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How Apple Kept the iPhone Secret 539

An anonymous reader writes "Bogus prototypes, bullying the press, stifling pillow talk — all to keep iPhone under wraps. Fortune's Peter Lewis goes inside one of the year's biggest tech launches. One of the most astonishing things about the new Apple iPhone, introduced yesterday by Steve Jobs at the annual Macworld trade show, is how Apple managed to keep it a secret for nearly two-and-a-half years of development while working with partners like Cingular, Yahoo and Google."
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How Apple Kept the iPhone Secret

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  • by thegameiam ( 671961 ) < minus punct> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:36PM (#17540966) Homepage
    Given the absurd numbers of rumours which abounded over the past few months, what is this "secret" of which you speak?
    • Agreed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by snowwrestler ( 896305 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:54PM (#17541320)
      To me the untold story is how Apple managed to build such a strong buzz for their product, while avoiding any of the negative backlash that can accompany such a campaign (compare to Sony's PSP debacle right before the holidays, for instance).

      They waged a viral campaign so effective that analysts and customers were basically demanding to be given the opportunity to purchase the new product--and they did it so silently that I'll probably get responses arguing that Apple didn't even do a campaign. THAT, to me, is the real story of secret-keeping.
    • by Merkwurdigeliebe ( 1046824 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:59PM (#17541436)
      While Mr. Wu and many other analysts who scour the supply chains for hints of what might come had an idea that an Apple phone device was almost certainly imminent; no one outside the loop knew what the specifications, configurations, capabilities, software, interface (soft and hard) were going to be to a reasonable degree. Surely, many people guessed at the features. Some people actually got some right; many got them wrong but no-one got it all right. Most guessed incorrectly and were working from obscurity and not from secret, in-the-know information. It was predominantly wild-guessing. Therefore it can be asseted as a secret. If one guesses enough one is apt to guess right.
      Isn't that what brute-force password attacks are about? One cannot claim that hackers knew one's secret password only because they were able to discover that a password existed and then were able to gain it by brute-force attack.
      I think it can be classified as having been an unqualified bona-fide industrial secret to the extent they were able to keep the details about the device at large from the press and the public and even their competitors.
      • Nit-picking, I know, but still:

        Therefore it can be asseted as a secret. If one guesses enough one is apt to guess right. Isn't that what brute-force password attacks are about?

        A password hacked through brute force is still a password hacked, isn't it? It's not like you can say "sure, they did access all our data and steal our designs, but they did it with a brute force hack so really it's all still secret." The difference isn't that everyone was just guessing (e.g. a brute force attack) it's that there wa
    • by fistfullast33l ( 819270 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:06PM (#17541574) Homepage Journal
      Fortune's Peter Lewis goes inside one of the year's biggest tech launches

      It's January 10th. Obviously this is going to be the year's biggest tech launch to date. Talk about hyperbole. Talk to me in November and then we can talk year's biggest tech launches.
      • by hxnwix ( 652290 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:20PM (#17544102) Journal

        Talk to me in November and then we can talk year's biggest tech launches.
        It's a date. As soon as I awake from that trick or treat sugar coma, I'll call your iPhone from my iPhone...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by soft_guy ( 534437 )

      Given the absurd numbers of rumours which abounded over the past few months, what is this "secret" of which you speak?
      No one posted a picture of the phone online. The rumors were all over the place as to what the phone would be. The rumors were even iffy about whether it would be announced at MacWorld.

      I'd say they did pretty good.
  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:37PM (#17540986)
    Step 1) dont tell anyone about it.
    Step 2) dont deny it exists.

    Thats about it realy.
    • Number 1 is quite difficult when you have almost 1000 people working on it on a daily basis.

      Leaks happen.

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:46PM (#17541166) Homepage
      Ha! Apple is nothing!

      You don't even know IF my company exists, not to speak of WHAT we're going to produce.

      I'm just gonna scrummage around in my closet for my old turtleneck and then watch out!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by necro81 ( 917438 )
        You don't even know IF my company exists, not to speak of WHAT we're going to produce.

        I can top that with a pronoun change. I don't even know if my company exists, let alone what we're producing.

        It would be even funnier to me if it weren't actually true.
    • by eln ( 21727 )
      The best way to keep a secret: iMafia. By Apple.
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
      Step 1 seems to be virtually impossible for most marketing departments. They're so used to telling people things exist when they don't that when something actually DOES exist there's no way they can keep quiet about it.
  • Secret? (Score:3, Informative)

    by slughead ( 592713 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:37PM (#17540990) Homepage Journal
    I think most of us who tool around the macrumor sites had a pretty good idea of what they were going to release. The only 'secret' was when. I wasn't surprised by any feature the phone had.
    • by Thansal ( 999464 )

      I remember seeing ALOT of those features on MacRumours, and I don't even look at the site (just lots of links to them and people talkign about it).

      The one that realyl stuck in my head was the widescreen video iPod with a touch based controll (dubed the "iPod Video" instead of "iPod With Video")

      yah, it was "secret" but every one knew everything about it.

      Admitdely I have to wonder if this is Art Inspiring reality. Do the Mac Devs check through MacRumors regularly to see what people want?
  • by hirschma ( 187820 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:40PM (#17541072)
    Seems that Apple is keeping the secrecy going... questions that I have:

    - What processor?
    - How much "system" RAM in the thing?
    - Can users install their own software? Rumor is that you cannot - you have to buy it from Apple or Cingular.
    - What bluetooth profiles are available?
    - Can I get shell?

    I have a feeling that this is not going to be a geek's toy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rovingeyes ( 575063 )
      - Can users install their own software? Rumor is that you cannot - you have to buy it from Apple or Cingular.

      Wanna bet? Its a matter of time, before it gets hacked. This is too good a device to just leave it alone. Heck I'd even learn objective-C if I had to.

    • Seems that Apple is keeping the secrecy going... questions that I have:

      - What processor?
      - How much "system" RAM in the thing?

      Previous Conspiracy Theory []
    • by amokk ( 465630 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:58PM (#17541418)
      I'm pretty sure that the stunning overwhelming majority of cellphone users will not pass over the iPhone because they cannot get a shell. It'll be a geek's toy in the sense that it'll probably do more than any other cellphone out there today while simultaneously doing it in a more elegant way than has so far been conceived. It'll be a geek's toy in that it has a good web-browser installed from the get-go instead of some barely useable, slapped-together piece of crap that most cellphone users nowadays have come to accept as a "mobile browser." It'll be a geek's toy in the sense that it has some real horsepower behind it to do what many people would like to be able to do with their current phones.

      I think what Apple has here is a "digital life manager" first that is incidentally also a cellphone. They will absolutely not miss the market of people who want to open a goddamn shell on their phone.
      • They will absolutely not miss the market of people who want to open a goddamn shell on their phone.

        Hey, fanboy - I never said that it wouldn't sell, nor did I claim that my questions were important to the vast majority of potential buyers. They're not. I just pointed out that details that most Slashdot readers would be interested in are not available, that's all. Your response it totally irrelevant.

        Oh, and if I can't put apps on it, I don't want it, no matter how elegant and well-designed it is.
      • I think what Apple has here is a "digital life manager"
        Does it come with a buzzword dictionary & reality distortion field generator?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 )
      I have a feeling that this is not going to be a geek's toy.

      Probably not. Which is so self-destructively stupid of Apple. I signed up on their developer network within minutes of seeing this thing, and was ready to plop down a few grand for a top-of-the-line Macbook to learn development on OS X until I read that reps at the show were saying that it wasn't going to support third-party software. As much as this device is going to sell, it will have zero presence in enterprise markets, and serious people will n
      • by xjerky ( 128399 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:16PM (#17541834)
        "Not support" is not the same as "not run". I can see why Apple doesn't want to feild requests of random people trying to get particular apps running on it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gb506 ( 738638 )
        Probably not. Which is so self-destructively stupid of Apple.

        If features and extensibility were the key to consumer adoption and sales success, then iPod would have failed. You clearly do not understand the fact that success for Apple in the phone market it is not about supporting feature x that 1 in 5000 users would care about, it's about focusing on the totality of the offering and making sure it "just works"

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by loraksus ( 171574 )
        Probably not. Which is so self-destructively stupid of Apple

        Yeah, but a cell phone company is going to be selling this.
        Since when have you know a phone company not to be full of thieving motherfuckers who will cripple hardware (without labeling it as such and denying that it is crippled) so that they can sell an overpriced, poor quality service to you like $1 to send a 320x200 "picture mail?"

        I'm not trying to troll or anything, just take a look at any cell phone provider out there.
    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:15PM (#17541798) Homepage

      Can users install their own software? Rumor is that you cannot - you have to buy it from Apple or Cingular.

      There hasn't been any real information on this, but I've heard people complaining that it will be sold "as is", and that you won't be able to get new software on it at all. While nothing has really been said about it, it seems ridiculous to me. Jobs made a big deal of the idea that it's running OSX with support for Cocoa and Core Animation and such. He made a point of saying that the screen would allow people to think of new, clever interfaces and be able to add things that are unforeseen at the time the device is sold. These statements don't make a lot of sense unless they intend to encourage third-party development.

      My guess is that the version of Xcode distributed with Leopard will have support for making iPhone applications and widgets. I suppose it's possible that Apple and Cingular would try to control installation, but it doesn't seem realistic. First, it would discourage 3rd party development. Second, these things tend to get hacked, and Apple knows it. The only reason to do it would be if Cingular insisted, but Cingular might just be happy to be gaining so many data-plan subscribers.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DrXym ( 126579 )
      Just as important - what's the battery life like. If they expect you to plug this thing every day into a dock, then it stinks as a phone. Besides, I don't even see anything about it to justify the enormous price except for storage. Most of what it offers has been available for years in various forms (e.g. O2's XDA phone range).
    • by S3D ( 745318 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @02:01PM (#17542730)
      Can users install their own software? Rumor is that you cannot - you have to buy it from Apple or Cingular.
      Legally most probably no. Consider how paranoid apple about iPod games - developers had to send their sources to apple and can't even run binaries on the real device, not speaking about on-device debugging. About underground hacking - hassle with versions, danger of bricking the device, voiding warranty - most users probably wouldn't bother.
  • How sad... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skadet ( 528657 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:43PM (#17541108) Homepage
    As Macworld approached, dinners were missed, kids were not tucked in properly, and family plans were disrupted, especially over the holidays. And for what? "Sorry, that's classified" is not considered a satisfactory answer in many households when Mom or Dad misses the school play or the big wedding anniversary dinner.

    I'm not sure any job is worth this, let alone producing a gadget.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iPodUser ( 879598 )
      I agree, but its not like the employees weren't warned. All you need to do is watch "Pirates of silicon Valley" to know that working with Apple is a little bit more of a commitment. If you want a 9-5 with no innovation then go work for microsoft. Sure the iPhone team worked their asses off, but if this thing is as good as it looks in the demo shots, then this team can hold their collective head high for years to come.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by EXMSFT ( 935404 )
        If you want a 9-5 with no innovation then go work for microsoft.

        Oh. Ow. Words that hurt.

        But seriously. Microsoft may be like that in some parts today - and why the hell not, it's a giant sloth-like beast with 50K fulltime employees and probably nearly that many contractors. However, there are quite a few areas where Microsoft (that's a "big" M on there for you, my Mac-loving friend) does innovate and create cool new software. And the reality (I can tell you from experience) is that it's often much mor
  • by jimstapleton ( 999106 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:43PM (#17541110) Journal
    It's the first Apple product I really wanted.

    A full fledged PC OS on a PDA, the phone part is nice too...

    If they make those things for Sprint, I'd get one.
  • With all of this recent iPhone talk, why haven't I seen a single mention about Cisco already trademarking the "iPhone" and creating their own iPhone a month or so ago?
    Have Cisco and Apple settled their talks over the trademark usage?
    • No, it's in (one the the three) New York Times articles on the stupid thing. Stevie Wonderboy is talking to Cisco about buying out the trademark rights. I'm too lazy to go find the articles, but they are there for your edification and enjoyment.

  • as the size of the thing? Thats a fairly hefty unit to try and pass off as a phone.
    • Ummm. Have you seen a Blackberry or Treo? The iPhone is not meant to compete with regular cell phones like RAZR and SLVR. It was meant to compete with the smart phones. It is clearly a better form factor than them.
      • Ummm what do you think Steve meant by "revolutionary mobile phone" or when he said "the killer app is making calls". That puts it squarely up against regualar mobile phones doesnt it. This device is clearly aimed at non business consumers who would not be typical blackberry or treo users.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          I think you need to reconsider that statement in light of the iPhone's price and feature set. It may be good at making phone calls, but it is in the same class of device as smart phones, not regular mobiles.
      • Putting 'clearly' always makes it true.
      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        I don't see how it is better. In fact it is missing part of the puzzle.
        Okay it has a touch screen. How do I put in peoples contacts, how do I SMS? If it is a smart phone where is the keyboard?
        Is it going to do voice input?
        Or handwriting?
        The Treo and Blackberry have keyboards this doesn't I think there is more to this yet to come.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by clonmult ( 586283 )
        How does it compete with the Blackberry?

        The iPhone seamlessly integrates with corporate exchange systems? Nope. Does it last for a week on one charge of the battery? Nope. A decent keyboard to type on with tactile feedback? Nope.

        I was supporting a corporate Blackberry roll-out, and the management absolutely loved the devices (7230, 7290 models), they did exactly what they wanted - make calls (for the few that had that enabled), and keep on their e-mail without having to connect to a wifi hotspot. And
    • But is it smaller than a Nano + Phone? That's really who they are after, IMHO. If you can carry one device instead of two, that might make up for some bulk.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )
      Do you really know how big it is? It's not that big. From the data people have been posting, it seems that the iPhone is smaller than a Motorola Q, and just a little bigger than a SLVR. For something with the iPhone's capabilities, I'd say that it's satisfactorily small.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ack154 ( 591432 )
      I thought it looked kinda big too... well, still thin, but height and width seemed large. Then I watched this video [] on CBS and it makes it look much more like a phone-sized device that isn't gigantic.
  • by LibertineR ( 591918 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:47PM (#17541184)
    that the thing was going to rock.

    After checking the feature set on Apple's web site, mark me down for at least two of those things.

    My Treo looks positively anemic in comparison. It is enough to overcome my disgust for Cingular too.

    I dont think anyone outside of Apple anticipated just how well recieved that phone would be.

    • After checking the feature set on Apple's web site, mark me down for at least two of those things.

      You sure are eager. Apple does have a history of being better than average at UI design, but I'm not going to believe the iPhone UI works until I try it: Apple isn't the first company to think about a stylus-less touch screen, it's just that others have decided it doesn't work... We'll see if Apple proves them wrong.

      I'm a big fan of mobile internet, so I was eager to find out the specs of the phone. Sadly the f

    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:16PM (#17541818)

      After checking the feature set on Apple's web site, mark me down for at least two of those things.

      You want it because all you saw was what Apple wanted you to see. You have no idea how it'll actually perform as a phone in ways that matter. I don't care how sexy it animates the UI if it's a shitty phone.

      All the fervor is akin to GM showing off a new sexy looking car, and people wanting it, having no idea if it'll actually be a good car or not.

      • How is reception/signal strength- cellular, Wifi, and Bluetooth?
      • Does it drop calls mysteriously? (lot of early smartphones did)
      • Does it explode in shards of expensive bits when dropped on the ground? (treos are famously fragile. Newtons were very tough. Will this be a Treo, or a Newton?)
      • How clueful will Cingular be in sales and tech support?
      • Will voicemails in the new "random access voicemail" system get deleted/disappear?
      • How does the touchscreen feel? Is it a real problem having no actual buttons for tactile use of the phone (say, when driving?)
      • Is the speakerphone loud enough/clear?
      • Is the touchscreen durable?
      • How well does it load pages over EDGE, which by all accounts is high-latency, slow, and already outdated? (I guarantee anything Steve did was over Wifi.)
      • Will it support 802.11N so that it doesn't knock an N network down to G wherever it goes? It'd be pretty stupid to have an N network if your iPhone on your desk knocks you down to G.

      You won't know any of this until Apple gives units to users (or maybe SOME journalists who aren't too distracted by "OOOO, NEW SHINY APPLE TOY". You're an absolute fool if you "pre-order" this thing.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:50PM (#17541264)
    It's interesting to see that Apple "gets it". They must have been planning on doing the iPhone for a long time - for there are legions of people who scour the FCC website regularly for new registrations to catch the latest and greatest cellphone to hit the market. And add to that the legions of Apple fans who probably scour the FCC website just incase there's something wireless going to hit the market.

    That's why iPhone doesn't have approval (though I bet it already passes certification - they just haven't filed yet) - the instant it's filed, it's public information, and Apple hates that. (Especially since a lot of collateral gets filed - internal photos, external photos, user manuals, lab reports, etc).

    Honestly, until now, I really didn't find anything that made me want a new cellphone (the one I have is great, but it's coming up in the years), so I wouldn't know what to get when it died. Guess I do now. It's pricey, but I paid more for my current smartphone...

    And given how difficult it is to do a cellphone (very - carriers are very picky - if the color of the button is wrong... or if it has certain features like call timers or byte counters...), I wouldn't see Apple as being able to get one in since it has no experience. (I expected it to be some super-hyped rumor that someone started and everyone ran with it after being upset at how crappy their current phone was, or some half-assed thing as is typical reaction.). But I suppose GSM carriers are less strict than CDMA ones since you don't strictly need carrier approval to sell a GSM handset (just replace the SIM card).
  • Do you think the year has already come to the end?
    A year is quite long for technology advances and we are just at the very beginnings!
    Well, iPhone is actually another cell phone.
    It's by Apple, it has touch screen, plays MP3s and videos etc. etc.
    Nonetheless is yet another cell phone [], a 20+ years old technology and dozens of cell phones can do the same things as the iPhone does!
    I'd rather say that Vanu []'s (claims for) new radio technology could be more interesting.
    Let's wait some more weeks before talijg ab
  • by Voltar ( 973532 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:58PM (#17541408)
    Jobs keeps the Apple engineers locked up in the dungeon under Building 7 with little food or water (If someone ask for more, he's sold to Oracle...MS treats their employees too well) until George Lucas shows up and puts his "Window Dressing-No Substance" stamp of approval on the product and recommends Hayden Christenson to be the spokesman for the product *shudder*. Only then does the Marketing Department get wind of the product and start fine-tuning the Reality Distortion's presentation.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:07PM (#17541592)
    Yet Another Phone, huh? The secret isn't so much how they kept this thing "under wraps" (as if) but how Apple is getting various media outlets to flog what appears to be Yet Another Phone (or PDA) as the "next generation", "innovative", etc.

    At $500 a pop it may be Sony-ing it's way out of its target market too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fgodfrey ( 116175 )
      Well, a) integration with things like Google Maps is not something that other phones have (like, being able to tap the phone number you get off Google Maps and have the phone dial it without writing the number down and then typing it back in) b) how many phones support standard IMAP and POP servers? That means darn near anyone can get their email on their phone and can use a nice (assuming you like Apple interfaces) interface on their computer to set the phone up to do it.

      Most importantly, related to your

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by E-Rock ( 84950 )
        Except that you're wrong on every coung. My Blackberry has google maps and you sure as hell can find a location and dial it right from there. I'm also pretty sure every smartphone out there connects to IMAP and POP, Treo sure does. As to your last item, the pricing was already announced and those prices listed were *With two year contract, so that is the special pricing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SpinyNorman ( 33776 )
      Try watching the video of Jobs introducing it (it's long) on - it really is pretty amazing.

      For a start it runs OS/X. It's got no buttons - just a hi-res 3.5" color display with a multi-touch touch-screen interface (responds to multiple touch points simulataneously - see the video to see how this is used).

      I'm a jaded 25+yr veteran programmer who hates cell phones, but even I may consider buying one of these! It's just way too cool.

  • by bazorg ( 911295 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:20PM (#17541912) Homepage
    not enough DRM in it.
  • Nokia 9300 Anyone? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mpapet ( 761907 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:22PM (#17541972) Homepage
    I've got a Nokia 9300 that pretty much rocks the party.

    I've got ssh and rdp clients for admin work, mp3 player, removable flash media, email, sms, good back-up restore functionality and works in linux too. There's even an OSS gui toolkit on sourceforge.

    No, it didn't come from the Jobs Reality Distortion Field, but it allows me to have a life when I'm on weekend support rotation.

    FYI, it's available now.
  • by plazman30 ( 531348 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @02:15PM (#17542968) Homepage
    OS X is now EMBEDDED. Apple can now take their OS and use it to run a whole mountain of consumer electronic devices.

    So how long till they announce HD based widescreen iPods.


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