“Your thumbs will learn”

Once upon a time we lived in a world when the iPhone didn’t exist. It really is wild to think about what life was like before given how much we use our phones today. These are some mind boggling stats:

  • 47% of US smartphone users say they couldn’t live without their devices
  • 66% of smartphone users are addicted to their phones
  • 77% of American adults own a smartphone.
  • Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes – burying their heads in their phones 80 times a day, according to new research. A study by global tech protection and support company Asurion found that the average person struggles to go little more than 10 minutes without checking their phone.

At the end of the day, we have a device in our pocket that has more processing power than the spaceship that took astronauts to the moon. The iPhone is a a revolutionary device.

But when the iPhone was launched, it wasn’t immediately recognized as such. It was quite different from existing phones at the time with keyboards that slid out, or no keyboard at all.

Apple was betting that touch screens would be the future.

But the world did not immediately see eye to eye with Apple.

During a media tour in 2007 in which Steve Jobs showed the device to reporters, there was one instance in which a journalist criticized the iPhone’s touch-screen keyboard.

“It doesn’t work,” the reporter said, according to a recently published story in Bloomberg about Apple’s latest iPhone.

Jobs stopped for a moment and tilted his head. The reporter said he or she kept making typos and the keys were too small for his or her thumbs.

The Apple cofounder smiled and then replied: “Your thumbs will learn.


I can picture a devious smirk on Jobs’ face as he said this.

The truth is, as consumers, sometimes we don’t know what we want until it is directly in front of us.

As Henry Ford said:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Your thumbs will learn is the ultimate example that when building products for consumers:

The user owns the problem. You own the solution. It is your job to synthesize your vision with existing problems and build something people want.

This is the essence of product strategy and Ben Horowitz explains it superbly:

It turns out that is exactly what product strategy is all about—figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage. 

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Today, over 97% of phones now have touch screens.

Jobs was right.

Our thumbs learned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s