Steve Jobs Hated Cell Phones: They're For The 'Pocket Protector Crowd"

The Apple CEO considered smartphones, at best, a nerd's accessory.

Steve Jobs presenting in front of an enlarged photo of a cell phone
Getty Images / David Paul Morris

Steve Jobs, the brain behind the Apple iPhone, famously hated cell phones.

As relayed in The One Device: the Secret History of the iPhone, author Brian Merchant’s history of the iPhone, Jobs thought cell phones sucked.

In his book, which ruminates on how the manifold “universally desirable device” came to omnipresence, Merchant goes on a vision quest of sorts to find the “soul of the iPhone,” which marks its tenth birthday on Tuesday. Particularly intriguing, the book reveals how some of Apple’s notoriously secretive inner workings came to light. Among them, Merchant notes that cell phones, by and large, were disparaged at Apple:

From Steve Jobs to Jony Ive to Tony Fadell to Apple’s engineers, designers, and managers, there’s one part of the iPhone mythology that everyone tends to agree on: Before the iPhone, everyone at Apple thought cell phones “sucked.” They were “terrible.” Just “pieces of junk.”

But for the company’s intimidating and enterprising CEO, the cell phone was a source of particular irreverence. Merchant notes that Jobs had been publicly adverse to making a phone for market share reasons, but, it seems Jobs more poignantly felt that they weren’t a good fit for the Apple brand and considered them a nerd’s accessory:

Privately, Jobs had other reservations. One former Apple executive who had daily meetings with Jobs told me that the carrier issue wasn’t his biggest hang-up. He was concerned with a lack of focus in the company, and he “wasn’t convinced that smartphones were going to be for anyone but the ‘pocket protector crowd,’ as we used to call them.”

The Rokr phone with iTunes.

Flickr / mray

Jobs’ animosity towards cell phones (he obviously, eventually, would warm up to the device), perhaps, comes from an awkward partnership between Apple and Motorola that begat the “iTunes phone.” The launch of the Rokr, which integrated iTunes into Motorola hardware, was a disaster from the onset. Following an awkward demo in 2005:

“When he got offstage he was just like, ‘Ugh,’ really upset,” Fadell says. The Rokr was such a disaster that it landed on the cover of Wired with the headline “You Call This the Phone of the Future?” and it was soon being returned at a rate six times higher than the industry average. Its sheer shittiness took Jobs by surprise — and his anger helped motivate him to squeeze the trigger harder on an Apple-built phone. “It wasn’t when it failed. It was right after it launched,” Fadell says. “This is not gonna fly. I’m sick and tired of dealing with bozo handset guys,” Jobs told Fadell after the demo.

The infamous 'Wired' cover.

Flickr / blakespot

This, however, seemed to light a fire underneath the Apple execs’ feet as the setback and critical press pushed them to make a better product, with a head software developer declaring:

“Fuck this, we’re going to make our own phone.”

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