Jobs: Apple Tablet Idea Led to iPhone

PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- Speaking here at the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital Conference, Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs said that he had thought of a tablet computer before coming up with the idea for the iPhone.

During his on-stage interview by the conference's co-hosts, Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walter Mossberg and All Things Digital blogger Kara Swisher, Jobs said that he had the idea for a multitouch tablet in the "early 2000s." But when he saw an early design, he realized that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) could build a phone with it, he said.

While the iPhone went on to become a smash success, Jobs said Apple's tablet idea was "put on the shelf" until the company had the time and resources to work on it.

After years of rumors and speculation, Apple ultimately released the iPad on April 3. It's since sold two million units, and Jobs said that an iPad is sold every three minutes -- and that he wishes only that Apple could build them that fast.

Rise of the tablet, fall of the PC?

While much has been said about tablets like the iPad cutting into sales of more traditional PC designs like notebooks and more recent products like netbooks, Jobs didn't predict the death of the personal computer just yet.

However, Jobs did say that tablet devices like the iPad are likely to take over as consumer devices.

"When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that's what you needed on the farm," he said by analogy. As people started moving away from the farm, the car started taking over. He sees PCs as the "trucks" that will be replaced with the more consumer-friendly tablets, which he likens to cars.

"PCs are going to be like trucks ... They are still going to be around," Jobs said. However, he said, only "one out of X people will need them."

"The transformation will make us uneasy because the PC has taken us a long way," he added. "We like to talk about post-PC era but when it really starts to happen it's uncomfortable for a lot of people."

Jobs also acknowledged that iPads, iPhones and iPods all depend on PCs to transfer users' music collections, but after reminding people that they could buy music wirelessly via iTunes, he admitted "we need to work harder" to make it easier to share content among devices without "a wire."

AT&T has "some issues"

The widely publicized 3G speed and access problems that have plagued some iPhone 3G users since the product's launch -- largely seen as stemming from the congested network of exclusive carrier partner AT&T (NYSE: T) -- also came up during Jobs's on-stage interview.

When asked about problems on the AT&T network, Jobs admitted that "they have some issues" and said that "it is his understanding that qualified people" are going to solve the connectivity problems by the end of the summer.

As per Apple's role in solving the problem, "You can bet we're doing everything we know how to do," he said.

App Store policies

During his interview, Jobs also faced questions about the company's policy of approving iPhone and iPad apps -- a process criticized by some developers as being slow, opaque and fickle.

Jobs fired back, however, saying that "95 percent of apps get approved within seven days."

But he did admit that the company has made some mistakes, such as failing to approve a cartoon app from a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist.

"We have a rule that says you can't defame people," he said, pointing out that political cartoonists sometimes defame people. The cartoon app was rejected because of defamation but Apple later changed the rule.

Acknowledging that the company messed up, Jobs said, "We make mistakes, but we're fixing them as fast as we can."

Still, he added that people who have apps rejected and run to the press, "sometimes they just lie."

Competition with Google, Microsoft

When Mossberg asked Jobs how he feels about Google -- which has occasionally been at odds with Apple over getting its applications into its App Store -- Jobs quipped, "My sex life is pretty good, how's yours?"

However, he added that Apple has no intention of removing any existing Google apps from the iPhone.

"Just because we're competing with someone, we don't have to be rude," he said.

When asked about the historic Mac versus PC "platform war" with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Jobs said: "We never saw ourselves in a platform war with Microsoft."

"Maybe that's why we lost," he added.

However, Jobs said that Apple instead prefers to focus on building the best product.

With Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the audience, Mossberg asked Jobs to comment about user privacy. In what could be interpreted as a jab at Facebook, he said (to applause from the audience,) that "privacy means people know what they're signing up for, in plain English." When it comes to sharing information, you need to "ask them every time," he added.

Jobs also got a moment to reflect on what it means to be running what's become the world's largest technology company, since Apple overtook Microsoft in market value last week. When asked about his work at Apple, Jobs said, "I have one of the best jobs in the world... I get to hang around the most wonderful, brightest, committed people I've ever met in my life."

Larry Magid is a contributing writer for InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals, as well as a technology analyst for CBS News.


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