During an interview earlier this week, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son claimed he scored the exclusive Japanese sales rights for the first iPhone after he pitched an imagined iPod-cellphone device to Apple CEO Steve jobs by using a crude drawing of the proposed device.
At the time, Son did not own a mobile carrier and the already-in-development iPhone was still two years out.
Son talked with Charlie Rose for a half-an-hour on Monday, and offered a behind the scenes look at SoftBank’s partnership with Apple.
Son recalled that the meeting with Jobs came about just as he was planning on entering the mobile phone business. Before leaping into the fray, Son wanted an exclusive weapon to use against Japan telco giant NTT DoCoMo. He wanted Apple to supply that handset.
“I brought my little drawing of [an] iPod with mobile capabilities,” Son related. “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.'”
On that day, Son proposed a written exclusivity agreement, but Jobs declined, as the iPhone project was still a secret. Besides, Jobs reminded him, Son didn’t yet own a mobile carrier in Japan.
“I said, ‘Look, Steve, you gave me your word, I bring a carrier for Japan.’ And I did,” Son said.
Son’s SoftBank would later buy out and rename Vodafone Japan’s wireless network in late 2006.
SoftBank now owns U.S. wireless carrier Sprint, and also has stakes in around 1,000 companies, which include Yahoo! Japan, and Alibaba.
On the other side of the coin, Apple’s iPhone, the “iPod with mobile capabilities,” has gone on to be one of Japan’s best selling handsets.
Son is in the United States to sit down with the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. to discuss the importance of next-generation mobile Internet trends. It is also believed that he will discuss the possible takeover of T-Mobile by Sprint. Such a move would give Son controlling interest in two of the top four wireless carriers in the U.S.