iPhone prototype

Apple’s purported 2005 iPhone prototype

The interest in Apple’s reported iPhone prototype is understandable, folks hope to gain new insights into how Apple conceives of, designs and builds their products. My impression is that this system was a development system used to run and test early versions of the software, and indeed shows Apple’s thinking re: what became the iPhone platform definition.

Before, after and while at Microsoft I’ve worked on products that have bootstrapped on development systems that approximated the production units as much as possible, at times years before it’s intended launch. You select the processor/architecture family, memory footprint, I/O and make this prototype hardware platform definition as close to the silicon vendors projected availability of their new chip families in the supply chain at your release target date. You then design and build your OS software, drivers and any other hardware abstraction layers to target the core characteristics of the chip families selected. The more chip savvy of you will note this is why new processor features are often not exploited by the OS at initial release. So, indeed this system shows Apples selection of processor architecture and family, however, the screen used may have been a matter of convenience. It may not have been intended to be used at it’s full physical extent but probably was bounded by the target screen sizes Apple was testing. Also given the way the prototype is mounted on the stand it appears this setup was used to test input gestures as well.

So, how does this apply to the rest of the industry? Well, the good news is with off the shelf systems like Raspberry Pi readily available for intial prototyping, it’s an easy, low cost way for startups to prototype their ideas like Apple did using this custom engineered device. We’re seeing an explosion of new devices (not just smartphones) and new categories of devices being created daily for consumers and business. Many acquaintances and former colleagues of mine are now at start ups building devices who’s UI appears on a mobile device, the app is part of the overall solution and experience they’re building.

At BlackBerry we’re fortunate to have the experience of the QNX team who’ve worked on countless embedded implementations of their software. Together, we’re working to make the power of BlackBerry 10 and QNX available to build these new “solution devices” using the tools and platform we’ve shipped in BlackBerry 10.

In the beginning, BillG created the Evangelists in his own image

It was 1989 and Microsoft was facing down a daunting three pronged product strategy: first to continue evolving DOS, second to garner support for the nascent DOS based GUI environment named “Windows” and third building an entirely new operating system with then partner IBM called “OS/2”.  How can the company possibly deliver application software for all three operating systems?

Ever vigilant of competitors strategies and tactics, Microsoft noted the seeming success of Apple Computer’s “Evangelists”.  A team was quickly assembled to answer this Apple threat, and in what would be become a common Microsoft tactic, made the role it’s own by tweaking the title to “Technical Evangelist”.  This team was called the Microsoft Developer Relations Group and was Microsoft’s first evangelism team.  I was part of this team and the lessons we learned way back then continue to be applicable today.

From the beginning Microsoft’s Technical Evangelists were very different than Apple’s team.  First and foremost, we were all developers.  We had coded apps for Windows, Unix, workstations, mini and mainframe computers.  In contrast most of Apple’s Evangelists were MBAs and were non-technical.   Secondly, our evangelists were laser focused on helping partners deliver their code, gain distribution in the channel and market their products.  Apple Evangelists, in a weird bit of foreshadowing, delivered an “experience meeting” more like a big tent revival.  As the other Japanese American technology evangelist in the industry at that time, I was always hearing comparisons to Apple’s Guy Kawasaki.  Although he and I had the same goal, to lock up ISV platform investment, we employed very different tactics.  During these early days of evangelism I heard many times that “Guy was here last week…”  then “.. you guys are very different…” and most importantly that “… we’ve decided to do the Windows version of our app first”.

I’ve never forgotten this lesson.  Every Evangelism, Ecosystem and even Business Development teams I’ve built are made up of articulate, driven, technical, and entrepreneurial individuals.   My BlackBerry Developer Evangelism team is yet another example of hiring to this model.  Many of my current team have run their own startups and are already identified as industry luminaries in their area of specialization.  Ok, a few of them also have their MBAs, we try not to hold that against them.