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Steve Jobs Never Wanted Us to Use Our iPhones Like This (nytimes.com)
64 points by evo_9 53 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

> The [2007 iPhone launch] presentation confirms that Mr. Jobs envisioned a simpler and more constrained iPhone experience than the one we actually have over a decade later. For example, he doesn’t focus much on apps.

Well, this is because there were no apps. It's was a brand new platform!

> Mr. Jobs seemed to understand the iPhone as something that would help us with a small number of activities — listening to music, placing calls, generating directions. He didn’t seek to radically change the rhythm of users’ daily lives.

Jobs didn't die after presenting the iPhone in 2007 though. He passed away in 2011, well into the "there's an app for that" ad campaign that boasted how the iPhone could in fact radically change the rhythm of users' daily lives.

There were no apps because they assumed everyone would use websites. Which is still mostly what I use my phone for (although I have an Android).

I do not believe this to be true at all. The App Store opened in July 2008, just over a year after the initial iPhone was released. That means that likely had to at least be on the Apple product roadmap well before the iPhone was even released.

He explicitly said in the iPhone launch that the intended way to create apps for the iPhone was to make a website:

> The full Safari engine is inside of iPhone. And so, you can write amazing Web 2.0 and Ajax apps that look exactly and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone. And these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. They can make a call, they can send an email, they can look up a location on Google Maps.

> And guess what? There’s no SDK that you need! You’ve got everything you need if you know how to write apps using the most modern web standards to write amazing apps for the iPhone today. So developers, we think we’ve got a very sweet story for you. You can begin building your iPhone apps today.

I remember a lot of jokes in the Mac developer community at the time about what a "sweet story" this was. It seemed like the public SDK was a response to jailbreak apps being more popular than the intended "iPhone Web apps."

I'm not debating that he said that, I'm just suggesting that it was a marketing ploy, either to buy the teams some time to iron out the details with the app store, or some clever product strategy to release the app store later (which was hugely popular when it did come out)

...but then I don't know, I wasn't there.

funnily enough there were webapps that jailbroke your ios device with ease

Yep, my recollection (from stories on-line) is that there was a debate within the team between launching with 3rd party apps or limiting most third parties to web apps. That debate was settled when they realized that they wouldn't be able to get an app platform up and running before the launch anyway.

If I recall correctly, the debate was more about whether the apps would be built with web technologies (JavaScript, HTML, etc.) presumably running in some sort of wrapper, or if they would be built with a more traditional platform language.

One driver was the huge popularity of jailbroken apps. I think whether Apple wanted or not that they had to put a official AppStore out. The demand for 3rd party apps was insane.

True, but it isn't clear how much Jobs foresaw vs how much it grew beyond control. There are a few things that obviously cannot be done in a website and some are things apple cannot control.

It's hard to will a platform into existence without distribution for it. For all they knew at launch, iPhone would flop as many new products do. Adding platform development into that risk directly hurt the chances of the product's success. But once it was evident that the product would succeed and could become the distribution mechanism for a platform, it made sense to open the internal SDK they already had for the built-in apps and turn it into a platform.

Correct. This was referred to in John Carmack's remembrance:

"Steve first talked about application development for iPhone at the same keynote I was demonstrating the new ID Tech 5 rendering engine on Mac, so I was in the front row. When he started going on about 'Web Apps', I was (reasonably quietly) going 'Booo!!!'."


Actually websites were supposed to be the app basically. Safari would be the container etc... But then they decided to go native instead and take a 30% cut.

The great man would have known and encouraged newer and expanded uses.

I'm not sure there's a strong connection with Jobs' desire to limit native code execution and social good will. It's probably worth pointing out that reportedly, Jobs himself kept iOS devices away from his own children because he considered them "too addictive."

Apple's original position on third party apps was that they deserved on the web, in what would eventually become known as "progressive web app" form. That position was abandoned not just because it was a mediocre user experience, but also, it actually prevented device lock-in, which is something Jobs obviously craved.

You can argue that some apps are time-sucks, or bad for your overall well-being, and I'll be right there with you. But that has relatively little to do with whether they're shitty web apps or native code apps.

And also, the fact that smartphones do way more than originally imagined is a great thing. In most parts of the world, I can pull out my phone, tap a few characters, and a car will magically pull up where I am and take me wherever I need to go. Or bring me food. I can translate anything to anything. I know the second a flight is delayed, which lets me be more present in life. My life is assuredly better because my smartphone is turing-complete and runs third party software.

"Apple's original position on third party apps..."

To add some necessary context, Apple's position on almost everything is "what we are currently doing is best" (and from that "what our competitors are doing is wrong" or "what you wish it did is wrong"). Building a whole native development platform, curation system, etc, is a massive undertaking, so with the first device Jobs unsurprisingly pitched their current state as ideal. And as they adopted new choices, those became the new ideal. Any who read too much into Jobs various sentiments that could best be expressed as sales pitches might be going astray.

That's a good point.

"We haven't figured out third party app curation yet" might have been accurate, but not in Apple's style to admit.

Exactly. Or even more likely, "we have a pretty good idea of what we want the native apps experience to be, but it's not ready/good enough yet".

That position was abandoned not just because it was a mediocre user experience, but also, it actually prevented device lock-in, which is something Jobs obviously craved.

Developers demanded native apps and the “sweet solution” of web apps was derided as being a “shit sandwich” by commentators at the time.

Also, around the same time that the iPhone was introduced, the music industry wanted Apple to license FairPlay. Steve Jobs posted the famous “Thoughts on Music” essay to Apple’s home page saying that if the music industry wanted interoperability, just allow Apple and every other digital music seller to sell DRM free music.

> It's probably worth pointing out that reportedly, Jobs himself kept iOS devices away from his own children because he considered them "too addictive."

I have heard that his kids didn't use iPads in the early days, but I never heard what the reason is (nor do I know how old they were at the time). I'd be curious to know who has tied this behavior to addictiveness, and whether anyone knows how old they were when this was said.

Sometimes people like to latch onto facts like "Tim Cook doesn't let his nephew use an iOS device" without indicating how old the kid is. I would react very differently if execs were withholding these devices from 15 year olds than from 4 year olds.

> Jobs himself kept iOS devices away from his own children because he considered them "too addictive."

Busy man, he allegedly also kept himself away from his own children. The first one - Lisa - certainly did not get stock options. It was only after the intervention of a judge that he began to assist her financially.

IIRC, he reconnected with her and asked her for forgiveness later in life. Abandoning your child and disowning them is a shitty thing to do, mind you, but he (apparently) tried to atone for that.

I think the author is wrong on nearly all counts. I think Steve Jobs loved to see what people were interested in and find a way to make it easier to have and use. The iPod was a way of taking something people loved to do (listen to music) and make it easier with "1000 songs in your pocket."

At the risk of romanticizing: from what I've read, he wasn't about creating brand-new concepts, he was all about taking existing concepts and turning them into what people really wanted them to be.

Lastly, I think the author gives Apple and Steve Jobs far too much credit. Apps didn't become successful on these platforms because of app vendors, they became successful because people started asking "what else can I do with this phone?" People _want_ to constantly feel "in the loop" and "productive."

Right. this article is someone who has no credibility for their own argument trying to borrow credibility from a dead person by outlandishly claiming that the famous dead person agrees with them.

I'm not sure Steve Jobs's opinion here is relevant.

I'm also not convinced that just because Steve Jobs pitched something one way in a presentation so that the audience would understand what the device meant, meant that he didn't see a large vision of an always-on, internet-enabled device.

"Internet communicator"

I get lambasted for this opinion all the time, but I am still holding it...

The Blackberry was the peak of efficient, minimal phone usage:

* It optimized for doing things like short letter and message writing well through the keyboard.

* Blackberry messenger still leads in terms of features that can reduce noise: appear offline and availability settings, friends lists.

* It focused on productivity applications, screen size kept browsing to "as needed".

As a Canadian, I remember when the iPhone started to take over. My friends were sitting around playing Paper Toss, meanwhile my berry sat quietly in my pocket.

Yet that same Blackberry was also nicknamed 'Crackberry' due to the seemingly addictive nature of the device which had some users glued to its screen just as much as current devices do. The conclusion to draw from this is probably that some people will get addicted to anything and everything which gives them the semblance of 'connectivity'.

The Pearl was my favorite phone I've ever had. I will always miss those simpler times.

I own an iPhone now but had a BlackBerry for a few years.

I still miss the keyboard. I miss being able to write longer emails on the bus/subway without stumbling on predictive text.

I miss that the little flashing indicator light on the device that told me that I have mail.

The BlackBerry was good at the things it was good at, but that was also the reason it couldn't grow beyond that. It was a specialist, and specialists by definition have more limited appeal than generalists. The keyboard was pleasure to use but it also halved the screen real estate and had to be customized to each geography (e.g. non-QWERTY keyboard layouts).

I used a blackberry as my first smartphone.

It did a lot of things amazingly well that I still crave today.

However the lackluster and slow web browser kept it from being "Smart" - especially with poor app support.

> In the remarks, after discussing the phone’s interface and hardware, he spends an extended amount of time demonstrating how the integrated iPod leverages the touch screen before detailing the many ways Apple engineers improved the age-old process of making phone calls. “It’s the best iPod we’ve ever made,” Mr. Jobs exclaims at one point. “The killer app is making calls,” he later adds. Both lines spark thunderous applause. He doesn’t dedicate any significant time to discussing the phone’s internet connectivity features until more than 30 minutes into the address.

> The presentation confirms that Mr. Jobs envisioned a simpler and more constrained iPhone experience than the one we actually have over a decade later.

Having actually seen the video years ago, this article strikes me as a big mischaracterization of what Jobs said -- let alone envisioned, which only Jobs would know.

I don't remember the exact quote, but in the first couple minutes of the video, Jobs introduces the talk saying iPhone is going to revolutionize three industries by combining an iPod, a phone, and internet communication device.

Jobs was fully aware it was going to be huge for those three reasons combined. Had he not envisioned it was about having the internet in your pocket, he'd have stopped at it being an iPod that can place phone calls.

I think "Wanted" should be changed to "Imagined" to better reflect the content.

With that being said, it's a refreshing article. Most articles on Steve Jobs focus on how visionary he was, how he was predicting everything etc. This one is stating that, he was a human after all, just like us, and that the future is notoriously hard to imagine and predict. Nassim Taleb would agree :)

He didn't want us to use Macs the way we do either. The Mac's spiritual predecessor, the Lisa, originally came with an office suite and that was it. No third-party application software could be installed. Eventually, alternative OSes (including Unix) and an emulation layer allowing Apple to badge-engineer unsold Lisas as the "Macintosh XL" would change that, but the original concept was fixed functionality that would prevent users from being overwhelmed by too many choices.

Steve had a fondness for completely circumscribed ecosystems and "computers as appliances" which I don't think he ever totally let go of, despite innovation and market demands showing obvious benefits to users being able to expand the capabilities of their own devices.

> He didn't want us to use Macs the way we do either. The Mac's spiritual predecessor, the Lisa…

Steve was forced out of the Lisa group more than 2 years before the Lisa shipped, so it's a stretch to infer a "no third-party applications" intent on Steve's part based on that.

Also, Lisa Workshop allowed for third-party application development and shipped alongside Lisa Office System (IIRC). Are you saying that it was possible to develop applications for the Lisa but not run them? (I honestly don't know, but that seems unlikely.)

> Steve had a fondness for completely circumscribed ecosystems and "computers as appliances"…

You may be thinking of Jef Raskin, who originally envisioned Macintosh as a "computer appliance". Steve's vision for Macintosh was much different than Jef's, and Apple actively courted third-party developers during its development.

It’s interesting to ponder how much of the smartphone ecosystem was an accidental byproduct of implementation details: namely, the decision to use a stripped-down desktop OS, rather than a beefed-up iPod OS. Allegedly, the latter was also in the works as a phone, but it was Scott Forstall’s OS X team who won the battle internally. Even though the feature set was shipped as “iPod that makes calls”, the fact that everyone knew there was a full OS under the hood made the proliferation of apps inevitable.

I suspect we would have gotten to the present-day norm eventually either way; but, if not for “OS X in your pocket”, the iPhone might have wound up in the same historic dustbin as the Newton, the Palm, and the Sidekick, a mere precursor rather than the thin end of a revolutionary wedge.

> He doesn’t dedicate any significant time to discussing the phone’s internet connectivity features until more than 30 minutes into the address.

That's because, IIRC, he was doing a dramatic reveal where each set of features was discussed separately (iPod, cell phone, internet navigator). The fact that this section came last doesn't mean Jobs thought it was less important. In fact, it was arguably the most impressive part (iPods already existed, as did cell phones, but there were no good touch-screen internet-enabled devices). That's probably why it was last.

This essay absurdly treats humans and their beliefs as immutable objects. There is no justifiable reason to think this, even as much as Jobs may have likened himself to a deity.

Perhaps Jobs didn't appreciate the full extent to which their product would transform humanity, but that is not necessarily the same thing as him not wanting, or opposing, us using our iPhones as much as we do.

I understand the desire for a backlash on smartphones, but their ubiquity is simply a demonstration of just how much utility we derive from them.

I don't think ubiquity necessarily implies utility. Was the ubiquity of cigarettes a demonstration of how much utility we derived from them?

While the title of this article may be a bit misleading as numerous people here have reliably pointed out, I think comments so far are missing the broader point. Cal Newport's focus for awhile now has been on "minimalist" use of our phones, and how social media, etc. are interrupting/damaging our lives in numerous ways.

Despite the "cheap" headline and arguments you could make of his narrow interpretation of Jobs' introduction of the iPhone, Newport's broader points IMHO should still be recognized and are important to be heard.

Evidently he didn’t let iPads into the home as far as the kids involved:


For some, these gadgets are crack cocaine.

Seeing that by the time the iPhone was introduced, there were already millions of people tuning out the world with iPods, I doubt that SJ didn’t see this coming. By the time he passed, the App Store and social media on mobile were already a big thing.

The reason Jobs didn’t want to demo the Internet part of the phone was because it was terribly buggy at the time of the demo and they rehearsed a way to carefully navigate a few pages in a specific order that wouldn’t crash the browser.

Jobs didn't focus on, at the time, non-existent features, like the mobile web, because they didn't exist. The authors interpretation is not well supported

WAP was introduced in 1999, and m.example.com (or .mobi ones; introduced in 2005) style sites existed before the iPhone as well for use on Blackberries and the like.

Things exploded quite a bit post-iPhone, but it's a mistake to say they didn't exist at all.

The mobile web existed. I used to read quite a bit on my Treo and even before that many people had been back-buttoning for years away from that "Java loading..." splash screen that brought up whatever Nokia or Vertu browser was installed. Sure it sucked, but that's what iPhone/iPod Touch broke open.

I call bs. It was a very clever entry to the market with lots of opportunity for product improvement. 3G chip? Reason to upgrade. App Store? Another.

He thought he could heal his cancer with crystals, let's not hold him up as some perfect deity.

"He didn’t seek to radically change the rhythm of users’ daily lives."

He didn´t do it. We did.

The author knows he didn't die until years after the first iPhone launch?

He underestimated smartphones, so what?

We all did..

Please stop telling us what Steve wanted or not wanted? He is dead for Christ’s sake. Let him rest

For your information, Jesus Christ never wanted us to argue about mobile phones on the internet.

Depends on the universe I guess.

So easy to put words in the mouth of someone dead.

LOL at the NYT taking Steve Jobs' marketing tactics as his actual normative views. News flash: Steve Jobs was the best in the history of capitalism at "it's not a bug, it's a feature." The iPhone was perfect without 3rd party apps because it didn't have 3rd party apps! Once there were 3rd party apps, it was perfect with 3rd party apps. It was perfect with a 3 inch screen because it had a 3 inch screen. When he increased it then it was perfect then. When it had a bad radio it wasn't the phone that was imperfect, it was you and your stupid fucking hand!

Notice how many times Apple has used the motto "the best iStuff since iStuff." It worked better several years ago, but they always claim their current thing is the Platonic ideal of its category.

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