Why the iPhone wound up being invented here

Time to ponder why the U.S. continues to enjoy a big advantage in creating software.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read

Could the iPhone have been invented anywhere but Silicon Valley?

I'm obviously asking that rhetorically. But too bad you missed the scene this morning when my colleague Declan McCullagh walked in with the iPhone he bought over the weekend.

So much for hard-ass reporters. The bunch of us were reduced to cooing and oohing as if someone had brought their brand-new baby to the office for the first time. All the advance hype notwithstanding, Apple put together quite the package.


Apropos, the NY Times carried a timely piece Monday morning about early dismissal of the iPhone by South Korean and Japanese tech circles and how they're now starting to change their tune.

"Analysts and executives in South Korea say that the iPhone, with its full-scale Internet browser and distinctive touch screen with colorful icons, is more than just another souped-up cell phone. They fear this Silicon Valley challenger could leap past Asian makers into the age of digital convergence by combining personal computing and mobile technologies as no device has before."

It's not like the handset makers don't know how to pull many of the same functions together into the same unit. But they're going to be hard-pressed to come up with an iPhone killer anytime soon. Same for tech companies across the Atlantic. The ballyhooed "value add" always comes down to software. And there's where Silicon Valley--and Apple more than any other product house--enjoys the perennial advantage.

So what is it about Apple or the Silicon Valley culture? To be sure, there's Steve Jobs' well-chronicled history of demanding exceptional performance from his underlings. But is this only a tale of a brilliantly successful perfectionist? I think that only scratches the surface. And what's even more intriguing is that the U.S. advantage remains even as worries about the skills of American students in math and science climb.

I had a long talk with a developer friend of mine about that question last week. Maybe at a certain level of achievement, software design morphs more into the realm of art. More about that later, but in the meantime I'd like to read your thoughts.

Chime in, folks.