The Incredible Story of How the iPhone Came to Be

The best thing I’ve read today is this fascinating New York Times Magazine piece on how the iPhone was developed. From concept to prototype to Steve Jobs’s unveiling of the revolutionary device, this piece has it all. It is so much better than the section devoted to the iPhone in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Absolutely a must-read.

On how incredibly secretive Steve Jobs tried to keep the announcement of the iPhone:

Jobs was so obsessed with leaks that he tried to have all the contractors Apple hired — from people manning booths and doing demos to those responsible for lighting and sound — sleep in the building the night before his presentation. Aides talked him out of it.

Now this is a great way to phrase it:

Ponder the individual impacts of the book, the newspaper, the telephone, the radio, the tape recorder, the camera, the video camera, the compass, the television, the VCR and the DVD, the personal computer, the cellphone, the video game and the iPod. The smartphone is all those things, and it fits in your pocket

On the initial gamble of the iPhone and the buggy versions that existed at launch:

It’s hard to overstate the gamble Jobs took when he decided to unveil the iPhone back in January 2007. Not only was he introducing a new kind of phone — something Apple had never made before — he was doing so with a prototype that barely worked. Even though the iPhone wouldn’t go on sale for another six months, he wanted the world to want one right then. In truth, the list of things that still needed to be done was enormous. A production line had yet to be set up. Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality. Some had noticeable gaps between the screen and the plastic edge; others had scuff marks on the screen. And the software that ran the phone was full of bugs.

This bit about the compromises that Apple took to make the demo iPhone work is phenomenal:

The software in the iPhone’s Wi-Fi radio was so unstable that Grignon and his team had to extend the phones’ antennas by connecting them to wires running offstage so the wireless signal wouldn’t have to travel as far. And audience members had to be prevented from getting on the frequency being used. “Even if the base station’s ID was hidden” — that is, not showing up when laptops scanned for Wi-Fi signals — “you had 5,000 nerds in the audience,” Grignon says. “They would have figured out how to hack into the signal.” The solution, he says, was to tweak the AirPort software so that it seemed to be operating in Japan instead of the United States. Japanese Wi-Fi uses some frequencies that are not permitted in the U.S.

There were multiple versions of the iPhone built near launch:

Many executives and engineers, riding high from their success with the iPod, assumed a phone would be like building a small Macintosh. Instead, Apple designed and built not one but three different early versions of the iPhone in 2005 and 2006. One person who worked on the project thinks Apple then made six fully working prototypes of the device it ultimately sold — each with its own set of hardware, software and design tweaks. 

The first iPhone prototype in 2005 had a wheel (like the iPod):

From the start of the project, Jobs hoped that he would be able to develop a touch-screen iPhone running OS X similar to what he ended up unveiling. But in 2005 he had no idea how long that would take. So Apple’s first iPhone looked very much like the joke slide Jobs put up when introducing the real iPhone — an iPod with an old-fashioned rotary dial on it. The prototype really was an iPod with a phone radio that used the iPod click wheel as a dialer. “It was an easy way to get to market, but it was not cool like the devices we have today,” Grignon says.

On how stressful the environment was:

The pressure to meet Jobs’s deadlines was so intense that normal discussions quickly devolved into shouting matches. Exhausted engineers quit their jobs — then came back to work a few days later once they had slept a little. Forstall’s chief of staff, Kim Vorrath, once slammed her office door so hard it got stuck and locked her in, and co-workers took more than an hour to get her out. “We were all standing there watching it,” Grignon says. “Part of it was funny. But it was also one of those moments where you step back and realize how [expletive] it all is.”

And that ending to the piece? What a tear jerker. It put a huge smile on my face.

Seriously, you should read the whole thing.

Go Against Your Instinct

Dustin Curtis recently had a friend who went into cardiac arrest during a session at the gym. This event forced him to evaluate his reason for being. The post is excellent:

Humans are by default hopeful and optimistic creatures. We usually think about the future as though it will occur for us with absolute certainty, and that makes it hard to imagine death as a motivation for living. But knowing that my friend could potentially never wake up forced me, unexpectedly, to contemplate my personal drive for existence. Why do I do the things I do every day? Am I honestly acting out my dreams and aspirations? What’s my purpose? For a long time, when I was younger, I waited to discover my purpose. It was only very recently that I realized purpose is something you are supposed to create for yourself.

After my own comparatively minor brush with death a few years ago, when I was 22, I pledged to live my life as fully as possible, as though I had nothing to lose. For a few months afterward, I consciously tried to fight against the status quo. It’s so easy to get stuck in the waiting place, putting things off until later, even when those things are vitally important to making your dreams come true. But the truth is that, in order to make progress, you need to physically and mentally fight against the momentum of ordinary events. The default state of any new idea is failure. It’s the execution–the fight against inertia–that matters. You have to remember to go against your instinct, to confront the ordinary, and to put up a fight.

Does the statement below ring a bell for you?

It used to confuse and fascinate me how so many people with great dreams and great visions of the future can live such ordinary, repetitive lives. But now I know. I’ve experienced it. Doing something remarkable with your life is tough work, and it helps to remember one simple, motivating fact: in a blink, you could be gone.

Complement Dustin’s essay with Steve Jobs’s vision for the world.

Apple’s Tribute to Steve Jobs, One Year Later

Remembering Steve Jobs, one year after his death.

Apple.com has a beautiful tribute to Steve Jobs, who died one year ago today. Click on the screenshot below to watch the video.

Remembering Steve Jobs, one year after his death.

Here is what I wrote one year ago today after I learned of Steve’s passing. Here are all the Steve Jobs posts on this blog. Here is the video on YouTube (unless it gets pulled).

Apple after Steve Jobs

In an interview with Wall Street Journal columnists Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook offers a few answers on Apple after Steve Jobs:

Q: How is Apple different with you as the CEO? What did you learn from Steve?

Cook:  I learned that focus is key, not just in running a company but in your personal life. You can only do so many things great, and you should cast aside everything else.Another thing that Steve taught us all was to not focus on the past. If you’ve done something great or terrible, forget it and go on and create the next thing. When I say that I’m not going to witness or permit the change, I’m talking about the thing that’s most important in Apple—the culture of Apple. Am I going to change anything? Of course.

Q: At any one time, there is only one new iPhone. That’s not the way you did it with the iPod; that’s not the way you did it with the Mac. Why don’t you have more than one iPhone, and why don’t you have more than one iPad?

Cook: Our North Star is to make the best product. Our objective isn’t to make this design for this kind of price point or make this design for this arbitrary schedule or line up other things or have X number of phones. I think one of our advantages is that we’re not fragmented. We have one app store, so you know what app store to go to. We have one phone with one screen size with one resolution, so it’s pretty simple if you’re a developer developing for this platform.

Perhaps the most succinct point that Cook tries to make in the interview: Apple is still about making great products. It’s not about becoming a trillion dollar company. By making great products, other good things will follow.

Money Can’t Buy Taste

Marco Arment offers an excellent rebuttal to this Seeking Alpha article about Apple’s eventual downfall. Marco has two major points: time and taste. This was my favorite part of his argument:

Most people don’t have great taste. (And they don’t care, so it doesn’t matter to them.) They usually like tasteful, well-designed products, but often don’t recognize why, or care more about other factors when making buying decisions.

People who naturally recognize tasteful, well-designed products are a small subset of the population. But people who can create them are a much smaller subset.

Taste in product creation overlaps a lot with design: doing it well requires it to be valued, rewarded, and embedded in the company’s culture and upper leadership. If it’s not, great taste can’t guide product decisions, and great designers leave.

No amount of money, and no small amount of time, can buy taste.

Spot on.

How to Become Creative

In the Saturday essay in The Wall Street Journal, Jonah Lehrer writes about the creative process. He argues that creativity is not something that is passed in the genes; it is something that requires practice. We can work to become more creative.

This ability to calculate progress is an important part of the creative process. When we don’t feel that we’re getting closer to the answer—we’ve hit the wall, so to speak—we probably need an insight. If there is no feeling of knowing, the most productive thing we can do is forget about work for a while. But when those feelings of knowing are telling us that we’re getting close, we need to keep on struggling.

Of course, both moment-of-insight problems and nose-to-the-grindstone problems assume that we have the answers to the creative problems we’re trying to solve somewhere in our heads. They’re both just a matter of getting those answers out. Another kind of creative problem, though, is when you don’t have the right kind of raw material kicking around in your head. If you’re trying to be more creative, one of the most important things you can do is increase the volume and diversity of the information to which you are exposed.

Steve Jobs famously declared that “creativity is just connecting things.” Although we think of inventors as dreaming up breakthroughs out of thin air, Mr. Jobs was pointing out that even the most far-fetched concepts are usually just new combinations of stuff that already exists. Under Mr. Jobs’s leadership, for instance, Apple didn’t invent MP3 players or tablet computers—the company just made them better, adding design features that were new to the product category.

And it isn’t just Apple. The history of innovation bears out Mr. Jobs’s theory. The Wright Brothers transferred their background as bicycle manufacturers to the invention of the airplane; their first flying craft was, in many respects, just a bicycle with wings. Johannes Gutenberg transformed his knowledge of wine presses into a printing machine capable of mass-producing words. Or look at Google: Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with their famous search algorithm by applying the ranking method used for academic articles (more citations equals more influence) to the sprawl of the Internet.

Don’t miss the bottom of the post which provides ten ways to become more creative, which I summarize below. A lot of these have been tested in an artificial setting (think undergraduates in a lab), so take these with a grain of salt:

1. Surround yourself with the color blue.

2. Do creative things when you’re groggy.

3. Daydream more.

4. Think like a child — imagine what you would do as a five year old.

5. Laugh more.

6. Imagine that you are far away.

7. Keep it generic.  When the verbs are extremely specific, people think in narrow terms. In contrast, the use of more generic verbs—say, “moving” instead of “driving” can help us solve creative problems.

8. Don’t work in a cubicle!

9. See the world. Travel.

10. Move from a small city to a metropolis.

Tim Cook on the Apple Culture

Earlier this week, the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, spoke at a conference put on by Goldman Sachs. For his final question during the the Q&A session, Cook was asked how his leadership might change Apple, and what aspects of the culture he might try to preserve. Here’s what he had to say:

Apple is a unique culture and unique company. You can’t replicate it. I’m not going to witness or permit the slow undoing of it. I believe in it so deeply.

Steve grilled in all of us, over many years, that the company should revolve around great products. We should stay extremely focused on a few things, rather than try to do so many that we did nothing well. We should only go into markets where we can make a significant contribution to society, not just sell a lot of products.

These things, along with keeping excellence as an expectation of everything at Apple. These are the things that I focus on because I think those are the things that make Apple a magical place that really smart people want to work in and do, not just their life’s work, but their life’s best work.

And so we’re always focused on the future. We don’t sit and think about how great things were yesterday. I love that trait because I think it’s the thing that drives us all forward. Those are the things I’m holding onto. It’s a privelege to be a part of it.

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(via Dustin Curtis; full audio here)

John Gruber’s Critique of Walter Isaacson’s Biography of Steve Jobs

John Gruber has an excellent critique of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I’ve read the biography last year, but I couldn’t make an informed critique like this:

There is much that is wrong with Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, but its treatment of software is the most profound of the book’s flaws. Isaacson doesn’t merely neglect or underemphasize Jobs’s passion for software and design, but he flat-out paints the opposite picture.

Isaacson makes it seem as though Jobs was almost solely interested in hardware, and even there, only in what the hardware looked like. Superficial aesthetics.

In Chapter 26, “Design Principles: The Studio of Jobs and Ive”, Isaacson writes (p. 344 in the hardcover print edition):

“Before Steve came back, engineers would say ‘Here are the guts’ — processor, hard drive — and then it would go to the designers to put it in a box,” said Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller.
“When you do it that way, you come up with awful products.” But when Jobs returned and forged his bond with Ive, the balance was again tilted toward the designers. “Steve kept impressing on us that the design was integral to what would make us great,” said Schiller.

“Design once again dictated the engineering, not just vice versa.”

On occasion this could backfire, such as when Jobs and Ive insisted on using a solid piece of brushed aluminum for the edge of the iPhone 4 even when the engineers worried that it would compromise the antenna. But usually the distinctiveness of its designs — for the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad — would set Apple apart and lead to its triumphs in the years after Jobs returned.

Isaacson clearly believes that design is merely how a product looks and feels, and that “engineering” is how it actually works.

Jobs, in an interview with Rob Walker for his terrific 2003 New York Times Magazine profile on the creation of the iPod, said:

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
That quote is absent from Isaacson’s book, despite the book’s frequent use of existing source material.

The entire post is worth reading, especially if you’ve read Steve Jobs.

The FBI File on Steve Jobs

Late last year, Michael Morisy contacted the the FBI, with a request under the Freedom of Information Act to attain the FBI files on Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple. His full correspondence appears here.

“Several individuals questioned Mr. Jobs’ honesty stating that Mr. Jobs will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals,” according to the report released today by the FBI.

The FBI interviewed Jobs and people who knew him as part of a background check for a possible appointment by former President George H. W. Bush. Interviews were conducted with unnamed associates of Jobs to judge his character, drug use and potential prejudices, according to the file. Near the end, there is a mention of a bomb threat.

The FBI report on Steve Jobs is decades old, and a large portion of the material is redacted, but it still makes for an interesting look-through. The full file is here.

Steve Jobs’s Vision for the World

Today marks two months since the death of Steve Jobs. You’ve read incredible eulogies, countless personal remembrances, and perhaps have finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of the man. I wanted to share the video below, a brief 46-second clip featured in a recent PBS documentary. It vividly captures Steve Jobs’s spirit and his vision for the world:

When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is…and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact: and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

The above edited footage comes from a 1995 interview conducted by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, while Jobs was still at NeXT, without the dramatic music. See the full video here.

While I sympathize with Jobs’s vision, I must admit that I haven’t acted upon his message. Not yet. But I will.

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(via A Photo Editor and Brain Pickings)