Of all the retrospectives in the tech press this week about the iPhone’s decade of cultural impact 10 years after its launch on June 29, and the backstory of how they got to launch, the WSJ’s video of three former Apple executives stands out for me.
The pivotal moments the three Apple executives describe in their stories of the development of the touch-screen format and other iPhone features puts you in the vibe of the times — no way back machine necessary.
Some highlights and quotes from the video (link takes you to the WSJ video page):
Scott Forstall, former Apple senior vice president, iPhone iOS:
We were sitting in a conference room with Steve Jobs. “We looked around and noticed that almost everyone around us had [cell] phones and everyone was complaining about their phones. And we thought, could we build something better?”
Tony Fadell, former Apple senior vice president, iPod division:
We were making the iPod phone [At the time, the iPod was about 50 percent of Apple’s sales]. We tried 30-40 different ways of making the [navigation] wheel not become an old rotary phone dial. Nothing seemed logical or intuitive. You could select from a list, but then to actually dial a real number, it was so cumbersome, this was never gonna work.
Forstall: One day during lunch, Steve said to me, ‘you know that technology we’re building to do touch for the tablet, could we shrink that down into the size of something that could fit into your pocket, and make a phone out of that technology?
Fadell: Steve said to me, ‘come here, I want to show you something.’ He brought us in a room and in it was a ping pong table-sized demo table, projecting a Mac interface. And he was like, ‘check this out’…it was like a big Mac with a multi-touch display. Steve said, ‘I think this is going to solve our problem.’
Forstall: Steve came to the design meetings, and said this isn’t good enough. ‘You have to come up with something better. This is not good enough.’
Greg Christie, former Apple vice president of human interface: You didn’t have to read the tea leaves. We had to start coming up with something better soon or ‘I’m going to give the project to another team.’
Forstall: Steve said you have two weeks. We broke up different pieces of the design, giving ownership to different people. That team worked 168 hours a week for two weeks. They never stopped. When they did stop, [they] got a hotel room across the road. At the end of two weeks, we’re looking at this thing, and we’re thinking this is phenomenal. We thought: We’ve cracked it!”
Christie : The first time he saw it, he was completely silent. He didn’t say a thing. He sat back and said ‘show it to me again.’
So we go through the whole thing again. Steve was pretty much blown away.
Forstall: The biggest thing was the soft keyboard. We knew it would be compared to the Blackberry – the crackberry – the most popular smart phone at the time.
Somewhere in early 2006, we could see light at the end of the tunnel for the iPhone but the keyboard wasn’t there. The accuracy was poor.
So we froze all development on all applications. Every UI developer moved over and we said we’re going to spend a few weeks and everyone’s building keyboards.
Christie: We knew the general form factor but it was a while before we saw the industrial design. The hardware team wasn’t allowed to see the software side for a while. It was very compartmentalized.
Forstall: We put a poster up on the wall for The Fight Club. What’s the first rule of fight club? You don’t talk about fight club. What’s the first rule of about the Purple Project, is you don’t talk about the Purple Project.
Christie: Not one person at the MacWorld SF show knew what the iPhone would look up before the keynote.
[When you look back on the launch June 29, 2007], the fact that you saw people lined up around parking lots, not just at Apple stores, but at every AT&T store…in retrospect, that was the first inkling that this is going to have broader societal impact, rather than just being the best phone ever.