First iPhone reviews 'didn't get it,' former Apple exec Forstall says

Key Points
  • Forstall, who has kept a low profile since leaving Apple in 2012, said he isn't working on a new company.
  • Apple did think about becoming a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) to support the first iPhone, Forstall said.
Former Apple executive Scott Forstall, right, speaks with John Markoff at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, on June 20, 2017.

Scott Forstall, the former head of iOS software at Apple, said on Tuesday that the reviews of the original iPhone "didn't get it."

In a conversation with former New York Times reporter John Markoff at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, Forstall said that while he was "unconcerned" with the reviews, he felt they focused too much attention on the wrong things.

"The reviews talked about the number of clicks," Forstall said. "Oh, to send an email it takes you six taps or something. It was being compared against other smartphones at the time — Blackberry and all."

Apple was changing "the entire way things were done," Forstall said. He knew how great the iPhone was, despite the device's early critics, he said.

Forstall, 48, was pushed out of Apple in 2012 after the company faced criticism for problems with the Apple Maps app. Apple subsequently changed certain internal processes, including the introduction of a public beta testing program.

Forstall joined Apple in 1997 after Apple acquired Steve Jobs' company NeXT, where he worked on core technologies. At Apple he held various leadership roles and made several appearances during the company's carefully scripted keynotes.

Since leaving Apple, though, Forstall has made very few public appearances. Tuesday's event marked the first time Forstall was speaking publicly in five years. An email released by Wikileaks in 2015 indicated that, among other things, Forstall was advising Snap. Last year Forstall said he was co-producing a Broadway show called "Eclipsed."

Apple announced the first iPhone in 2007. And, Forstall said, Apple had wondered about becoming a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) to provide wireless phone service instead of carriers like AT&T and Verizon.

"Do we do an MVNO? Do we license, white-box a carrier solution through some other carrier? Do we buy spectrum and build out the entire network ourselves? Do we partner with one?" he said.

Ultimately, though, Apple ended up negotiating with carriers.

The iPhone project came out of a tablet initiative and Apple chose to quarter the size, Forstall said. He had no business working on a phone, he said, as he had never sent a text message until he had an iPhone, and he was not familiar with the GSM or CDMA networking systems.

At one point, Forstall was having lunch with Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, and the two noticed that while they and others around them had phones, they looked "very angsty" while using them, Forstall said.

"No one seems like it's a pleasurable thing to use the phone, but it's a nice thing for communication," Forstall said.

Forstall is not currently working on a new company, he said.