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The saber-toothed tiger

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to an eager audience crammed into San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

A beautiful and brilliantly engineered device, the iPhone blended three products into one: an iPod, with the highest-quality screen Apple had ever produced; a phone, with cleverly integrated functionality, such as voicemail that came wrapped as separately accessible messages; and a device to access the Internet, with a smart and elegant browser, and with built-in map, weather, stock, and e-mail capabilities.

It was a technical and design triumph for Jobs, bringing the company into a market with an extraordinary potential for growth, and pushing the industry to a new level of competition in ways to connect us to each other and to the Web. This was not the first time Steve Jobs had launched a revolution. Thirty years earlier, at the First West Coast Computer Faire in nearly the same spot, the twenty-one-year-old Jobs, wearing his first suit, exhibited the Apple II personal computer to great buzz amidst “10,000 walking, talking computer freaks.” The Apple II was a machine for hobbyists who did not want to fuss with soldering irons: all the ingre-dients for a functioning PC were provided in a convenient molded plastic case. It looked clunky, yet it could be at home on someone’s desk. Instead of puzzling over bits of hardware or typing up punch cards to feed into someone else’s mainframe, Apple owners faced only the hurdle of a cryptic blinking cursor in the upper left corner of the screen: the PC awaited instructions. But the hurdle was not high.

Some owners were inspired to program the machines themselves, but true beginners simply could load up software written and then shared or sold by their more skilled or inspired counterparts. The Apple II was a blank slate, a bold departure from previous technology that had been developed and marketed to perform specific tasks from the first day of its sale to the last day of its use.

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