How Steve Jobs Nearly Ruined The iPhone



One bad decision by Steve Jobs late on in the iPhone’s development would have essentially ruined the iPhone and cost Apple billions. Luckily, he changed his mind – here’s what happened…


The story of how the iPhone came to be is an interesting tale that involves Steve Jobs, Apple’s Mac and iPod divisions, and a series of huge decisions that, for the most part, went off without a hitch. But there was one glaring error on Jobs’ part early on that would have completely destroyed the iPhone in one fell swoop, had it been actioned.

Back in 2004, Apple had decided that it was going to make a phone – it just had to figure out what this phone was going to be like. Apple made computers at the time, and that was it. It was NOT the company you and I know today. It was much smaller, far less influential. Building a new product, any new product, especially a phone, was a huge risk for the company.

Apple’s Project Purple

Since Jobs’ return to Apple, however, the company was on its way back from the brink, returning to profitability. It was “thinking different” again and products like the iPod, a revolutionary device that effectively changed an entire industry in a few short years, showed that Apple when it got its head in gear, could innovate with the best of them.

How Steve Jobs Nearly Ruined The iPhone
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When Apple was figuring out what type of software the iPhone would use, Jobs had a decision to make: “shrink the Mac” or “expand the iPod”?

The tide was changing for Apple and now it was time for the company to press ahead with something huge, something it had never before. It was time for Apple to create and build its iPhone. This process, from development to release, would take a couple of years, possibly longer. The timelines are hazy, owing to Apple’s legendary secrecy, but most agree the iPhone “became a thing” in 2004 as part of Apple’s secretive Project Purple.

During this time, the mobile market was, of course, A LOT different. Brands like Nokia and the rapidly growing BlackBerry were dominant. The now-extinct Symbian OS dominated the market, followed by Linux-based proprietary operating systems. Many phones still had T9 keyboards, most didn’t have internet connections, and Snake was the only game that people really had access to on their phones.

But change was just around the corner, a change that would lead us to where we are today – and Apple would be a crucial driving force behind it. But an early mistake by Steve Jobs nearly derailed the entire concept. Had Jobs got his way, the iPhone as we know it, with its current functionality and App Store, simply would not have existed. It would have failed spectacularly and, potentially, bankrupted Apple in the process.

How Steve Jobs Nearly Ruined The iPhone

The amount of technical wizardry, engineering, and testing that went into creating the first iPhone was enormous. The sheer number of moving parts, the number of people involved, the million-and-one-decisions that had to be made and executed perfectly by thousands of engineers, developers, and designers. It’s enough to make your head spin.

When Apple was figuring out what type of software the iPhone would use, Jobs had a decision to make: should Apple “shrink the Mac” or “expand the iPod”? He didn’t know, so in order to find out the CEO pitted Apple’s Mac and iPod divisions again each other in a head-to-head to see who would come up with the most elegant solution for the iPhone’s operating system.

In the end, it was the iPod team, led by Scott Forstall and Tony Fadell, that won out. They created the first iteration of the software that would run inside Apple’s first iPhone, as well the first version of Apple’s App Store. Back then, the operating system was referred to as iPhone OS. Even at launch, Jobs referred to the platform as iPhone OS. In fact, it wasn’t until 2010 that iPhone OS was rebranded as iOS.

Extract From The History of iOS

If Jobs Had His Way, The App Store Would Have Been VERY Different…

The first iPhone got its release in 2007. Prior to this, Jobs launched iPhone OS at Apple’s Macworld Conference & Expo on January 9, 2007. And it was here that things nearly went very wrong for the iPhone. During this time, Jobs wasn’t sure about whether or not to allow Apple’s legion of developers to create apps for the iPhone. Initially, Jobs wanted all the apps for iPhone built in-house.

He was so committed to NOT letting third-party developers create apps for the iPhone that he told them to instead focus their attention on creating web apps for its Safari browser. And the reason for this? Jobs believed that allowing third-party apps onto iPhone would dilute the phone’s appeal. You have to remember, back then apps as we know them today simply didn’t exist – it was Apple, and Google’s Android OS, that changed this.

But it nearly didn’t happen. Can you imagine an iPhone WITHOUT an App Store full of third-party applications and games? Had Steve Jobs NOT been opposed by an army of developers and plenty of Apple execs this would have happened, and rather than having native apps that run seamlessly on iPhone, you would have had to make do with web apps that ran on the iPhone’s Safari browser.

Even when the first iPhone launched, Jobs blocked the creation of native apps for the platform. Here’s what he said during Macworld 2007, following the launch of the first iPhone:

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.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs HATED The Idea of Third-Party Apps

Why didn’t Jobs like the idea of third-party apps for iPhone? It all came down to the complexities of policing the quality and distribution of third-party content. He felt it would be a logistical nightmare that would cost too much money and/or that it would open Apple up to all kinds of unwanted exposure/problems. Again, back then, modern app stores as we know them today did not exist – Apple had to figure it out from scratch. As did Google.

But Apple’s developers hit the roof, complaining en masse, and, after much pressure from Apple execs and the company’s legion of developers, Jobs acquiesced and agreed to allow third-party apps onto iPhone. In 2007, Apple confirmed it would release an iPhone SDK for developers to use. The first SDK for iPhone was released on March 6, 2008 – nearly a full 12 months after the release of the first iPhone. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Following the success of Apple’s iPhone 3GS – its first proper smash hit – the number of apps available inside the App Store began to skyrocket. When the iPhone 4 landed, Apple was well on its way to becoming the preeminent phone brand; it had the most apps inside its store, the best-looking hardware, and iOS was developing constantly, adding new features with each new upgrade.

Why Developers Tend To Prefer iPhone To Android

Back when the iPhone first hit the market, and even now to an extent, most developers tend to prefer Apple’s Swift platform for deploying applications. Despite Google’s Android platform being much larger, many developers still focus on Apple’s iPhone. And the reason for this is mostly down to the fact that A) iPhone users tend to spend more money, and B) deploying apps to iPhone is less of a headache for developers.

How so? Think about it: Apple only really makes ONE phone, and back in the day it really did only make one phone, so this makes life a lot easier for developers when optimizing their apps for deployment – there’s less testing and fewer things to worry about. Even now, with four new models released each cycle, the phones themselves are more or less the same – just with different screen sizes. With Android, there are hundreds of different models of phones, running different versions of Android, out in the wild.

This is why, more often than not, when a new big-name app launches it is usually only available on iPhone at first. Granted, this isn’t always the case nowadays. But during the late-2010s, Apple’s iPhone was the de-facto platform for all the best apps. And after using both Android and iPhones extensively over the past decade, I would argue that even today apps tend to look and run better on iPhone.

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Richard Goodwin

Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.

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