July 18, 2024


Unlimited Technology

Steve Jobs once chucked an iPhone prototype to impress a room full of journalists

Steve Jobs and iPhone 4

Steve Jobs talking up the iPhone 4. iPhone launch events became an annual phenomenon that the media hungrily covers to this day.

James Martin/CNET

Mention Steve Jobs and most people will picture him in his trademark blue jeans and black mock turtleneck, on stage at one of Apple’s events, an iPhone in hand. But for me, the name recalls the memory of the original black and silver iPhone leaving Jobs’ hand, sailing through the air and hitting the floor with a clack in a room full of journalists.

This was months before the iPhone actually went on sale, a little after Jobs unveiled the groundbreaking smartphone in January 2007. Jobs had paid a visit to The Wall Street Journal’s headquarters, then in Manhattan’s World Financial Center area, to offer more than two dozen editors and reporters a peek at the device. It was there that he fielded questions about the gadget, with someone asking about its durability. 

Jobs’ response: tossing the prerelease model he held into the air toward the center of the room, eliciting a small gasp and then hushed silence as it hit the (carpeted) floor. 

The memory underscores the lengths Jobs went to in order to make an impression. On the 10-year anniversary of Jobs’ death, those in the tech industry have begun to pay their respects by sharing stories and memories of the tech luminary, a visionary who shook up multiple industries and changed the way we interact with our mobile devices. This was mine. 

As a telecom reporter based in New York, I rarely got the chance to attend Apple events, including the MacWorld at which Jobs unveiled the iPhone. But my beat meant I was invited to attend this private session with other editors and reporters at the Journal. 

Jobs spent a good portion of the session answering general questions about Apple. I won’t share what was discussed at the meeting — it was off the record and Jobs insisted everyone not only turn off and put away their recorders, but also stow away their notebooks and pens. Everyone complied, eager to see the device. 

It wasn’t until after he took out the iPhone that he was asked about its durability, prompting the throw. While the phone in his hand was more polished than the original, buggy prototype he showed off at MacWorld, knowing now just how prone to issues those early units were makes his nonchalant toss even more impressive. Imagine how disastrous it would’ve been if that iPhone had broken or shut down in front of so many journalists.

The phone, of course, survived unscathed — that carpeted floor likely the saving grace. His staff distributed a handful of other test units for us to play with. Picture two dozen dressed-up and professional journalists breaking out into small groups and circling the phones like schoolchildren around new toys, then moving in to swipe, pinch and otherwise test out that then-revolutionary capacitive touchscreen. 

The iPhone made an impression on them, just like it did on the public a few months later when it hit the market in June. The device, of course, went on to revolutionize the mobile industry, dragging smartphones into the modern era and injecting a chic element that made them desirable. It remains one of the most groundbreaking pieces of technology in history. 

The iPhone created the annual phenomenon of fans waiting in lines on launch day at Apple and carrier stores for the latest version. Despite the pandemic, there were even lines in front of select Apple stores this year for the iPhone 13. For many, the image of Jobs holding one iteration of the iPhone after another on stage in front of thousands is an indelible memory. 

But forever seared in my mind is the image of Jobs in that midsize meeting room, standing in front of a group of journalists seated around a U-shaped table, taking a calculated risk to wow us — the epitome of how he ran Apple.

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