Today in Apple history: Apple buys ‘iPhone’ web domain
Do you remember when you first heard the name iPhone?
December 14, 1999: Apple acquires the domain name www.iphone.org, prompting years of speculation that Apple is considering building a cellphone.
While the news is met with interest, it’s also taken as a warning sign for a company that only recently moved away from the kind of non-computer gimmicks like games consoles, PDAs and digital cameras that proved to be dead ends earlier in the decade.
An Apple phone could never be a thing, right?
Another doomed invention?
As we see weekly with patents, just because Apple shows an interest in a technology doesn’t mean that it necessarily plans to proceed with it. This is certainly the case with the iPhone.
The journey from filing for a domain name to launching a product took the best part of a decade — with the iPhone only being shown off for the first time in 2007.
There was good reason to be reticent. There is often a narrative suggesting that Apple failed to innovate during Jobs’ absence from the company. In fact, the opposite is true: Apple continued experimenting throughout his 11-year-absence. There were expandable Macs, revolutionary personal data assistant the MessagePad, games console the Pippin, the QuickTake digital camera, and more. There was even a proposal for a Planet Hollywood-style string of Apple restaurants.
With the arguable exception of the Macs (which, nonetheless, fell in market share during the 1990s), none of these products captured the public imagination — despite often being good products way above what others were offering. As a result, Steve Jobs helped scrap a lot of them when he returned to Apple in the late 1990s.
The Cisco battle
The name “iPhone” is now synonymous with Apple. In fact, just like Apple had to pay to use the name Macintosh since it was previously owned by another company, iPhone was a 2000-era copyright of Cisco.
It had acquired the name after buying another company called Infogear, and used it for its dual-mode cordless VoIP network phones. The name actually dated back as far as 1996, which put it before Apple’s use of the “i” prefix for the iMac G3.
Apple went ahead and used the name iPhone, which prompted Cisco to threaten litigation. The case was settled so that Apple got to keep the name and the two companies would work together. (Apple later announced it wanted to use the term iOS, which Cisco also owned. A second deal was reached.)
The official iPhone history
The official versions of Apple’s iPhone history, as told in books like Walter Isaacson’s official biography of Steve Jobs, start around 2005. There’s good reason for this. With iPod sales skyrocketing at the time, this is when the iPhone became a real research project. That was the same year when Apple teamed with Motorola to release the ROKR E1, the grandfather of the iPhone and the first Apple-sanctioned cellphone to run iTunes.
Jobs’ unhappiness with the results of that collaboration — and the fact that he went along with it in the first place — suggests that the dream of an Apple-manufactured phone was not something solidified in his mind until well after the 1999 date commemorated today.
Nonetheless, Jobs made several comments in the years which followed that suggested he was busy connecting the dots about what a smartphone might involve. In 2002, for example, he said that Apple had decided against building another PDA because PDAs would eventually turn into one feature in a cellphone, rather than standalone devices.
He meanwhile told the International Herald Tribune that “one never knows,” when asked directly if Apple would build an iPhone.
All the time, Apple continued applying for trademarks in places like Singapore, the U.K. and more.
When did you first hear rumors about an Apple cellphone? And (be honest!) what was your first reaction? Leave your comments below.
By: Luke Dormehl •
Photo: Sam Mills/Cult of Mac