iPhone turns 4: Early predictions rewound

Apple's smartphone marks its fourth birthday today, and there's little arguing it's been a huge success. Still, many industry watchers weren't so sure early on.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
7 min read
Apple CEO Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone at 2007's Macworld.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone at 2007's Macworld. Declan McCullagh/CNET

Four years ago today, Apple's first iPhone went on sale, a landmark event that bears looking at anew as all eyes are now on the company to announce a fifth-generation of the device.

It's easy to look back at the iPhone's rise and success and see how it's managed to work out so well: Apple took aim at a product category with the same approach it used with the iPod, creating its own hardware and software, then eventually bundling it with extra services and features. Proof enough of that is the App Store, something that began with Apple's mobile devices, and has since jumped across to the company's computers with the Mac App Store.

But when the original iPhone was announced, many wrote it off before it even hit store shelves. There were issues like the price, the hardware, the feature set, and what carrier Apple was going with. But more than anything it was just the doubt that the company could venture into new territory with all these variables and find success.

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The iPhone has gone on to become a company-defining product, transforming Apple's image of a computer maker with a hit portable music player and booming music service into a major player in an industry it merely dabbled in as an unsuccessful partner with Motorola just years before. In Apple's most recent fiscal quarter, the iPhone made up around half of the company's monster revenue. It's also had an impact on other Apple products, spilling out design ideologies to Apple's Mac OS X operating system, and the company's notebook computers.

Below are a smattering of predictions from pundits (including us), along with Apple competitors, all placing bets on where the product would land with consumers and the market ahead of its announcement and eventual release.

Ahead of Apple's iPhone unveiling

December 7, 2006
CNET's own Michael Kanellos (now of Greentech Media) calling Apple's phone a "flop"a month ahead of its unveiling:

Sales for the phone will skyrocket initially. However, things will calm down, and the Apple phone will take its place on the shelves with the random video cameras, cell phones, wireless routers and other would-be hits. Remember the Mac Mini? It was supposed to ignite a revolution for small computers. It didn't. The flat-panel iMac? Some predicted that Apple's price tag would drive other prices higher. Whoops.

Why won't the Apple phone succeed? It will be a great piece of hardware that, if I wasn't the cheapest man in North America, I might buy. The entire strategy, however, is based on what I call "iPod magic." Apple succeeded with the iPod, the theory goes. Therefore, they can break into other categories and turn them upside down.

December 23, 2006
Bill Ray of The Register speculates:

Apple will launch a mobile phone in January, and it will become available during 2007. It will be a lovely bit of kit, a pleasure to behold, and its limited functionality will be easy to access and use.

The Apple phone will be exclusive to one of the major networks in each territory and some customers will switch networks just to get it, but not as many as had been hoped.

As customers start to realise that the competition offers better functionality at a lower price, by negotiating a better subsidy, sales will stagnate. After a year a new version will be launched, but it will lack the innovation of the first and quickly vanish.

January 9, 2007
John Gruber of Daring Fireball on the eve of the iPhone's unveiling:

Even just a few days ago, I did not expect to see Apple announce a phone this week. But over the weekend I flip-flopped, and I now think it's more likely than not. Not a VOIP phone that depends on Wi-Fi or anything like that, but an honest-to-god mobile phone. It seems like there has to be some sort of "Wow, I thought maybe Apple would announce a phone but I didn't think they'd do it like this!" factor, but damned if anyone knows what it is. My wild unlikely-but-wouldn't-it-be-cool-as-s**t guess: that it's not an iPod phone, but rather the introduction of a new mobile device OS.


January 11, 2007
In a reactionary preview post-iPhone unveiling, David Pogue of The New York Times writes:

What [Apple] does have, however, is a real shot at redefining the cellphone. How many millions of people are, at this moment, carrying around both an iPod and a cellphone? How many would love to carry a single combo device that imposes no feature or design penalties? Considering that the cellphone is many people's most personal gadget, how many would leap at the chance to replace their current awkward models with something with the class, the looks and the effortlessness of an iPod?

February 26, 2007
David Haskin of Computerworld in a piece comparing the iPhone to Apple's failed Newton device, wrote:

I'm more convinced than ever that, after an initial frenzy of publicity and sales to early adopters, iPhone sales will be unspectacular. If Apple doesn't respond quickly by lowering the price and making nice to AT&T, which surely will be ticked off, iPhone may well become Apple's next Newton. Remember that two years after Newton was introduced, a smaller, cheaper PDA appeared -- the Palm Pilot -- which truly did rock the world.

March 28, 2007
John Dvorak writing for Marketwatch in a story titled "Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone," wrote:

There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive. Even in the business where it is a clear pioneer, the personal computer, it had to compete with Microsoft and can only sustain a 5 percent market share.

Apple iPhone goes on sale, June 2007
It's a frenzy as the doors to San Francisco's downtown Apple store open on the evening of Friday, June 29, 2007, to let eager iPhone shoppers in. James Martin/CNET

April 30, 2007
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer speaking to USA Today's David Lieberman in an interview brings up market share and software saturation:

There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60 percent or 70 percent or 80 percent of them, than I would to have 2 percent or 3 percent, which is what Apple might get."

May 10, 2007
While at the Software 2007 conference answering a question about how the company would deal with Apple's entrance into the mobile phone business, Motorola CEO Ed Zander famously quipped back "how do they deal with us?"

June 7, 2007
In his Crunchgear column, Seth Porges laid out ways in which the iPhone "will bomb" but pays special attention to the fact that the product will be rushed to market with buggy software:

"Until June 29, it's hard to tell too much about the iPhone, but I can tell you with near-certainty one thing: the product was almost certainly rushed to market before Apple's engineers would have liked."

June 17, 2007
New York Magazine writer John Heilemann in a feature story about Apple CEO Steve Jobs, makes predictions about sales of the iPhone:

Of course, if the iPhone is a runaway success, Jobs won't have to surrender anything--and it very well may be. Less than two weeks from now, when the phone hits the streets, the consumerist pandemonium will likely be hysterical. Once again, Jobs may have fashioned a totemic object that will capture the culture--and cause rival CEOs to have coronary events.

June 21, 2007
Providing a contrarian opinion to Heilemann (though indirectly), author David Platt once again uses the f-word (flop), while bringing in the movie references:

The forthcoming (June 29) release of the Apple iPhone is going to be a bigger marketing flop than Ishtar and Waterworld (dating myself again, aren't I) combined. And it's not for reasons of price, or limited cell carrier options, or lack of corporate IT support, which are the mainstream media's main caveats when they review it. (See the June 19 issue of the Wall Street Journal for the latter).

Instead, the iPhone is going to fail because its design is fundamentally flawed. The designers and technophiles who encouraged development of the iPhone have fallen into the trap of all overreaching hardware and software designers; thinking that their users are like themselves. As I expound in great detail in my book Why Software Sucks your user is not you. The iPhone's designers have forgotten this fundamental law of the universe. The market will severely punish them for doing so."

June 23, 2007
Bill Plummer, VP of Nokia's multimedia group in North America, gets quoted in a New York Times story by Matt Richtel saying the iPhone "is an evolution of the status quo." In that same interview, Mike Lanman, the chief marketing officer for Verizon Wireless is quoted as saying: "For Apple, I think the big risk is the AT&T network."