All right, so this is about an event that I did not even attend. But heck, even as the world was remembering the day it saw the iPhone for the first time, I must confess I sat through Steve Jobs presentation of the device, watching with a sense of amazement. Yes, we know that Jobs was a master presenter, and yes, we know that many credited him with the Reality Distortion Field, that (as its name indicates) seemed to totally change perceptions, and yes, no one perhaps ever blended culture, art and consumer electronics into one like he did.

But even by his standards, January 9, 2007, was a masterpiece. I would tend to agree with Walt Mossberg – it was perhaps Jobs’ best presentation ever.

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In many ways, the presentation – or the iPhone part of it anyway – was a more refined version of Apple’s epic launches of the early to mid-eighties. A much younger Jobs then would love poking fun at the competition, deriding them, naming them openly and claiming that Apple’s own devices (computers in those days) were much better. It was fizzy, heady stuff but at times seemed a bit too heavy on the hype – a bit like a good beer.

The iPhone presentation now was champagne. The fizz was there and so was the heady-ness but with far more, well for want of a better word, class. This was an older, wiser Jobs. A man who had been sacked by the very company he had founded and who had come back to bring it back from the dead (well, almost). Yes, there was humor but a lot of it was based around sarcasm and while the competition was made fun of, names were not taken. You could see Nokia, Palm and BlackBerry phones on the large display but their brand names were removed. If the Apple of the 1980s had needed “Big Blue” IBM to define it (hey, IBM’s motto was Think, Apple’s was Think Different, remember?), Apple under Steve Jobs Mark II was a very different kettle of fish – setting its own standards and defining new product segments. And Jobs had moved on from being a master of the living room (to paraphrase Jerry Maguire) to being a full-scale presentation wizard – think of going from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White. He now spaced out his words more carefully and at times seemed to almost invite applause by pausing. And of course, he now wore the iconic black turtleneck and the denim, which fans used to count the number of times he hitched up (“why does he not get a good belt?” I remember one of them muttering!).

The presentation (we do recommend you see it again) begins with a statement that now seems eerily prescient – Jobs thanks everyone for coming and then says with a little smile, “We are going to make some history today.” Indeed they were, but just how much, perhaps nobody knew. The presentation which is the usual blend of pictures and very large fonts actually kicks off with the Apple TV, which was also introduced on the same day and sees Phil Schiller spend some time with Jobs on stage. But everyone that day was waiting for a phone. And Jobs did not disappoint them.

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Having seen off the Apple TV, he talked a little of devices that had redefined the industry – the Macintosh and the iPod – and then slightly more than twenty minutes into the presentation, he uttered the words that are now part of tech history (you can see them at 23:19 in the video):

Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls (applause from the crowd). The second is a revolutionary mobile phone (wild applause). And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device (cheering).

And then as the audience waited, he milked the moment for all it was worth and repeated:

So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device.

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Even today, you can sense the tension in the room. The crowd just wanted him to show the device. But no, Jobs had one more repetition to make:

An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator.

There were by now a few titters from the crowd. And then as the room dissolved into cheering and laughter, he repeated again:

An iPod, a phone,

And this time did not finish, but added with a laugh “Are you getting it?

As the cheers grow louder, Jobs finally made the announcement:

These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.

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In most presentations, this would have been the denouement. The time for people to pause and let photographers take pictures (“photo ops”) but not here. For the picture that came up on the large display was that of an iPod classic with a rotary dial that was seen in many landlines! No, Jobs was in no mood to show the phone to the world as yet. Instead, he embarked on an analysis of existing smartphones and their inadequacies – the keyboards were mocked for being plasticky and yes, a snook was cocked at the stylus (“who wants a stylus!”). The first look at the phone’s front actually comes when Jobs says that Apple had cleared away all the buttons and created a “giant screen” (hey, 3.5 inches was giant in those days) and yet Jobs still did not talk about design or flaunt the phone. He was selling the concept of a whole new device, complete with multi-touch and an OS unlike anyone had seen – a touchscreen that needed no stylus.

So he talked about how easy it would be to use the phone, its different functions, from mail to browsing to messaging to music and videos. Throughout the presentation, he keeps referring to performance and words like desktop and iPod, building a comfort level for the audience, building familiarity. He, in fact, does not come to the design aspect until almost an hour of talking about the phone, and rather unusually, almost runs through it – the words flit in typically large fonts across the screen as Jobs walks across it.

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And making all these tech easily digestible was that sleekest of all oils – humor. Yes, Jobs always had a cheeky sense of humor but he seldom used it as much as he did that day. From making faces about the stylus and actually saying “Eurgh” to being amazed at being able to zoom into the Washington Memorial in the Maps app and prank calling Starbucks (and ordering 4000 lattes), Jobs moved back and forth from being a high priest with a scepter to an innocent child with a toy almost seamlessly . And of course, in all of this, not much mention was made of the weaknesses of the device – you could not forward messages on it, Bluetooth could not be used to transfer files, it was a 2G device and you could not install any apps on it.

In the final stage of the presentation, Jobs he moves on to the price, availability (June), partners (Cingular, whose CEO gets some stage time).

And then things go wrong.

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As Jobs tries to describe the size of the mobile market, his “clicker” (the device with which he changes slides on the display), stops working. He refuses to get ruffled, announces loudly “clicker not working” to get the engineers scrambling backstage and while they work away, he then narrates an episode of how he and Steve Wozniak had made a device called a TV Jammer which would mess up TV signals in dormitories in Berkeley. Relevant? Maybe not, but the crowd was too busy being in splits of laughter at Jobs hitting funny poses to notice. Perhaps one of the truly great instances of on-stage crisis management.

The clicker back and functioning, Jobs then proceeded to announce Apple’s intention of capturing a single percentage point of the phone market. Modest? Well, as per the man: “If you have just One percent market share, you’re gonna sell 10 million phones. And this is exactly what we’re gonna try to do in 2008, our first full year in the market, is grab 1 percent market share and go from there.” He then thanks the Apple team and then signs off, leaving the stage for John Mayer to perform.

It was the kind of presentation a revolutionary product needed. A masterclass indeed. For slightly more than an hour and a half, Jobs had the audience mesmerized and applauding seemingly at well. This was not a Reality Distortion Field, but rather one that redefined Reality. Just as the phone itself would.

Did he ever make a better presentation? I am not too sure. I have seen all his videos and never seen the man manage to be so full of life, a court jester and conjuror rolled into one.

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What better way to conclude than by quoting the man himself at the presentation:

You know, there’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love:
‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’
And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple.
Since the very very beginning.
And we always will.<./em>”

That day he did just that.


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Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.