Steve Jobs’ 2007 WWDC keynote is a must-watch for several reasons. First, it was when Jobs introduced the very first iPhone, changing the mobile devices and personal computing industries forever and setting Apple on path to becoming one of the most valuable and powerful companies in the world. Second, it’s Jobs at his absolute keynoting best: a fun, flawless product demo that ultimately delivered on nearly every promise. (Yep, the technology really was five years ahead of everyone else.) Even today, nearly seven years after the fact, it makes for compelling viewing.
It’s even more fun now that we know more about the story behind the demo. In Friday’s New York Times, Fred Vogelstein publishes an interview with Andy Grignon, a former Apple engineer in charge of iPhone connectivity (cellphone radios, Bluetooth, Wifi). And on the eve of Jobs’ now-famous iPhone demo, Grignon wasn’t feeling very good about the infant product:
It’s hard to overstate the gamble Jobs took when he decided to unveil the iPhone back in January 2007. Not only was he introducing a new kind of phone — something Apple had never made before — he was doing so with a prototype that barely worked. Even though the iPhone wouldn’t go on sale for another six months, he wanted the world to want one right then. In truth, the list of things that still needed to be done was enormous. A production line had yet to be set up. Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality. Some had noticeable gaps between the screen and the plastic edge; others had scuff marks on the screen. And the software that ran the phone was full of bugs.
The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn’t play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.
I’d be lying if I said my stomach wasn’t in knots reading this story. Awesome ending, though. Read the whole thing then watch the keynote again. Unbelievable.