Steve Jobs, in 2002, on the iPhone and the death of PDAs

Throwback Thursday was yesterday, but we thought it would be nice to spend a few minutes this Christmas Eve Day looking back on some of the events leading up to the introduction of the iPhone. The iPhone is, after all, a device that served as a catalyst in the mobile industry over the past few years — love it or hate it. It pushed the industry in new directions, causing competitors to approach hardware and user experience design in a whole new way. It even forced Google to rethink the BlackBerry-like OS it was developing, which resulted in the wildly successful Android platform we see today.

In August of 2002, nearly five years before the world would get its first glimpse of Apple’s smartphone, there were already rumblings that Apple was developing an “iPhone” behind closed doors. It would be a product that combined Apple’s industrial design prowess, the best of its software platform, several elements from popular Personal Digital Assistants like the Palm Pilot, and a cell phone. Of course nothing was confirmed at that point in time, but everyone was reading between the lines and coming up the same story. Firm rumors suggested that Apple tried to acquire Palm for $1 billion shortly after Jobs’ return to the company, and Jobs was becoming increasingly vocal about the impending death of PDA devices. ”We decided that between now and next year, the PDA is going to be subsumed by the telephone,” Jobs told The New York Times in an interview. ”We think the PDA is going away.”

The Apple CEO insisted that PDA devices of that era were too difficult to use, offering very little in the way of real utility. Jobs believed that combining a cell phone with the core functions of a PDA, however, would result in a truly useful device. Of course this was hardly a revelation — Microsoft’s Pocket PC platform was already powering smartphones at this point, and the Nokia’s Communicator devices were six years old. Jobs had a different vision, however, but of course he would admit nothing at that point in time.

It has been alleged on numerous occasions that Jobs takes his time with Apple products, and will force projects to change directions dramatically when something isn’t moving in what he believes to be the right direction. With that it mind, and being able to say in hindsight that platforms like Windows Mobile and Symbian were anything but intuitive, it’s easy to see why it took several years before Apple had a product Jobs was willing to take to market. But even in 2002, it was very evident that Jobs was envisioning a smartphone he believed would revolutionize the industry.

All Mr. Jobs would say on the matter was that the cellphone computers already on the market fall far short, and that some of the user-interface and industrial design touches already evident in the iPod would be perfect for an improved, consumer-friendly version of such a product.

The writing, as they say, was on the wall.

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image source: Blake Patterson

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