On the iPhone

by Charles Miller on December 12, 2006

My response to this poll on TUAW: I would give reasonable odds on Apple not producing an iPhone, and even if they did, I'd give the same odds they wouldn't introduce it at Macworld SF. I'm hedging my bets here because I'll admit neither is impossible. I'd be doubly surprised if Apple did announce a phone at Macworld, but not tearing-my-hair-out shocked.

First, the iPhone itself. If you watch the original iPod launch (the full event can be seen here, but the YouTube edit starts exactly at the point I want to talk about), Steve Jobs made it very clear why Apple chose that particular product at that particular time. When the iPod was first introduced, the market for mp3 players was tiny, but had a huge potential for growth. Of the market that did exist, there were no incumbents with significant market-share, and there were no stand-out products. Apple had the opportunity not only to put the best product on the market, but to be the first company to truly market an mp3 player to non-geeks, to introduce the concept to the masses.

The mobile phone market is completely different. Apple would find itself pitted against massive incumbents who are focused entirely on keeping their market-share. Even if Apple came out with something truly revolutionary, would they be able to come out with something revolutionary that couldn't be copied by Nokia in six months? Say what you like about Steve Jobs, but you can't imagine he's dumb enough not to have thought this through very hard. If there is going to be an iPhone, it's got to be one of:

  1. So revolutionary it turns the multi-billion dollar handset industry on its head
  2. A novelty accessory for the Apple faithful, kinda like the iPod Hi-Fi, that nobody else is expected to buy
  3. Some sort of add-on for the iPod
  4. A polished but not world-changingly innovative (and therefore doomed) product, produced entirely to shut up everyone who was asking when it would appear

The first would be really cool, but unlikely. The other three would lead to a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth across the punditsphere.

But maybe Apple is, in fact, destined to change the world again. Why not at Macworld?

Not so long ago, Apple reorganised itself into two distinct units: one devoted to the Macintosh, and one to the iPod. At last year's Macworld, about ten minutes of Job's ninety-minute keynote was about iPod+iTunes, and after he was done, he said "That's what we're up to in music. BUT ... It's Macworld. So we're gonna spend the rest of the day talking about the Mac." (via Engadget)

The iPod Shuffle was introduced at Macworld 2005, though, so it's not entirely out of the question. That said, if there is going to be an iPhone, it's probably going to come from the iPod side of the company not the Macintosh side. Which means standard Apple procedure would be to announce it like most iPods, in a media "special event".

What am I expecting instead from Macworld 2007?

  • iLife and/or iWork '07 (a reasonably safe guess)
  • all the end-user-visible changes in Leopard that have been kept secret so far, including
  • a revamped Finder

Well, maybe the Finder is wishful thinking, but there's going to be something new and cool for Leopard. We were told at WWDC that Apple was keeping some things a surprise, away from prying eyes and inevitably leaked developer seeds. What does a January Macworld represent to Apple right now, if not the perfectly timed occasion to pull the rest of the covers off the new OS, and steal what's left of the wind from Vista's sails?

Previously: Technology is Like That

Next: The Only Flowchart You'll Ever Need