While many jaws dropped when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs debuted the iPhone 10 years ago today, it’s worth remembering that not everyone was sold on the device.
Among the loudest critics, not surprisingly, were the heads of companies that made what were seen as smartphones — until the iPhone leapfrogged them.
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item,” said then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. (To be fair, the iPhone’s biggest adoption came after Apple changed the economics to bring the subsidized price of an iPhone below $300.)
The iPhone did pretty well. In the 10 years since its debut, Apple has sold more than one billion of the devices and, in the process, became the world's most highly valued company.
The co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion didn't get what all the fuss was about — and indeed wouldn’t until it was too late.
“It’s kind of one more entrant into an already very busy space with lots of choice for consumers,” Jim Balsillie told Reuters, of Apple’s iPhone. “But in terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it.”
Indeed, BlackBerry sales continued to grow for a while as more consumers — not just business-executive types — bought smartphones. But RIM never caught up to Apple in hardware or software technology.
Still, the largest mobile phone maker at the time, Nokia, also downplayed the iPhone’s importance.
“The development of mobile phones will be similar in PCs. Even with the Mac, Apple has attracted much attention at first, but they have still remained a niche manufacturer. That will be in mobile phones as well,” Nokia chief strategist Anssi Vanjoki told a German newspaper at the time.
Back in the day, smartphones were pretty much defined by devices like the Palm Treo, and Palm CEO Ed Colligan doubted some computer maker was going to just waltz in and eat his lunch.
“We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,” Colligan said. “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in.”
Colligan was partly right. Dell and HP tried but never made any real headway in phones.
While many of the loudest critics of the iPhone were the companies soon to be crushed by it, some ostensibly objective observers also panned the device.
“There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive,” John C. Dvorak wrote in a column titled “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone.”
Dvorak piled on, suggesting that continuing with the iPhone could hurt Apple’s image.
“What Apple risks here is its reputation as a hot company that can do no wrong,” he wrote. “If it's smart it will call the iPhone a ‘reference design’ and pass it to some suckers to build with someone else's marketing budget. Then it can wash its hands of any marketplace failures.”
TechCrunch, too, published a piece predicting the iPhone would fail after being rushed to market.
Nor was it just the professionals who were wrong. Even plenty of early adopters thought Apple was limiting itself with a $500 smartphone, as evidenced by the discussion in this thread on Slashdot.
But, hey, we’re all wrong now and then. I thought Windows Vista was going to be a hit.