Former Verizon CEO Claims Bob Iger Had a Prototype iPhone in July 2006

Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon from 2000 to 2011, has a new book. FierceWireless has an excerpt, ostensibly explaining why AT&T launched the original iPhone and Verizon didn’t. Spoiler: Apple was committed to GSM, and Verizon’s network was CDMA. Not that interesting a story, really. What is very interesting to me is this anecdote:

Seidenberg was attending the annual media conference sponsored by the investment banking firm Allen & Co. in July 2006 when he saw Walt Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger. He was looking intently at what appeared to be an oddly shaped cellphone in his hand. Seidenberg asked him about it as Iger put away the device as discreetly as possible. “This is going to change the world,” Iger said cryptically.

That was Verizon’s first, albeit partial, view of the Apple iPhone that would indeed change the world of telecommunications. Seidenberg checked in with the Verizon Wireless leadership when he returned from the conference. “We’ve been hearing about this. We don’t know,” was the response. They knew that Apple CEO Steve Jobs was on Disney’s board of directors. They assumed that meant Iger was looking at an Apple device. Tapping industry and Apple sources led them to the conclusion that Apple was readying a next-generation cellphone that clearly was intended to leapfrog the competition.

I find this extremely hard to believe. The iPhone wasn’t unveiled until January 2007, and even then, many of its apps were just placeholder screenshots. It didn’t launch until the end of June 2007. So what Seidenberg is saying is that he thinks Bob Iger was carrying and using a prototype iPhone six months before it was announced — and remember, when it was announced, everything about it dropped as a complete surprise — and a full year before it shipped?

Yes, Jobs was on the Disney board. But Iger wasn’t on the Apple board. Why in the world would Steve Jobs trust Bob Iger with one? It is possible — I’ve asked around and July 2006 was about as early as this could have possibly happened — but it strikes me as very implausible.

Update: The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this story is bullshit. As Glenn Fleishman points out, the iPhone prototypes that select press got to see post-keynote in January, six months after this story ostensibly took place, could barely do anything useful. It’s probably true that those press demo units weren’t an indication of where Apple’s internal prototype software was at the time, but just consider this question. My answer: no way.

And furthermore, Disney’s ESPN phone — remember this great Steve Jobs story? — had just launched on 30 June 2006. Why would Jobs have even shown the iPhone, let alone given a prototype to carry around, to someone he should have seen as a competitor?

Update 2: More reason to call bullshit on this: last year in an on-stage interview with John Markoff, Scott Forstall claimed that for months after they were midway through development, the only two people in the world carrying an iPhone outside Apple’s campus were him and Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018