The Day I Became An Evangelist for Mobile Technology
In 2009, my wife and sons gave me an iPhone 3GS for Father’s Day. The only Apple product I had ever owned before was a 2005-era iPod – one of those iPods that had the track wheel and a small color LCD display. I loved my iPod because it truly simplified the way I carried music around with me. It made it easy to listen to podcasts, and iTunes made it easy to categorize all of my ripped CDs.
I worked in the defense industry as a systems engineer, so user experience and consumer products weren’t always high on my company’s list of priorities. But I was always advocating simplicity, elegance and beauty in our designs. I was the guy who went around pushing for us to create simpler solutions instead of custom-built, clunky metal contraptions. Unfortunately, while end-users of military equipment longed for simpler technology, the program offices who bought stuff weren’t driven by what the users wanted; they focused on procuring the lowest price for the Government. Which usually meant big clunky hack job solutions cobbled together to meet a very specific requirement. Rarely did the Government procure something versatile and multipurpose because they don’t really know how to ask for that.
As I tinkered with the iPhone for the next few hours, I realized that this was far more than just a cellphone with a cool look and feel. In fact, the phone was the least impressive part of the device.
It was a very powerful handheld computer, packed full of sensors and radios, with a revolutionary new user interface and a cloud-based software/data platform like none other.
I knew that day it that it would change the world forever. I immediately began thinking about how it could change my part of the world – satellite communications.
To put into perspective how radical a change in computing this was, consider how the Department of Defense asked the industry to shrink computers to a handheld size so they could be carried in soldiers’ cargo pockets. They gave the industry little guidance other than size weight and power specification.
In an industry completely bankrupt of innovation, they came up with exactly what you’d expect: a very tiny laptop.
The General Dynamics MR1 Handheld Laptop. Literally.
What the Department of Defense really needed was this iPhone. And I had dozens of ideas about how to use it in military and satellite communications.
I spent the next week showing it to as many people as I could. Most of the engineers and managers in my company would look at me with a blank expression. They mostly wondered how accurate the typing without keys could possibly be. My boss at the time wondered why I would spend so much money on a second phone when I already had a company-issued Blackberry.
But I could envision so many different uses for the device. To me, the “Phone” was just one of many useful software applications for the device. In fact, I believe that iPhone is a very limiting description of what the device really is, but Apple called it an iPhone to help people make a psychological bridge between what they were used to and what the iPhone really is.
Meanwhile I imagined replacing all sorts of clunky, antiquated devices and user interfaces with the iPhone. And just a few weeks later I met a team of people who could help me realize that dream. My first startup company was born in that meeting, just weeks after I bought the iPhone. And I had become an evangelist for mobile computing in the satellite and defense industries.