How Apple Introduces Big Things (Like the iPhone)

Industry watchers are expecting something important—iPhone important—from the company's event today.

Steve Jobs holds up the original iPhone. (Kimberly White/Reuters)

Apple events always feature high levels of industry excitement. This is the leading technology hardware company in the world, and it has launched the two defining products of the last fifteen years in the iPod and iPhone. So, cynicism and the Apple propaganda machine aside, these can be important events, even if they are also Apple commercials.

That said, Apple has been signaling that this event, today, will be a really big deal. One senior Apple executive said that the company has "the best product pipeline I've seen in 25 years." Other sources have leaked to the New York Times that "Apple’s top designers and engineers who worked on its iPhone, iPad and Macs are all part of it." And there's just something to the atmospherics that feels a little different than the last few events, stretching at least back to the iPad announcement.

So that got us looking back at the original Steve Jobs announcement of the iPhone on January 9, 2007.

This is a day I've been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years. Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes around that changes everything and Apple has been—well, first of all, one is very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career—Apple has been very fortunate. It's been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn't just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod. It didn't just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well, today, we're introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. These are not three separate devices. This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone.

Industry watchers like Jon Gruber are expecting iPhone with bigger screens and a watch—or some kind of wearable that sits on the wrist. It's the latter hypothetical device that has really driven a lot of the speculation.

On our team, we've been thinking about Job's iPhone introduction as it reflects Apple's ambitions. Our question has become: Which of these does not belong— computing, music, telecommunications, watches?

Andreessen Horowitz analyst Benedict Evans looked at the watch industry yesterday.

Global Market Watch, 2013 (Euromonitor)

It's not tiny—the mid to high-end watch market looks like a $38 billion industry—but it's also not an industry that's got the wind at its back. This is not music experiencing a digital revolution or an already exploding phone market. This is obviously not a Moore's Law-driven 1980s computing industry, either.

So what's the real play? Our speculation is worth about as much as anyone else's, which is to say, not much. But we have two plausible theories:

1) It's mostly a health/personal-data device, sort of the iI. A gadget and system for keeping track of yourself.

One big question here: how good is any of this data? According to the doctor working with Samsung on their wearable/health initiative: "Everyone has been joking about the inaccuracy of the prior technologies and that's what we've got to get past to get people really comfortable with this."


2) It's a kind of magic wand for other devices—TVs, cars, computers, phones. The thing, whatever it is, provides a new UI (voice-based?), security, and whatever else.

We've been tracking that latter scenario for a while now. When the iPhone 5 came out in 2012, we looked at what the phones of 2022 might look like. One scenario author Clay Shirky laid out was the Incredible Shrinking Phone. "So one thing you can imagine is tiny little devices that are nothing but multi-network stacks and a kind of personal identifying fob that lets you make a phone call from a Bluetooth device in your ear, or embedded in your ear, or embedded in your hand, as my daughter would say," Shirky said.

Maybe the point of the device is to start moving away from the phone that goes in your pocket.

"Is the iPhone 5 the last phone?" Shirky said. "Not the last phone in a literal sense, but this is the apotheosis of this device we would call a phone."

The Apple announcement starts at 1:00 Eastern, and by around 3:00 we'll all know how right, or wrong, we are.