Resurfacing history

Once upon a time, a company introduced a new product. It was a closely guarded secret and when it was revealed, it took the technology press and public by surprise. It was the result of years of research and development. When this product was announced, the parent company showed it off but gave away little details. The screen resolution and battery life were not announced at the event and neither were any of the exact specs. Details were glossed over even in hands-on sessions. Reporters were given limited time with company goons looking over their shoulder. No one was sent home with review units.

Although at first blush it seems I may have just written about the recent Microsoft Surface event. But you’d be wrong– I was describing the introduction of the original iPhone in 2007.

Apple fanboys would like you to think that every time Apple announces a device, it’s ready to ship the same day. Review units are under each journalist’s seat like at a taping of Oprah and no one is left with questions. This wasn’t the case with the event that many point to as the best keynote Steve Jobs ever undertook (although I disagree). But guess what? Jobs also glossed over the screen resolution, referring only to the display density (163 PPI). Release was set for “June.”

I just listened to the latest installment of 5by5’s Build and Analyze and noted Apple watchers Dan Benjamin and Marco Arment both mocked Microsoft mercilessly for what I thought was a good showing of a potentially great product. Arment said:

Ugh. That whole event. And the whole thing with announcing this product but not telling you really when it will be out  and not telling you what it will cost and not quoting battery life and not telling you how much it’s gonna cost… it doesn’t really speak confidence… they aren’t even confident with giving you the product to play with specifically in an environment where it was meant to be played with.

How soon they forget. Apple gave the tech press time with unfinished iPhones. Not all the invited press but rather their favorites (Pogue, Mossberg et all) were put in a room with Jobs and Schiller and the newly introduced Jesus Phone. All others at the Macworld conference were forced (myself included) to squint at a rotating iPhone mockup in a glass tube, sealed away from the world that wasn’t ready for it yet.

At the very least, Microsoft’s software is a known quantity at this point. The iPhone’s 1.0 OS was a huge question mark and remained unfinished for months before launch. Basic usability was unknown. The idea of an onscreen keyboard was unknown. Just because Microsoft skimped on a few hardware details and relied on vagaries to protect their still-premature baby doesn’t warrant the outcry from the blogosphere. You can’t change what’s happened. Apple’s fallible. Microsoft’s fallible. Deal with it.

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