Reviewing the First iPhone

Backchannel is now at Wired, unfortunately — I really don’t want my readers to have to deal with Wired’s anti-adblock nonsense — but this is a good piece from Steven Levy:

On a sunny Sunday 10 years ago, I was strolling down Broadway in the Flatiron district of New York, listening to music on my phone. The song was suddenly interrupted by a call. A familiar voice barreled into the earbuds.

“What do you think?”

It was Steve Jobs, asking for my opinion on the yet-to-be-released iPhone, which I had been using for about a week. I was one of four reviewers who received early units, and it turned out that Jobs pestered each one of us. (A couple of days earlier I had gotten a warning that Steve might call, “just to say hi.”) Though Jobs would never admit it — Hey, just a friendly call, buddy! — Apple was under pressure for what might have been the riskiest product launch in its history.

But the pressure was on me and my three colleagues as well. This was arguably the most hyped product of all time—a New York magazine cover was declaring the product “The Jesus Phone,” not as an endorsement but a statement of how this as yet-unvetted slab of glass and aluminum had become a repository of all our hopes and dreams. What if one of us was an outlier — either positive or negative — and his take (yes, we were all guys) proved disastrously wrong?

One of the things Scott Forstall pointed out in his interview with John Markoff is how these initial reviews framed the iPhone in the context of BlackBerrys and other “smartphones” of the era. I get that, but the iPhone was so clearly advanced for its time that early reviews simply weren’t able to capture or contextualize that.

Recall Steve Jobs’ “a widescreen iPod, a mobile phone, and an internet communications device” bit from the Macworld 2007 keynote: big applause for the iPod, huge applause for the phone, and a light golf clap for the internet communicator. It turns out that the third thing was, by far, the most important aspect of the device.

See Also: The Internet Archive has a copy of Steven Levy’s 2007 review.

Update: I have corrected both instances of Steven Levy’s name because not all Stevens are Stephens. It’s been a long week.