SoftBank's Masayoshi Son won iPhone exclusivity after pitching Apple cellphone to Steve Jobs

Posted:
in iPhone edited March 2014
In an interview earlier this week, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said he scored exclusive Japanese rights to sell the first iPhone after pitching a crude drawing of an imagined iPod-cellphone hybrid to Steve Jobs. At the time, Son did not own a mobile carrier and the already-in-development iPhone was still two years out.

Son
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son was interviewed by Charlie Rose earlier this week. | Source: Bloomberg


During a half-hour segment, Son sat down with Charlie Rose on Monday and offered background on Apple's initially exclusive iPhone partnership with SoftBank.

According to Son, the meeting with Job]s came as he was planning to enter the mobile phone business. Before jumping in, he first wanted a weapon to wield against Japan's undisputed No. 1 carrier NTT DoCoMo and went to Apple with an idea for a handset.

"I brought my little drawing of [an] iPod with mobile capabilities," Son said. "I gave [Jobs] my drawing, and Steve says, 'Masa, you don't give me your drawing. I have my own," Son said. "I said, 'Well, I don't need to give you my dirty paper, but once you have your product, give me for Japan.' He said, 'Well, Masa, you are crazy. We have not talked to anybody, but you came to see me as the first guy. I give to you.'"

Before leaving, Son proposed that Jobs put down the exclusivity agreement in writing, but at that point the iPhone project was still a secret. Jobs also reminded Son that he did not yet own a mobile phone carrier in Japan.

"I said, 'Look, Steve, you gave me your word, I bring a carrier for Japan.' And I did," Son said.

SoftBank would later go on to buy out and rename Vodafone Japan's network in late 2006.

The Japanese telecom giant now owns U.S. carrier Sprint, as well as stakes in some 1,000 companies including Yahoo! Japan and Alibaba.

As for Apple's iPhone, the handset has gone on to become one of Japan's top-selling mobile devices. In October of 2013, one study found 66 percent of former NTT DoCoMo subscribers jumped ship to a carrier that sold Apple's device. Even when the country's largest operator was granted access to the device, the company blamed its worst-ever quarterly subscriber loss to limited iPhone stock.

Son is in the U.S. to meet with Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. to discuss the importance of next-generation mobile Internet trends. It is also likely that there will be discussions regarding Son's interest in T-Mobile takeover by Sprint, which would give him a controlling interest of two of the top-four wireless carriers in America.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    christophbchristophb Posts: 1,476member
    I beat this guy by a year with my pitch to Jobs.
  • Reply 2 of 29
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member

    Yep, this man right here is the ONLY reason Apple made a cell phone, and therefore he should receive all credit for the action¡

  • Reply 3 of 29
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Two years before it debuts is well after development started.


    PS: I'm pitching an idea that the next iPhone should be faster and better.
  • Reply 4 of 29
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,526member
    Good story, thanks for passing it on, AI. I find it believable as written here, and I don't think he's claiming undue credit. The takeaway is that Apple made his business a success.
  • Reply 5 of 29
    dickprinterdickprinter Posts: 1,060member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post



    PS: I'm pitching an idea that the next iPhone should be faster and better.

     

    With a larger screen¿¡ ;)

  • Reply 6 of 29
    christophbchristophb Posts: 1,476member
    solipsismx wrote: »
    Two years before it debuts is well after development started.


    PS: I'm pitching an idea that the next iPhone should be faster and better.

    I'm vindicated. For a bit there, I thought Steve didn't take me seriously and had to wait for this guy.

    As to your innovative idea, is bigger better? And what should the number be after the word "iPhone"?
  • Reply 7 of 29
    kibitzerkibitzer Posts: 1,114member

    I don't see anything in this account where Son claimed that he originated the idea for the iPhone, nor does it mention the particulars of what he sketched. All it said was that he could see enhancing an iPod with phone capabilities.

     

    Was it some variant of the iPod classic design with the touch wheel? I can't imagine that Jobs would have shared any touchscreen hints at the supposed time of this meeting. It's quite likely that Son at the time had no idea that Jobs was thinking about a touchscreen interface, because the first iPod Touch wasn't unveiled until almost nine months after Jobs first announced the iPhone on January 9, 2007. It would be fascinating to see what Son envisioned and actually sketched and showed to Jobs.

     

    Remember that BlackBerry and the Palm Treo smartphones had been in the marketplaces since 2002 and 2003, so it wasn't exactly an original idea on anybody's part that Apple might want to leverage its music player business into a phone device. The wholly different Apple user interface features and blossoming ecosystem were the chief factors that completely disrupted the smartphone industry from 2007 onward.

     

    So Son was one of a number of smart guys who could see a place for an Apple smartphone, especially if it would give him a unique entry point into a national marketplace dominated by formidable competitors. In other words, there's nothing in his account to doubt his word unless someone steps forward with evidence to contradict him.

  • Reply 8 of 29
    gwmacgwmac Posts: 1,799member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

     

    Yep, this man right here is the ONLY reason Apple made a cell phone, and therefore he should receive all credit for the action¡


    Except he isn't trying to take credit for that. The article even stated Steve said he didn't need that drawing since they had their own. Since you failed to grasp that point it means the iPhone was well into development by then. He was simply sharing a story on how Softbank got exclusivity in Japan by guessing that Apple would make a phone and his guess impressed Steve. Very believable and no attempt to take any credit.  That ¡ that you use on nearly every post should stand for ironic and not sarcastic if that is what you were attempting. 

  • Reply 9 of 29
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Originally Posted by gwmac View Post

    Except he isn't trying to take credit for that. The article even said Steve said he didn't need that drawing they had their own. He was simply sharing a story on how Softbank got exclusivity  in Japan by guessing that Apple would make a phone. That ¡ that you use on nearly every post should stand for ironic and not sarcastic if that is what you were attempting. 



    You’re really reaching. But it’s late, so I’ll chalk that up to being tired.

  • Reply 10 of 29
    <span style="line-height:1.4em;">Except he isn't trying to take credit for that. The article even said Steve said he didn't need that drawing they had their own. He was simply sharing a story on how Softbank got exclusivity  in Japan by guessing that Apple would make a phone. That ¡ that you use on nearly every post should stand for ironic and not sarcastic if that is what you were attempting. </span>


    You’re really reaching. But it’s late, so I’ll chalk that up to being tired.
    He is not reaching. That is what it says and means.
  • Reply 11 of 29
    mpantonempantone Posts: 1,572member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by gwmac View Post

     

    Except he isn't trying to take credit for that. The article even stated Steve said he didn't need that drawing since they had their own. Since you failed to grasp that point it means the iPhone was well into development by then. He was simply sharing a story on how Softbank got exclusivity in Japan by guessing that Apple would make a phone and his guess impressed Steve. Very believable and no attempt to take any credit.  That ¡ that you use on nearly every post should stand for ironic and not sarcastic if that is what you were attempting. 


     

    gwmac and Phone-UI-Guy are right.

     

    Note that this is about the timeframe that the Motorola ROKR (with iTunes functionality) was announced. It wasn't really an Apple handset, just a rebranded Motorola E398 with a firmware limited 100 song capacity.

     

    Son's acumen in correctly guessing Apple's basic strategy (and not the exact form of the iPhone) is what is important here.

  • Reply 13 of 29
    kibitzerkibitzer Posts: 1,114member
    paxman wrote: »
    T'was this one ...
    ipod-phone.png
    Exactly! ;)
  • Reply 14 of 29
    planktonplankton Posts: 108member
    As a SoftBank subscriber in Japan, what I take from this story is that however Son gained exclusive first rights to the iPhone in Japan, it enabled him to lock the iPhone and keep it locked even after au and DoCoMo joined the fray 3 years later.
    SoftBank users (and now au and DoCoMo) STILL CANNOT get a factory IMIEI unlock of their off-contract 3GS, 4, 4S and soon 5 units. We have paid our 2-year contracts but remain forever locked to SoftBank's not so great business model.
    It is damned annoying that I cannot unlock a SB phone and put an overseas SIM in it when traveling. Instead I am forced to pay outrageous global roaming charges.
    Contrast this with cheap SIM IMEI unlocks in the US and compulsory IMEI unlocks in the EU and you can see how far behind the curve Japanese mobile carriers are.
  • Reply 15 of 29
    kibitzerkibitzer Posts: 1,114member
    I just followed the links to Charlie Rose's show. Son is a fascinating guy and the article above is just a glimmer of the whole story. It's well-worth a half-hour to watch the video.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-12/how-steve-jobs-got-the-iphone-into-japan.html
  • Reply 16 of 29
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member

    Saw the Rose interview. It was really good. I'm sure it is available, on line.

     

    When the iPod-Nano first came out, I thought "wow, it would be so cool if they put a phone inside this thing". It was basically the same size as a candy bar phone of the time.

  • Reply 17 of 29
    zabazaba Posts: 226member
    Yep, this man right here is the ONLY reason Apple made a cell phone, and therefore he should receive all credit for the action¡
    They were already working on it.
  • Reply 18 of 29
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,941member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by gwmac View Post

     

    Except he isn't trying to take credit for that. The article even stated Steve said he didn't need that drawing since they had their own. Since you failed to grasp that point it means the iPhone was well into development by then. He was simply sharing a story on how Softbank got exclusivity in Japan by guessing that Apple would make a phone and his guess impressed Steve. Very believable and no attempt to take any credit.  That ¡ that you use on nearly every post should stand for ironic and not sarcastic if that is what you were attempting. 


    Yes, I believe you are correct. Japanese do not do things like trying to take credit for someone else's work.

     

    Also, Steve had lots of respect for the Japanese since they view things long term, they do not worry about today, that has already been written so to say, they look 1, 2, 5, 10 20, yrs out, and I believe Steve also does, this is why I believe Steve left a roadmap for Apple to follow which goes out 10 to 20 yrs and Apple will keep banging at until they get it right. Not sure Masayoshi guess correctly and Steve was impress since it was believe back when Apple and Motorola did their failed attempt that Apple was in fact working on a Phone of its own. Many insiders in the cell phone industry figure they had to be doing something just not sure what.

  • Reply 19 of 29
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,834member
    christophb wrote: »
    I'm vindicated. For a bit there, I thought Steve didn't take me seriously and had to wait for this guy.

    As to your innovative idea, is bigger better? And what should the number be after the word "iPhone"?

    iPhone ? or iPhone ?.
  • Reply 20 of 29
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    Son-of-a-....!
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