How Steve Jobs’ impossible demands sparked Wi-Fi revolution

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iBook
The first commercial product with Wi-Fi connectivity.
Photo: Apple

How many important moments at Apple started with Steve Jobs being late to a meeting that ended with him making a seemingly impossible demand?

This is exactly how one former executive of Lucent Technologies describes the birth of commercial Wi-Fi, which took place in a meeting room at Apple headquarters in Cupertino on April 20, 1998.

Jobs had called the meeting that year because he wanted Apple to produce a wireless laptop. A year later, Jobs introduced the colorful “Clamshell” iBook, the first commercial product with wireless connectivity.

The awkward beginning of commercial Wi-Fi

While the meeting led to the Wi-Fi we take for granted today, it had a rather awkward beginning according to Cees Link, who was part of Lucent’s team that day.

Link shared his memories of the meeting with the wireless industry news site Wi-Fi Now.
Lucent had been working for a decade to introduce what was then called Wireless LAN, but had no luck, until they met Jobs, who was said to be enamored with the technology.

Link said Jobs showed up very late to the meeting scheduled for 2 p.m.

“When he finally walked in, I thought to myself ‘who is this guy?’ because he didn’t introduce himself,” Links said. “And as a European, I’d not been exposed to photos of him and we’re generally not used to corporate folks being presented in the media as celebrities.

“Then he talked for about 10 minutes about Wireless LAN being the greatest thing on Earth and he made it clear that Apple wanted it. Presenting for Steve Jobs was actually quite easy. I just put up the slides and he did the talking, and his talk was not necessarily related to the slides at all. In the end, he told us he wanted the radio card at a cost of $50 because he wanted to sell it at $99.”

The starting cost of the radio cards was well above even Apple’s retail price, but in the end, Apple’s purchasing power made it possible, Link said.

At MacWorld on July 21, 1999, Jobs took the stage and passed the iBook through a hula hoop to demonstrate that it was wireless.

Source: Wi-Fi Now