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Microsoft Passed On iPhone-Like Device In 1991 184

theodp writes "Microsoft apparently could have been a contender in the smartphone market, instead of what WP7 is today. Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold says he tried to convince Microsoft to make an iPhone-like device more than two decades ago. 'The cost will not be very high,' Myhrvold wrote in 1991. 'It is pretty easy to imagine a $400 to $1,000 retail price.' So is Myhrvold bitter that cost-conscious and risk averse Microsoft opted not to pursue his vision? Nope. 'Hey, it was better than predicting the wrong thing,' Myhrvold explains."
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Microsoft Passed On iPhone-Like Device In 1991

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  • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:14AM (#39692857)

    Idea was before its time. See the Apple Newton.

  • Hindsight is 20/20 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acidradio ( 659704 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:16AM (#39692873)

    OK so the idea may have existed in 1991 but was the technology to make it work "like" an iPhone as we know it there? NO! Without the wireless data (or really data at all!) it is useless. In fact nobody really even knew what the Internet was back in 1991. This is like having an idea for a helicopter but no motor to power it (a la Da Vinci). They may have had CDPD data back then but it was pretty slow. But without the Internet how could you really share with anyone? Was everyone supposed to use, oh, Compuserve?

    Some may argue "yeah, well they could have at least bought the idea and held onto it until it was feasible." That's like if I bought the idea for a warp drive or transporter and held onto it until it becomes feasible. So many other things have to be invented or perfected before anything like that could work. I don't think I'm going to be around long enough for that to happen. And maybe Microsoft felt the same way in 1991 when presented with that iPhone-like idea.

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:20AM (#39692893) Homepage

    It doesn't seem that interesting to me that someone had the idea. Once you have computers and computerized contacts, calendars, media, etc., it's not *that* clever to say, "Oh, it would be cool if we could put all this into a handheld device.". Further, there were lots of working versions of this before the iPhone. You can see precursors in Windows phones, Blackberries, Palm devices, and even Apple' own Newton device.

    The real issue is the implementation. You need the technology to be able to make the thing. You need fast enough processors, long-lasting batteries, nice LCD screens, and small storage devices that can hold a lot of data. In 1991, the technology to make an iPhone didn't exist yet. And then beyond that, once you have all the technology, you need someone to put it all together into a design that people find useful, and that was the only innovation of the iPhone. Apple didn't originate the idea and they weren't the first people to have access to the technology, they were just the most successful in creating a design that people liked.

  • by f97tosc ( 578893 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:21AM (#39692905)
    Sony-Ericsson actually DID release iPhone-like devices (e.g. P800,P900) before Apple. They did not sell very well, at least not compared to iPhone. They just weren't as slick. And Microsoft isn't exactly known for releasing very slick products either - so even if they had released it it is far from obvious that they had been successful.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:34AM (#39692987)

    Way ahead of its time? This thing is a PDA, like the Psion, the Newton (1992), and the Palm (1997). Everybody was thinking about these things at the time. Only Palm managed to make it successful.

    To get an iPhone, you need, you know, a Phone function - which this "vision" didn't have. And mobile internet - ditto (it did have email, tho). And music. And apps. And. And.

    "predicted the emergence of the iPhone down to the smallest detail, describing a 'digital wallet'..."? Guess what the iPhone is not? A digital wallet!

    What a joke...

  • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:35AM (#39692995) Homepage

    You need a critical mass of the public on a global network, and you need a suitable UI. The latter is really Apple's innovation with the iPhone/iTouch/iPad. By the mid-to-late '90 we had wireless devices with touchscreens that fit into pockets, but they were all heavily textual (even though they had icons and graphics) in the way that they operated and they were also all reliant on a desktop metaphor of some kind. Apple's Newton, if you look at the UI, was the closest thing we had to a truly mobile UI, and while it was way ahead of its time and even has some things I'd kill to have back on an iPhone today, it was also still all about office metaphors: sheets of paper, sliding drawers, envelopes and trash cans, and so on.

    Even those that want to make fun of Newton basically have to admit that in terms of practical usability when walking (i.e. in motion, outdoors) down the street, there's a world of difference in usability between a connected Palm or Windows PocketPC device from the pre-iPhone era and an iDevice. That's Apple's big contribution, what Microsoft did absolutely incorrectly. After all, the basically *had* an iPhone (so did Palm) by the early '00s. There's no technical reason that Windows phones couldn't have been made similar to iDevices in their usability, especially with high end models having faster processors and more memory capability; it's just about UI/UX design. Apple does it. Microsoft did it once a long time ago (partially) and has ignored it since, until Metro—which is much less about some radical improvement in Microsoft-running device hardware as it is about the first real UI/UX design Microsoft has attempted in years, directly in response to iPhone.

  • Full screen apps (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey ( 83763 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:57AM (#39693139) Journal

    Notice that the apps are not full screen. Too desktop-ish.

  • by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:11AM (#39693231)
    This is just a desperate, insecure attempt by Myrvold to convince us that he's some kind of technology innovator. But if he had the idea for an iPhone like product back in 1991, before Apple did, then why the hell didn't he build an iPhone once the technology to do so became available? Instead, what Myrvold did do once he got rich as CTO of Microsoft is to create Intellectual Ventures, a company that generates billions of dollars of revenue by buying up patents and then shaking down other companies. In other words, he's a patent troll. He's trying to say, 'oh yeah, I could have done that. I'm innovative'. No you couldn't, and no you're not. All you are is just a patent troll, a parasite on the real innovators, and a total douche for trying to pretend otherwise.
  • Way before 1991 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fiziko ( 97143 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:20AM (#39693289) Homepage

    Look at the tablet and portable phone technology from any incarnation of Star Trek or other popular sci-fi. The concept has been around for decades. The technological infrastructure to support a device that appeals to the general public didn't exist until very recently. Look at the wireless data speeds and network demands of today's smart phones: there's no practical way to have gotten them on the market sooner.

  • Re:Ouch too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Myopic ( 18616 ) * on Sunday April 15, 2012 @01:18PM (#39694123)

    The underlying premise of this article is that Microsoft, given the opportunity, would have built a device like the iPhone. I think that is preposterous. I think it is obvious that Microsoft would have completely fucked up the implementation, leading to another laughable product.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:55PM (#39696419)

    Absolutely wrong.

    For one thing, go to any helicopter school and ask if everyone finishes. They don't. There's lots of people who wash out, because they simply can't handle it. Either they're too slow, and they run out of money trying to learn because they burn too many hours flying around in circles trying to learn to handle the machine, or they simply give up. Some manage to get a private license (by the skin of their teeth), but aren't able to go any further because they just can't develop the flying skill: the skill you need for the commercial license (and then the CFI license after that) are even greater than what's passable for the private license.

    Some people are simply better at hands-on things than other people. Only a moron would deny this simple fact. Some people just can't develop the feel for flying. And yes, there are people who are naturally good at flying helicopters, just like there's people who are naturally good at playing piano, or riding a bicycle, or writing software, or learning multivariable calculus, or being social and charismatic. All of these skills are learned, but some people pick them up much faster than others, while others never can pick them up to a passable level.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:30PM (#39697453)

    Again, you don't know what you're talking about. You've never flown one yourself, you've never been to a school, you've never known anyone who did. Maybe instead of making up shit, you should listen to people who have more experience than you do. The fact is, a lot of people don't make it. They don't develop the skills.

    Lots of people don't become good artists either. They don't have the manual dexterity. Are you going to try to convince me that everyone can become a Michaelangelo? Bullshit.

    And who has 20 years to develop the skills that someone else can pick up in 3 months?

    There's even people who aren't able to get a driver's license (as easy as that is in the USA) because they can't develop the skills. They're just too stupid. Or in other countries, where the tests are much more stringent (e.g. Germany, where you have to pay $5k to hire an instructor to learn to drive), lots and lots of people don't make it.

  • by pbjones ( 315127 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:19AM (#39698247)

    Did I miss something? it doesn't mention phone as a feature in the diagram, so it's just a PDA or handheld Computer, an idea that wasn't really unique at the time.

  • Re:Ouch too bad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RoboJ1M ( 992925 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:36AM (#39698993)

    The iPhone was not successful because Apple were first to market.
    Anyway, Microsoft had been doing PDAs with all the same components in long before Apple did and they were all dreadful.

    As much as I loath the Apple culture and all it's frothing zealots, they do do great software and hardware design.
    Something that is totally lacking at Microsoft and somewhat lacking in the Linuxverse.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling