The secret origin story of the iPhone

The Verge has published a long excerpt from the upcoming book The One Device: The secret history of the iPhone by Motherboard editor Brian Merchant, and there’s quite a few interesting details in there. What stands out if you take it all in is that unlike what many seem to think – and unlike the romanticised image Apple tries to maintain – Apple didn’t take some singular, targeted, focused stride to “invent” the iPhone.

For example, Phil Schiller wanted a hardware keyboard, and remained stubborn in his conviction:

The iPod phone was losing support. The executives debated which project to pursue, but Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing, had an answer: Neither. He wanted a keyboard with hard buttons. The BlackBerry was arguably the first hit smartphone. It had an email client and a tiny hard keyboard. After everyone else, including Fadell, started to agree that multitouch was the way forward, Schiller became the lone holdout.

He “just sat there with his sword out every time, going, ‘No, we’ve got to have a hard keyboard. No. Hard keyboard.’ And he wouldn’t listen to reason as all of us were like, ‘No, this works now, Phil.’ And he’d say, ‘You gotta have a hard keyboard!'” Fadell says.

In fact, Jobs was incredibly insecure about whether Apple should even pursue a phone at all.

Privately, Jobs had other reservations. One former Apple executive who had daily meetings with Jobs told me that the carrier issue wasn’t his biggest hang-up. He was concerned with a lack of focus in the company, and he “wasn’t convinced that smartphones were going to be for anyone but the ‘pocket protector crowd,’ as we used to call them.”

The iPhone that would eventually change the industry wasn’t a clear vision in Steve Jobs’ mind’s eye – no, it was the result of hundreds of incredibly smart engineers trying out thousands of different ideas and solutions, and endless arguing with other engineers and management – up to and including Jobs himself – to try and convince them their particular idea was the best one. The iPhone is the result of thousands of little and big arguments, small and huge decisions, eventually leading to one of the most transformative devices in computing history.

Jobs did not invent the iPhone. Apple’s management didn’t invent the iPhone. The iPhone was invented by hundreds of relatively nameless engineers, who poured years of their lives into it.

And a hundred years from now, nobody will remember their names.


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