Three days ago, The New York Times published a terrific article about the making and unveiling of iPhone.
It’s mostly drawn from the experience of Andy Grignon, a senior manager involved in creating the first iPhone, but also contains quotes from Tony Fadell and others.
Two important things about this article:
First, it’s written by a real writer. Fred Vogelstein weaves a most interesting tale, which is likely to draw you in whether you love Apple or loathe it. It’s a refreshing change from what you read on a hundred blogs every day. (Ouch. I think I just insulted myself.)
Most important, Vogelstein’s article addresses the true nature of innovation in the technology business, with its neverending challenges and complexities. Anyone who believes that Apple relies more on borrowing than innovating will have an enlightening experience.
Though it doesn’t address the issue head-on, the article illuminates the difference between a company that has to figure things out from scratch vs. one that copies the inventions of others.
Great writing aside, Vogelstein does manage to get a few things wrong.
The premise of the story is that Steve Jobs was unveiling iPhone six months before it would ship. Because of this, it was extremely unfinished and almost impossible to demo without a frightening degree of risk.
Vogelstein provides the reason: “Even though the iPhone wouldn’t go on sale for another six months, [Steve] wanted the world to want one right then.”
That may be true, but he doesn’t mention the reason why Steve was unveiling iPhone six months before it shipped. That would be secrecy. Before Apple could sell any iPhones, it had to get the device approved by the FCC. That would take months, and once it was in the hands of the FCC, it would be almost impossible to keep secret.
Steve wasn’t about to let anyone steal his thunder on launch day — so he made the decision to announce iPhone before the FCC got their mitts on it. That way, Apple’s iPhone event would contain maximum surprise and generate maximum buzz.
Given that iPhone was still six months away from launch, it’s not unusual that it was so unfinished when Steve unveiled it. What’s unusual is that it was unveiled six months before it shipped — unlike any other product in Apple history. That far before its ship date, every Apple product has serious issues.
When Vogelstein describes the challenges facing the modern Apple, he plays back some of the familiar Apple misperceptions.
He points out that Apple’s stock price dropped after the most recent iPhone announcements while past announcements “used to routinely send the stock soaring.” That would indeed be alarming — if it were true. As John Gruber correctly points out, Apple’s stock price has dropped following product launches more often than it has risen — even during Steve Jobs’ reign.
He also states that under Jobs, Apple churned out revolutionary products “every three to five years … but under Cook, nothing has materialized.” This is stated as a problem, even though Cook is currently well within that that three-to-five year timeframe.
I find these extraneous comments unfortunate for the same reason I recently ragged on CNN for misrepresenting Apple news. Most people don’t focus on Apple as much as we do; they simply play back what they get from the major news organizations — even when “the facts” are seriously flawed.
But hey, nobody’s perfect. As I said up top, Vogelstein has written an engrossing article about the extraordinary effort required to create iPhone — and a mesmerizing look behind the scenes of a Steve Jobs presentation. It’s well worth reading.