Xconomy Essay Details InfoGear’s Creation of the Desktop Internet Device That Was the First to Bear the Name iPhone
Almost everybody knows about the iPhone, but few people know that the first iPhone was made not by Apple Inc. but by a company named InfoGear Technology Corporation. Xconomy, the authoritative voice on the high-tech economy, today published an essay that details the story of the pioneering iPhone for the first time.
The guest op-ed article is written by Robert Ackerman Jr., the founder and a managing director of Allegis Capital, a Palo Alto, California-based venture capital firm. Ackerman played an instrumental role in creating InfoGear, which licensed the underpinning concepts from National Semiconductor, the result of internal R & D program. Ackerman was an innovation consultant to National in the mid-1990s and a venture capitalist when he was shown a rudimentary prototype that would become the iPhone at InfoGear.
The device went on sale in 1998, preceding the introduction of Apple’s much better-known iPhone by nine years.
Original iPhone Was Different
The original InfoGear iPhone was not the highly compact handheld wonder most people know today—in 1998, the Xconomy article points out, it was impossible to pack that much computing power into such a small space. Instead, it was a desktop machine that looked like an ordinary telephone, coupled with a gray and white screen and a keyboard. But InfoGear’s engineers had much in common with the designers of today’s iPhone, sharing a belief in the paramount importance of the Internet and in good, consumer-friendly design and features.
The story of the first iPhone also demonstrates one of the most important lessons of the business world, the article notes. Product timing is everything, and being too early with a product can be as problematic as being too late. “The makers of the first iPhone saw the future exactly as it would come to pass,” Ackerman writes. “That future just took a little longer to arrive than they had anticipated.”
The phone was initially developed as a research project at National Semiconductor. When it was shown to Ackerman, however, he persuaded the chip maker to license its technology to a new, venture-backed company that would focus solely on the iPhone, rescuing it from a semiconductor manufacturer with no experience marketing products directly to consumers.
Birth – And Later Death — Of InfoGear Technology
After considerable negotiations, InfoGear Technology was born, the article reports. Shortly afterward, InfoGear brought on board CIDCO, a public company making caller ID systems, as a strategic corporate partner. Robert Marshall, who had recently stepped down as COO of Tandem Computers, became InfoGear’s CEO.
The company overcame many obstacles and revealed the first iPhone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 1998. Reviews were positive and the iPhone won technical awards, but sales were lackluster, the article notes. Things got even worse when CIDCO fell on hard times. That forced the company to jettison several businesses, including the iPhone project.
Eventually, in March 2000, Cisco acquired InfoGear for $300 million in Cisco stock, believing it would help the networking backbone giant break into new consumer markets. In the end, however, Cisco didn’t aggressively push the phone, the article notes, and the iPhone faded from the scene.
Years later, Apple and Cisco would come to an agreement allowing Apple to use the word “iPhone” in its marketing material. The agreement “was a final acknowledgment for the history books that while today’s iPhone is the most famous, it definitely is not the first,” Ackerman writes.
Find the full article posted at 10:00 am PDT on Monday March 26, 2012 at: http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco/2012/03/26/the-first-iphone/
About Bob Ackerman and Allegis Capital
Bob Ackerman is the Managing Director and Founder of Allegis Capital. Prior to forming Allegis Capital in 1995, Mr. Ackerman had more than fifteen years of general management, venture capital, and strategic mergers and acquisition advisory experience working with information technology start-up companies and multinational corporations. His operating experience includes, CEO of UniSoft Systems, a world leading UNIX systems house operating in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and as the founder and Chairman of InfoGear Technology Corporation which was acquired by CISCO in 2000. For more information: www.allegiscapital.com
Xconomy is an innovative news and events organization with outposts in Boston, Detroit, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. It is dedicated to providing business and technology leaders with timely, insightful, close-to-the-scene information about the local personalities, companies, and technological trends that best exemplify today’s high-tech economy. Xconomy is staffed by world-class journalists and media professionals, and supported by the “Xconomists,” who include some of the world’s leading innovators. Get to know them and the Xconomy team at www.xconomy.com/about.
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