A new column in Inc. argues that 14 years ago, Steve Jobs sent the most important email in the history of business — a one-sentence email to Bertrand Serlet, the company’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, that’s just recently been made public (through Apple’s trial with Epic):
It reveals a conversation about the things Apple needs to be able to accomplish in order to allow third-party apps on the iPhone. Until that point, the iPhone only ran 16 apps pre-installed on every device. Jobs had famously said told developers that if they wanted to create apps for the iPhone, they could make web apps that ran in Safari… Except web apps aren’t the same as native apps, and users immediately set about finding ways to jailbreak their devices in order to get apps on them.
Apple had really no choice but to find a way to make it possible to develop apps through some kind of official SDK. Serlet lays out a series of considerations about protecting users, creating a development platform, and ensuring that the APIs needed are sustainable and documented. The list only has 4 things, but the point Serlet is trying to make is that it is important to Apple to “do it right this time, rather than rush a half-cooked story with no real support.”
Steve Jobs’ reply was only one sentence long: “Sure, as long as we can roll it all out at Macworld on Jan 15, 2008.”
That’s it. That’s the entire response.
Serlet’s email is dated October 2, 2007. That means Jobs was giving him just over three months… Three months to do what the software engineer no doubt believed were critical steps if Apple was going to support apps on a platform that would eventually grow to over 1 billion devices worldwide and become one of the most valuable businesses of all time. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, two weeks later, on October 17, Jobs publicly told developers that there would be an SDK available by February of 2008. It turns out it would actually be made available in March, and the App Store would launch later in July of that year.
At the time, Apple’s market cap was around $150 billion. Today, it’s more than $2 trillion, largely based on the success of the iPhone, which is based — at least in part — on the success of the App Store. For that reason alone, I think it’s fair to say — in hindsight — that one-sentence reply has no doubt proven to be the most important email in the history of business.