On this day 15 years ago, Apple announced the iPhone.

It’s worth watching the entire video of the event. It’s a masterclass in how to announce a product and how to do a brilliant demo. There was much hype around it at the time, but considering how much this product has actually changed the world, it was maybe even understated.

One of the fascinating things is how people reacted to features that we don’t even think about anymore (“OMG, you can PINCH YOUR FINGERS to zoom in on a picture?!”). What now seems intuitive was an entirely new pattern then (watch at 33:20 in the video).

Five things we can learn from this success story:

1. Superior UX can not only make a product successful, it can create entirely new markets. Before the iPhone, smartphones were a niche category for business users and tech enthusiasts. Now they are the default mode for consumer computing. The iPhone’s underlying technology was not revolutionary, but its UI was.

2. You can’t really judge a product that you haven’t used yourself, particularly not a groundbreaking consumer product. Most journalists and bloggers at the time, including myself, were fairly critical and focused on the entirely wrong things, such as the mediocre tech specs and the closed platform. But the very same people later wrote rave reviews once they actually got to use the iPhone (some links in the comments). That’s why I’ll never understand why people form strong opinions about tech products that they haven’t tried directly (Current example: people who have opinions about NFTs without ever having bought one).

3. You can’t predict what the killer feature is going to be in the long run. The presentation actually contains the sentence “Killer app is making calls”, and Apple was particularly proud of its next-gen voicemail feature. Remember voicemails? For the Gen Z readers here: That was when somebody called you and… ah, never mind.

4. Masterful innovators have a strong opinion, but still listen to the market. The original iPhone was launched as a closed system without an option to install 3rd party apps, and Steve Jobs himself was very vocal about this decision. But Apple saw that people wanted apps, and a year later it launched the App Store. The rest is history.

5. Salesmanship counts. You can have an amazing product, but if you can’t tell the story, you won’t be successful. The first 15 minutes of Steve Jobs’ presentation are incredible. Visionary context, huge ambition, rhetorical repetition, humor, suspense, crystal-clear differentiation towards the competition, it’s all there.


Originally published on LinkedIn, Jan 9, 2022

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