Always On begins on the day the smartphone era began, January 9th 2007, when I was in the audience in San Francisco’s Moscone Centre as Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. I had hopped over to San Francisco for a day from Las Vegas, where I was covering the giant CES gadgetfest. And the trip turned out to be worth it. Nothing I’ve seen demonstrated then or since by a technology company has matched the drama and impact of that event, the unveiling of a device that transformed the mobile phone industry and many others and went on to become the single most profitable product ever made. Here’s an extract from the chapter:
Jobs was a master of the art of unveiling a new product and sounding as if he had discovered nuclear fusion or uncovered a previously unknown Rembrandt. Many have since tried to imitate the style, but the difference is that while his products (sometimes) lived up to the hype, theirs never did.
“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two and a half years,” he began. “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” He went back to 1984 to the first Mac, then to 2001 to the iPod to illustrate two such devices. Then he promised to introduce three revolutionary products of this class, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communicator.
He began chanting “an iPod, a phone and an internet communicator” and asked are you getting it yet? Before revealing that these were all one device - and its name was the iPhone.
With trademark Jobs arrogance he went on to describe how existing smartphones with their “plastic little keyboards” were not so smart.
Apple, he declared, was going to give the world a leapfrog product that was way easier to use, with no physical keyboard and no stylus. Instead it would have a revolutionary user interface using the best possible pointing device, the human finger, and an amazing Apple invention called multi touch. Its software was five years ahead of any other phone - “it works like magic!”.
The picture at the top tells a story of one way the iPhone - and the myriad Android smartphones which soon came along - changed our lives. While my excellent cameraman Steve Adrain was shooting video of the event, I was grabbing a few stills on my digital SLR camera. As you can see, they were rubbish - in difficult lighting conditions I struggled to get Jobs in focus. Seven years on, I got much better shots of Tim Cook launching the Apple Watch - this time using an iPhone. The smartphone revolution had by then turned even klutzes like me into decent photographers.
But when I got back to London I had to deal with complaints from some viewers who felt that the Ten O Clock News should not have covered what, in their view, was a mere product launch. I was summoned onto the Newswatch programme to defend myself. In the studio, I took a deep breath and plunged in, comparing the iPhone in its potential impact to the Model T Ford. Afterwards, I thought I’d gone over the top, but in retrospect, I reckon that was a good call.
But I’m keen to hear your views. Was it really the moment the world changed? Why was the iPhone so different from what we had seen before? Or was it just the Steve Jobs reality distortion field?
Do feel free to comment - and please order the book!