A bit of context or this post before we dive to the specifics.
The first iPhone launched in 2007. At the time, Steve Jobs described it as a device that brought a media player, a web browser and a phone together in a single device. Jobs made it clear that he was going to “Think Different” and, therefore, there would not be any apps available for the iPhone beyond those already on the device as shipped. I was using Windows Mobile phone at the time and had a slew of applications for my devices. I looked at what I was doing and what Apple was offering, and I laughed. This wasn’t “Think Different”; this was, I thought, “Think Dumb”. How could you have a device that only did applications in the browser? Fact is, that is exactly what happened over the following months.
Web apps became a big thing, and a slew of them were released within months. It was truly amazing what you could do with applications that simply sat in the browser but still, there were some limitations to them. Biggest among them – if you did not have an Internet connection you didn’t have apps.
The second generation of iOS was released on July 10 of 2008. With it came a brand new app store. Yes, Apple now allowed developers to create applications which would be available through the iTunes App Store. To go along with this, Apple released the next generation hardware. Of course there were some initial glitches. Mobile Me rolled out at the same time, and it was buggy as can be. In addition, many of the applications crashed at first because developers had only been able to test them in a simulator. Thankfully, the issues were quickly resolved, and the rest is history. Now the App Store is a fixture on all iOS devices, and other platforms have taken up the same model.
All of which leads to this post.
I, for one, had always assumed that this was the plan all along. I went under the assumption that Steve Jobs wanted the iPhone out the door and the App Store simply wasn’t ready for prime time. So, instead, he released the iPhone as a browser only device with the plan to eventually add in the applications.
Now, thanks to the upcoming biography of Steve Jobs, I’ve learned that my assumption was simply wrong. Apparently when the iPhone was released, web apps were the initial end-game and Jobs actually resisted the idea of apps initially. Add in the fact that one of the reasons he resisted was that he didn’t think the company was in a position to do it well.
There was no initiative going at the time to add applications for the device, nor did they plan to do so at any time in the future. The limitations of a web app-only device became clear, people were clamoring for applications on the device, and Jobs quickly set his team working on creating the App Store.
One might see this as Jobs not having the foresight to really know what he was going to have to do with this brand-new platform. I see it differently. I actually think this tells us something amazing about Steve Jobs’s genius. It tells us that he went for what he thought needed to be done but then, when circumstances changed, he was ready, able and willing to shift gears. Not only that, but he was able to shift gears in a huge way, backtrack if need be, and then fire forward as quickly and as completely as possible.
I asked the other editors for their thoughts on this and this is what they had to say.
I think it shows two things:
1) The true mark of how Steve Jobs was a great leader is in how he was able to pursue something (the AppStore) despite his fears about failure. He doubted. He resisted. But in the end he agreed to try. Smart, perfectionist, but still a risk taker. It is what all leaders need to aspire to.
2) Apple will be ok without Jobs. He wasn’t the be all, end all, and even knew when to defer to other peoples good ideas (like the AppStore). As long as they have a bench of talent willing to take risk and a leader willing to try new things they will continue to innovate.
I think it shows Jobs as a great pragmatist – look at the smartphone landscape (WiMo and Palm) in 2007, and apps were (a) expensive, (b) problematic and (c) in dozens of tiny stores all over the place. The people selling the apps were closer to the carrier model – buy a new phone, buy app again. And games (like Broken Sword) were $25! People didn’t really want that.
But ultimately I think the biggest issue was the whole ‘3rd party apps kill my phone’ thing – if you remember forums back then, it seemed that half the discussions were about how that great new app trashed your phone or PDA.
But when it was demonstrated that (a)Web apps weren’t going to cut it, and (b) that the App Store could work like the Music Store while iOS could protect itself from misbehaving apps by not allowing too deep integration, he changed on a dime.
I remember hearing about the “web app only” limitation, and thinking it might be acceptable for people who lived in great coverage areas, but it was a dumb idea for people like me who lived in an area with spotty data coverage and no 3G. In the summer of 2007, I was living in San Angelo, and the idea of needing to use data to play games, read books, retrieve my passwords … It was laughable. I resisted getting an iPhone, and had to defend my choice of not being an early adopter to friends and peers, alike.
I received an 8GB iPhone for Christmas from my boyfriend at the time. I liked much about it, but the limitations of web apps were what sent me right back to other devices and operating systems. Once apps were introduced, the phone became a whole lot more interesting.
Many of the early iPhone apps were being sold at 99¢, a price that was unheard of at the time. As Mike mentioned, we were used to spending $20 and up on apps and games, and all of a sudden we could get some of the same titles for a ridiculous savings. Apple knew what they were doing.
As for Steve Jobs … much is made of how arrogant he was, how he would tell people what they needed, and he didn’t much care what people ‘thought’ they wanted. I think if anything, the move to add apps shows how untrue this was. While Steve may have had a vision for what he thought was necessary to make the ultimate mobile device experience, he was obviously in tune with what people really wanted. And he adapted his business plan accordingly.
The iPhone, as we noted in early 2008, was truly a “gateway drug”. Once people got one and realized how easy — and even fun– they were to use, they were more tempted to try other Mac products. My good experience using the original iPhone (along with my early adventures in trying Google’s cloud-based email over Microsoft Outlook) made me much more interested in and comfortable with Mac and switching to OSX; using an iPhone is what led to my purchase of a MacBook Pro 15″, then a first-gen Air, and ultimately all of the other Mac computers and laptops that followed … And there have been plenty of them.
The introduction of the iPhone really skewed a lot of peoples’ perceptions of Apple as a company. Before the iPhone, Mac computers were seen as almost a boutique brand item; people who used Macs were solidly in the minority. Microsoft was what people with “real jobs” used, and Macs were for students and graphic artists. Do you remember those days? People who wanted to be “different” (forget think different) used a Mac, and Microsoft was “the dark side”, the “huge corporation”, and in some people’s perception, “the bad guy”.
And now, all because of Steve Jobs vision with the iPhone and later the iPad, Apple is one of the fastest growing computer companies, and the iPhone and iPad are the top devices in their genre.
It makes me laugh to hear comments about “iSheeple” and all the other ignorantly defensive things said by those who drink the hateraide. Apple is now big enough to draw their criticism? What a huge difference four short years have made in tech!
It is that kind of flexibility that truly makes a leader. Someone who is able to look at the situation, have an idea where he or she wants to go, but then to be able to constantly assess conditions, is someone who is able to build something powerful and lasting.