Hey, Tim Cook: Remember When People Said The iPhone Would Fail Because It Did Too Many Things?

Tim Cook toaster refrigerator

Photo: AP, califrayray via Flickr, healthserviceglasses via Flickr

On Apple’s earnings call today, CEO Tim Cook took a shot at Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 tablets for trying to combine two fundamentally different things — a personal computer with a keyboard, and a tablet with a touch screen.As he put it, “You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those aren’t going to be pleasing to the user. To make a compromise in convergence — we’re not going to that party.”

That sounds familiar. Wasn’t there some other device that critics said would fail because it combined too many things?

Oh yeah. The iPhone. Which has sold 70 million units in the last six months.

Here’s Matthew Lynn writing in Bloomberg in 2007:

The price and the e-mail features make it look like a business product. But Apple is a consumer company. Will your accounts department stump up for a fancy new handset just so you can listen to Eminem on your way to a business meeting?

Here’s Al Ries in AdAge, in a piece called “Why the iPhone Will Fail.”

In the high-tech world, divergence devices have been spectacular successes. But convergence devices, for the most part, have been spectacular failures….

  • The computer/phone. AT&T, Motorola and others introduced combination products. Few were ever purchased.

This is from Seeking Alpha, in an article called “The iPhone: Apple’s First Flop.”

There are several versions of Mp3 player phones out there and none of them are big sellers. The reason? The market does not want them together. I do not want to have to turn off my music to get a phone call. If I am driving my family in my car and we are listening to the iPod, having to turn off the music to answer my phone becomes a major hassle. The same holds true for any event where I play the iPod. Why would I pay $600 for this, or, buy an iPod in addition to this, in order to avoid the hassle?

Here’s author David Platt, who wrote a book called “Why Software Sucks.”

Second, the iPhone crams too many functions into a single box. Putting everything in the same package so you only have to carry one box sounds like a good idea, until you want to listen to music while surfing the web or reading your email or playing a game. Then users will find it essentially impossible to use one function of the tiny box without disrupting the operation of another. A few dedicated technophiles might, just MIGHT, figure out how to do so, but it will require far more dedication than an ordinary user is willing to invest in learning and then remembering. This combination condemns the iPhone to a tiny niche at best.

Count me among the doubters

More specifically with the iPhone, I’m not sure the features it’s combining gain any particular benefit by being combined.

(Boy, was I wrong. At least I realised it six months later.)

The point is: sometimes convergence works. If you combine features that people want in a smart way, and sell it at the right price, it can work.

Tim Cook of all people should know that.

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