly, the fact that Apple was officially changing its name (from Apple Computer Inc. to Apple Inc., a prescient change for the iPhone era) and secondly, a John Meyer performance. Instead, Jobs calls the musician’s appearance “a really special treat.” Little did he know that a decade and a half later, the keynote itself — indeed, the very idea of a Steve Jobs keynote — would become more iconic than the beloved singer ever was.