Jobs wasn’t playing with a future model iPhone on his way to demo the first iPhone. They barely had a working first generation iPhone. They hardcoded the signal indicator to show five bars. They had to use the apps in a certain order or they were guaranteed to crash. But Jobs insisted on live presentations.
Grignon had been part of the iPhone rehearsal team at Apple and later at the presentation site in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. He had rarely seen Jobs make it all the way through his 90-minute show without a glitch. Jobs had been practicing for five days, yet even on the last day of rehearsals the iPhone was still randomly dropping calls, losing its Internet connection, freezing or simply shutting down.
It’s an amazing story.
It reminds me of the day The Daily launched. Originally, Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs were to be on stage for the big unveiling as Jobs had been very hands on in the design of the first ever iPad-only news app, but health problems kept that from happening.
The Chaotic Moon team had worked feverishly on what was an ambitious app — especially for the first iPad. Since then I’ve told people that it was ambitious even for the third generation iPad. There were so many memory limitations on the first iPad and so many ways for apps to crash with just a few screens of content. How could you expect the app to load 120 pages with unique content and layouts for both landscape and portrait orientations, plus a cover flow-style carousel, audio and video? It was nuts.
On our launch day, there were two iPads hooked up to the video screen. Sure enough, halfway through the demo The Daily crashed. For a split second the crowd saw a home screen, but the video was quickly switched to the second iPad which was running an app that was kept in sync with the first iPad. Why didn’t the second app crash too? How were they kept in sync? I’ll never know. It was some kind of Apple presentation voodoo.
I sat in the front row monitoring the Crowd Fusion chat room and our RightScale consoles, making sure our team and our platform were holding up. In pictures from the event, you can see a large crowd sitting in the dark watching Murdoch speak, with me sitting in the front row below the podium well lit up by my iPad screen.
A year later there were reports in the press that The Daily had built their tablet publishing platform in-house with their own tech team and were exploring renting it out. Those stories were a huge morale killer for our team. The project paid well, but it was a black hole for our resources and gave us zero direct lift. Building The Daily never lead to Crowd Fusion adding a single new customer — not even within News Corp.
On the other side, Chaotic Moon had completely redesigned their site for launch day with quotes from The Daily on how they had “redefined the word awesome.” When we started working on The Daily — before it even had a name — we were told that we couldn’t mention our work on News Corp’s top secret project. Maybe it was just us. Ugh.
All of that sucked, but it was a big lesson to never skip your own publicity. If your contract says you can’t brag about your involvement in a newsworthy project, get an exception from your customer — unless that customer is healthcare.gov.
That experience pushed us to stop working with traditional media companies and create a platform for brand publishers. We wouldn’t have built our tablet-friendly, realtime authoring tools if we hadn’t worked on The Daily, so if I could go back in time I would do it all again.
Looking back now — and knowing what Steve Jobs went through on stage with the first iPhone — maybe style wins over substance.
Of course, that’s just a short term victory. Eventually your product has to deliver.