Missing Out On The Very First iPhone (And… Almost Becoming A Samsung Smartphone User)

FEATURE: 06.29.20 – Steve Jobs famously said that every once in awhile, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything and there definitely have been some groundbreaking Apple products spewed out by the Cupertino, California-based company in just the first decade of this century alone, ones of which some people are lucky enough to witness with their own eyes being unveiled by the man himself while others yet are among the very first in line to buy (and subsequently own) a new device or piece of hardware, and, such was the case for this particular writer when the iPhone was announced but quite the opposite when said tech gadget was released on this day 13 years ago back in 2007.

As an Apple fan and long time iPhone user who has owned five models to-date (the most recent a second generation iPhone SE) — plus many more Mac computers from desktops to notebooks, a couple of iPad tablets (of the mini variety), and various models of the iPod MP3 player to boot (not to mention a large collection of Apple Store employee t-shirts bought off of eBay which I regularly wear out in public) — I have wondered what it would have been like to own the original, something that I lament having missed out on. I was not a very happy camper when it dropped in stores on June 29, 2007 (internally referred to as ” iDay” by the company). While yours truly was among the droves of people in line for the new Apple-branded smartphone and was part of the excitement revolving around the latest innovation to hit the streets from within the walls of the tech giant’s Cupertino headquarters, the reason I was a participant in the party of sorts was not to purchase the newfangled device but, rather, just a mere bystander observing the commotion as a journalist on the job who was there to cover the big event in order to write a story for my column on the website, PowerBook Central, the sister site of this one (long defunct and since merged in 2018 when I came aboard as a writer for MacPrices).

On the day of its release, a visitor to the flagship Apple Store on Stockton Street in San Francisco, California is seen in this June 29, 2007 photograph, center, calling his own mobile phone using an iPhone on display as others around him in the foreground get their first look at the new Apple-branded smartphone. (Photo: Joe Leo / PowerBook Central)

Earlier that same year, once again as a journalist who was there to cover the big event — this time with a live blog of the keynote address for PowerBook Central — and also as an attendee for the workshops (to enhance my skills as a teacher who taught technology), I was one of the lucky individuals who got the chance to witness, first hand, history being made when the new Apple-branded smartphone was announced by the then Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, as he unveiled the device onstage at Moscone Center West on January 9, 2007 during the Macworld Conference & Expo being held in San Francisco, California. One of the most memorable moments from the company co-founder’s demonstration of the product (which I never ever will forget) was when he revealed that the trio of products that they would be introducing that day were not three separate devices but one: the iPhone.

“Every once in awhile, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been … very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. … Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.”

“So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone — are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device and we are calling it: iPhone.”

“Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone…,” said Jobs (quotes courtesy of this full transcript of the iPhone announcement).

Witnessing Jobs give a demonstration of the product was mesmerizing (to say the least) but to see it for yourself — up close and personal in all of its glory — was stunning to behold. Being introduced in person to the iPhone for the very first time was kind of like meeting a time traveler with a relic from the future brought back from a different period of history that had not yet taken place. While there was a demo unit on display in the exhibit hall at the Moscone Center during that Macworld Conference & Expo, unfortunately, it was fully encased in glass and none of the devices were on hand to touch and give a test drive (figuratively speaking) in order to get a feel for how it worked. This new Apple-branded smartphone was like nothing else in the world, a drool worthy tech gadget, and I wanted nothing more than to buy one when it finally came out but there would be an obstacle in the way of getting that feat accomplished (and it had nothing to do with a lack of funds).

**AD: for the latest deals and discounts on current Apple-branded smartphones, make sure to check out our iPhone price tracker right here on MacPrices (updated daily).

The iPhone would go on sale a few months later in June of that year and while this Apple fan gladly would have swiped his credit card (or two) to pay the almost half a grand — $499 to be exact (for the entry level 4GB version) — to get the new Apple-branded smartphone? Sadly, the one thing that prevented me from getting one was the fact that, at the time, I was still on a two-year contract with my wireless carrier, Sprint (now the new T-Mobile), which I had signed in 2006 and it wouldn’t be up until sometime in the latter half of 2008. So, as I stood in line at the flagship Apple Store on Stockton Street in San Francisco (a location long shuttered and since relocated to the city’s Union Square), while I was excited to be there that evening, there was a cloud hanging over my head the entire time with the knowledge in the back of my mind that I would not be among the first group of people to get their hands on the new device and would be leaving that night empty handed.

One only can imagine this writer’s disappointment and disdain over being an Apple fan who missed out on one of the biggest tech gadgets ever to come out of the company’s Cupertino headquarters during this century!

As I headed into the city by the bay via BART — an acronym which stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit (the subway system in, of course, the San Francisco Bay Area) — to cover the “iDay” event, it was evident even on the train ride over that the hype surrounding this new Apple-branded smartphone was clearly in the air. Seated near me were a trio of people (possibly college students) who were discussing the iPhone in addition to the iPod and as yet to be released Apple TV (which back then resembled a Mac mini and had a hard disk drive where you would save your purchased TV shows onto the device). A person in the group told his friends how he’d need all of his credit cards just to be able to pay for one. He added how this was a phone you didn’t want to drop on the ground.

The comment I heard which stood out the most, however, was from one of the other two people in the group who said to his friends that in a year, Apple will have upgraded the iPhone.

In my story about the “iDay” event (linked in the second paragraph), I wrote that it was interesting because that was the consensus among those who were holding off on buying (right away) the new Apple-branded smartphone in order to wait for any bugs to be fixed and worked out. Another major concern was over AT&T — the exclusive wireless carrier for the device at the time — as a provider of cellular service (who was just getting into the game after its acquisition of Cingular, the company Apple initially made a deal with). Then there was the one thing that most people wanted the most, the iPhone sans the phone: the widescreen iPod (which eventually would surface and take the form of the iPod touch released later that year in September).

The following year (sometime in the Spring of 2008), as I counted down the days (more like months) for my contract with Sprint to run its course so that I could switch to AT&T in order to buy the new Apple-branded smartphone, in the interim, I decided to get the iPod touch (a 32GB version for $399 which was a refreshed model with double the capacity of the original for the same price). I was so excited to get one because now I practically had an iPhone with almost all of its features except for, of course, the ability to make phone calls (and send / receive texts as the Messages app with iMessage was not yet available at the time) and since I already had that capability on my mobile phone, I figured that I feasibly could get away with just using the combination of the two together. Plus, (not to mention) it had a lot more storage space (8x of it) than its phone-equipped counterpart. The only major drawback of this particular iPod was that it required an internet connection to be able to use three specific apps: Safari, Mail (which was pre-installed on this iteration but not the models before it), and iTunes (Music Store). Without cellular connectivity, the device was as good as a brick. Unless you were near a Wi-Fi access point or hotspot (the latter of which was not always nearby nor free for that matter) it was useless for surfing the web and checking (or sending and responding to) emails on the go.

So, my alternate plan went down the drain very quickly and I was back on track towards getting an iPhone to replace my mobile phone just as soon as I could get my hands on one.

The day I had been waiting for came a few months later (sometime in the Fall of 2008) when I finally became the proud owner of an iPhone, however, rather than opting for the original? Since it had become obsolete by that time, instead, I decided to go for the newer iPhone 3G (an 8GB version in black for $199). While this new second generation model wasn’t as attractive as the previous iteration with its cheap looking plastic body, what set it apart was the additional number and letter in its name which stood for the new 3G cellular standard which had faster connectivity (versus the old 2G EDGE on its predecessor). Unlike the iPod touch, the device worked everywhere because of its always on connection so Safari and Mail actually worked on the go and I could surf the web (not the “baby internet” found on mobile phones which Jobs referred to it as) plus check my emails and respond (or compose and send) on the fly from wherever I happened to be at. It was a total game changer and other experiences like being able to type out texts with a full virtual keyboard — as opposed to tapping three or four times on a physical alphanumeric keypad — using SMS (the precursor to the Messages app today) and even the ability to get turn-by-turn driving directions without the need for a built-in GPS system in your car with the use of Maps (Google Maps was the default service back then) were all that I needed to be sold on the idea that, moving forward, an Apple-branded smartphone was the way to go. Just those apps alone in tandem with the multitouch interface with Mac OS X at its core (let’s not forget that huge 3.5-inch screen) was enough to convince me that this was the wave of the future and Apple really had reinvented the phone (as Jobs so famously said).

Ever since that experience with the iPhone 3G, I swore to myself that I never again would go back to using a clamshell style “flip” phone or use anything else (for that matter) other than an Apple-branded smartphone which is how I became a lifelong iPhone user. As proof of this, I have owned these five models to-date:

  • 2008: iPhone 3G
  • 2010: iPhone 4
  • 2012: iPhone 5
  • 2016: iPhone SE
  • 2020: iPhone SE (second generation)

On the flip (pun intended) side of things, long before Apple reinvented the phone and turned me into a dedicated user of the iPhone, when a clamshell style “flip” phone was the ubiquitous handset in everyone’s possession? I was an aficionado of Samsung mobile phones (being a huge Apple fan, it’s a fact that I hate to admit). The last one that I ever would own — the third of three I’ve purchased from the Seoul, South Korea-based company — was the MM-A900 which was more commonly known by what it was branded as, the Samsung Blade, a phone that almost led me into the galaxy of Samsung-branded smartphones.

A thin and svelte clamshell style “flip” phone, the Samsung Blade was a shot across the bow of the original: the Motorola RAZR V3 (not to be confused for the Verizon exclusive released earlier this year, the Motorola RAZR, a smartphone with a foldable display). Unique to the Samsung mobile phone was its multimedia capabilities (hence, the “MM” prefix in its model number) which allowed it to stream music (plus live TV) as well as download songs (purchased from the Sprint Music Store) for playback via its speakerphone. One of the coolest features of the MM-A900 (other than its slim design) was its customizable user interface with downloadable themes that changed the appearance of the background and icons on the screen (for instance, my phone’s theme was a Marvel Comics superheroes one).

In stark contrast, the clone was better in almost every way, especially when it came to making phone calls (the most important feature of all and the whole point of a mobile phone in the first place) where the person you were talking to could be heard loud and crystal clear as opposed to the muffled sound quality on the original (which made it very difficult to hear). Even with its design, the Samsung Blade was much more slimmer, sleeker, and lighter compared to the slim handset that it had gotten its inspiration from. However, appearance-wise, specifically in terms of the build and materials used between the two competing clamshell style “flip” phones? The Motorola RAZR V3 had more finesse with its shiny silver metal versus the cheap looking matte black plastic of its copycat counterpart, the MM-A900.

To digress somewhat, when I originally signed a two-year contract with Sprint in 2006, the Samsung mobile phone that I purchased was the MM-A920 (a bulkier version of the MM-A900). A hybrid clamshell style “flip” phone / MP3 player, it featured music controls on its backside (which you operated with it folded closed), a pair of speakers on its sides (for stereo quality sound), and a micro SD card slot for external memory (to save downloaded songs purchased from the Sprint Music Store or other content like photos and videos). More than midway through my contractual agreement (sometime in 2007), I decided to buy the Motorola RAZR V3 after succumbing to the hype over the slim handset (which used to be the phone everyone on the street had to have before the iPhone came along and took over its spot). Due to the lackluster experience I had with the phone, I returned it shortly thereafter and reverted back to my old one, that is, until I discovered its thin and svelte sibling, the Samsung Blade, and it was so irresistible (plus, almost like what I already had, sans the extraneous bells and whistles) that I just had to have it, and, of course, without giving it a second thought or any hesitation in my mind, I got it.

Just like the Samsung Blade before it, the company was out with an iPhone clone of its own, the Samsung Instinct, and it was my experience with the copycat MM-A900 (and partially the MM-A920 as well) that tempted me to look into the wannabe Apple-branded smartphone to see how close it came to, and, whether it was even better than, the original.

This “iPhone killer” — which the media at the time had dubbed the Samsung Instinct — was what ignited the fierce rivalry (if I recall correctly) between Apple and Samsung and was the latter company’s answer to the Apple-branded smartphone that Jobs unveiled the year before in San Francisco. At first glance, this Samsung clone was a pretty good knockoff of the Apple original, from the “Home” button (one of three buttons with separate functions) located on the bottom below the screen, right down to a touchscreen display with apps. The features that its counterpart lacked — which I only learned about after the fact (from my background research in writing this story) — were faster connectivity via the 3G cellular standard, GPS navigation with turn-by-turn driving directions, the ability to capture videos and share the files with others through MMS, haptic feedback (a technology recently introduced on iPhones released since 2018), voice recognition with speech-to-action commands, and a removable lithium ion (LiIon) battery. It also featured multimedia capabilities (just like on the MM-A900 and MM-A920) with live TV, music streaming, and songs that you could purchase from the Sprint Music Store and download onto the phone (or saved to a micro SD card with its built-in slot for such).

Was this iPhone clone as good as (or better) than the actual thing? I couldn’t say because while I tested it out in-store, I didn’t get to use it in a real world application to be able to compare it to the original Apple-branded smartphone (which I didn’t own at the time either) unlike how I was able to do so with the Samsung Blade and the Motorola RAZR V3.

The Samsung Instinct easily could have become my very first smartphone ever (albeit, classified as the opposite, oddly enough, a regular phone with enhanced features), but, despite my affinity for Samsung mobile phones and the influence it had on me? It wasn’t enough to sway me towards getting the iPhone clone. A major factor, too, was the fact that just two weeks after its release, the newer iPhone 3G — which addressed some of the features that the original model lacked (such as faster connectivity with the 3G cellular standard or over-the-air downloads via the iTunes Music Store) — had already hit the streets. Thankfully, my temptation didn’t get the better of me and my instinct (pun intended) told me to look the other way because had I not done so? Otherwise, life as an Apple fan surely would have taken a different turn if I was a user of Mac computers but in rival territory using Samsung-branded smartphones and tablets running the Android mobile operating system (the dark side), and, today I’d be using Bixby (the company’s copycat AI-based virtual assistant) instead of Siri on the real thing.

In retrospect, getting the second generation of the Apple-branded smartphone was a better decision in the end. With the faster connectivity of the iPhone 3G, not to mention, the sweeter deal I received with the hundreds of dollars that I saved: a savings of $400 (considering that the original iPhone that had 8GB of storage, like the version of the phone I did get, initially cost $599 when it was released). To this day, however, I still lament (and regret) not getting the very first model with its sleek design and appearance which was reminiscent of a Mac notebook computer with its silver anodized aluminum casing and black Apple logo. The relic from the future (although it had become one from the past by the time my two-year contract with Sprint ran out) that Steve Jobs announced 13 years ago in San Francisco which I subsequently line up for five months later on this particular date back in 2007 but, unfortunately, could not buy….

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