Apple legend Ken Kocienda says there was nothing inevitable about the iPhone
Ken Kocienda is a well-known and influential figure in the world of Apple having been in the past involved on the software engineering side for the development of the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. Over the weekend he responded to a tweet asking the question whether the iPhone was inevitable – Kocienda lands firmly on the side of “no” and in the space of a couple of brief tweets explains his rationale. Rather than being something that anyone might have eventually landed on with a smartphone design (that unique confluence of software and hardware), it was an act of creativity.
The iPhone was an act of creativity. It wasn’t inevitable. It was the product of a singular vision and the accumulation of many small choices by a group of people working together closely in a specific time and place.
It is an interesting perspective, to say the least, and will inevitably lead to a lot of debate. In world where there isn’t a lot of difference between Apple and Android in terms of fundamental operation (and plenty of iPhone imitators out there still), it might be easy to conclude that another company would have eventually hit on something similar. But would it have been the society-level game changer that the iPhone has been?
Eventually, people would have come to understand gravity, because it’s right there all the time for everyone to see. Creative work isn’t like that. It doesn’t exist one moment, and then it does in the next—or maybe it never comes together. Who knows?
It certainly is an interesting perspective. Given the context in which Apple was operating, where RIM was dominant with the BlackBerry and everyone else had a Nokia feature phone, Kocienda probably makes a very fair point. RIM engineers couldn’t believe the iPhone when they saw it and didn’t believe it was possible as this post quoting a former RIM engineer reveals. Even what became Android [Andy Rubin's DangerOS] was at the time dismissed in this same post as being “just working on a better Blackberry.”
Of course, Android pivoted in a big way once the iPhone was launched and just about every smartphone now is either still an iPhone or a version of it at its core. [Author’s note: Yes, I am opening myself up to attack for saying that, but I am avid Android user if you’re wondering after being an iPhone user right up until the iPhone X]. Let's conclude with this comment by the same former RIM engineer from his 2010 post:
[People aren't giving] Apple enough credit... They did something amazing [with the iPhone] that many very prominent people in the industry thought was either impossible or at least a decade away, and they did it in a disgustingly short time frame.
What do you think? Was the iPhone inevitable or not?