Today in Apple history: Walt Mossberg shows off his prerelease iPhone

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Walt Mossberg was one of Steve Jobs' favorite journalists.
Photo: Joi Ito/Flickr CC

June 12: Today in Apple history: Walt Mossberg shows off his prerelease iPhone June 12, 2007: With iPhone frenzy hitting a fever pitch in the buildup to the device’s launch, journalist Walt Mossberg sends the Apple world into a tizzy by whipping out a review unit during a speech. The Wall Street Journal columnist is one of a very small number of tech writers given an opportunity to put Apple’s revolutionary phone through its paces.

Speaking at The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Presidents Forum, Mossberg says he isn’t sure whether he’ll give the iPhone a thumbs up. Worried doubters immediately fear Apple is about to drop a dud.

When it came to his upcoming review of the original iPhone, Mossberg said he wasn’t sure he would give the device a thumbs-up. “I can already see some things I don’t like about it,” he said at the time. “I see some other things that I do like a lot about it.”

Is iPhone a BlackBerry beater?

For Mossberg, the main problem came down to the virtual keyboard. He feared it would not measure up to the physical keyboard of devices like the BlackBerry. At the time, he had only been using the iPhone for one day.

“[Apple execs] are claiming that through clever software they have figured out a way for this to be actually far more accurate and efficient than you think it will be, and I’m testing that proposition,” Mossberg said. “And I can tell you that in the first hour it works a little better than I thought, but I’m still not sure it works as well as a regular keyboard — and the first hour is not a very fair test, so I’m going to keep going at it.”

He also flagged cellphones as one of the big technologies people should keep an eye on. The PC era “has peaked,” he predicted.

“This is the next level or elevation of the cellphone,” Mossberg said, referring to the iPhone. “Not because it’s better or necessarily better than your BlackBerry, but this runs a real computer operating system.”

How did the first iPhone measure up?

In the end, Mossberg gave the iPhone a positive — if qualified — review. Writing with Katherine Boehret, the pair noted that:

“Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well, though it sometimes adds steps to common functions.”

Positives included the largest, highest-resolution display they’d ever seen on a phone (at a whopping 3.5 inches). They also liked the original iPhone’s impressive battery life and solid construction.

Big criticisms included the iPhone’s lack of copy and paste capabilities (which came with iOS 3), an inability to record video (which arrived with 2009’s iPhone 3GS) and no T-Mobile compatibility (which came in 2013).

And about that worrisome touch keyboard?

“After five days of use, Walt — who did most of the testing for this review — was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years,” the review said.

The iPhone went on sale on June 29, 2007. More than a decade later, Mossberg has retired, the BlackBerry is a nonentity, and … well, virtually everyone has an iPhone.