Former Apple Engineer Gives Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Original iPhone Introduction

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Apr 12, 2001
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Just ahead of the second anniversary of Steve Jobs' death, Fred Vogelstein has published a piece in The New York Times that gives a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into both the first iPhone and its January 9, 2007 announcement, featuring information from key iPhone developers like Andy Grignon, Tony Fadell, and Scott Forstall.

According to Andy Grignon, the senior manager in charge of the radios of the iPhone, the night before the iPhone announcement was terrifying. Jobs had insisted on a live presentation of the prototype iPhone, which was still in the developmental stages, often "randomly dropping calls, losing its Internet connection, freezing, or simply shutting down."
The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn't play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called "the golden path," a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.
At the time of the announcement, only 100 iPhones existed, with some of those featuring significant quality issues like scuff marks and gaps between the screen and the plastic edge. The software, too, was full of bugs, leading the team to set up multiple iPhones to overcome memory issues and restarts. Because of the phone's penchant for crashing, it was programmed to display a full five-bar connection at all times.
Then, with Jobs's approval, they preprogrammed the phone's display to always show five bars of signal strength regardless of its true strength. The chances of the radio's crashing during the few minutes that Jobs would use it to make a call were small, but the chances of its crashing at some point during the 90-minute presentation were high. "If the radio crashed and restarted, as we suspected it might, we didn't want people in the audience to see that," Grignon says. "So we just hard-coded it to always show five bars."
Apple had poured all of its efforts into the iPhone, and its success largely hinged on a flawless presentation. As described by Grignon, there was no backup plan in place if the presentation was a failure, which put enormous pressure on the team.
Jobs rarely backed himself into corners like this. He was well known as a taskmaster, seeming to know just how hard he could push his staff so that it delivered the impossible. But he always had a backup, a Plan B, that he could go to if his timetable was off.

But the iPhone was the only cool new thing Apple was working on. The iPhone had been such an all-encompassing project at Apple that this time there was no backup plan.
Though there were a huge number of factors that could have caused the presentation to fail, it famously went off without a hitch. Grignon shares a final story on how the engineers and managers that worked on both the iPhone and the presentation shared a flask of Scotch as they watched "the best demo any of us had ever seen."

The full piece, which explores thoughts from other key Apple employees like Tony Fadell and Scott Forstall, is well worth a read. It covers the overwhelming complexity of developing an entirely new product and the extreme lengths that Jobs and his team went to keeping the product a secret.

Article Link: Former Apple Engineer Gives Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Original iPhone Introduction
 

Tankmaze

macrumors 68000
Mar 7, 2012
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The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn’t play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.
Ooo wow, that was chaos.
but I can relate to this or other developers working for a client, to demo a product and only show what needed to be shown.

no wonder they need another 6 month to launch the phone when they announced back in january 2007.
 

3N16MA

macrumors 65816
Jul 23, 2009
1,011
177
Space
Just imagine being on stage with all eyes on you after years of rumors about to come true. You also know that the product that is about to change your company has a high chance of crashing during the presentation.

Most would be nervous or need some cue cards (we have seen this at keynotes before) but Jobs was as cool as ever. Not even a hint of nervousness during that keynote.

No one does a keynote like Steve Jobs did.
 

Rogifan

macrumors Core
Nov 14, 2011
21,351
26,217
What's interesting in this story is Jobs and Ive originally wanted an all aluminum phone, until engineers brought them back to reality. Makes you wonder if their original vision could have been something like the HTC One...

And that Jobs didn't allow software designers to see the hardware prototypes and hardware designers couldn't see the software. :eek:
 

onthecouchagain

macrumors 604
Mar 29, 2011
7,382
1
Wondering if this is what's happening right now with the rumored TV that Apple will make...

Or whatever secret projects they got in the pipeline (iWatch, etc.).
 

melendezest

Suspended
Jan 28, 2010
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Now that's vision and leadership. Steve made that team do the impossible: make a product that, well, didn't work right appear to be nearly flawless.

And after release, his team delivered on that vision (ok, eventually).

This is something that is often underestimated. Just because a team has the skills and abilities to do something does not mean it will get done. That's where great leadership and vision comes in. Painful, yes. But great. The results speak for themselves.

Steve was, and still is, considered amazing in this regard. Alas, leaders and visionaries like that don't come often.

Those saying "stop with the worship", etc, etc, just don't get it. It's not about "religious" rhetoric, it's about appreciation, and recognizing skills that are hard to come by and thus incorporate them so as to make us better.
 

inkswamp

macrumors 68030
Jan 26, 2003
2,740
709
The lies... the deceit...
The humanity! :rolleyes:

Why couldn't they just wait a few months until it was more polished?
IIRC, there were some issues with public communications filings with the FCC that would have revealed the iPhone. Apple decided to get in front of that instead of letting it steal their thunder. Smart move, IMO. They got a solid 7 months of nonstop buzz out of it.
 

MacFan782040

macrumors 6502a
Dec 1, 2003
793
148
Scranton, PA
"An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator...are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone."

(That still gives me chills)
 

alent1234

macrumors 603
Jun 19, 2009
5,661
136
why the terror? the iphone was randomly dropping calls into its third generation of product. i used to laugh at my mom on t-mobile dropping calls until i started to use the iphone
 

wrkactjob

macrumors 65816
Feb 29, 2008
1,357
0
London
Those 1st gen iphones are fast becoming collectors items.

New and still in original wrapping they are far more expensive than the current 5s.

if you still have one keep it!

Fancy This?
 

slapppy

macrumors 65816
Mar 20, 2008
1,227
42
Those 1st gen iphones are fast becoming collectors items.

New and still in original wrapping they are far more expensive than the current 5s.

if you still have one keep it!

Fancy This?
I have mine, almost in Pristine condition. One silly drop and it was slightly scuffed! LOL Oh well that was a great day. Great story, I wished the writer added more tidbits on how they finally overcome the issues the engineers were trying to solve a few months after the event...
 

macintologist

macrumors 6502
May 3, 2004
460
527
The iPhone introduction will go down as one the single greatest moment in Apple keynote history. Some close seconds are the original 1984 Mac intro, MW Boston 1997 announcing the Microsoft deal, and my personal favorite is MWSF 1999 introducing the Blue g3 w/Rage 128 graphics and colored iMacs.
 

scbn

macrumors 6502
Jul 25, 2010
272
22
The first iPhone was like a magic! Like they said, the rest is history... :)
 

slapppy

macrumors 65816
Mar 20, 2008
1,227
42
Yep, its pretty easy to see who here has never introduced new products before. Or even, given a presentation in front of an audience.
True...No such thing as a final finished product during presentation...specially a brand new never before built by said company. Even presentation notes, slide shows are all changed in the last minute. Sometimes during the presentation. Thats some serious engineering or hacking feat that they did to make it all work so seemless...:p
 

Terrin

macrumors 6502
Apr 5, 2011
430
1
why the terror? the iphone was randomly dropping calls into its third generation of product. i used to laugh at my mom on t-mobile dropping calls until i started to use the iphone
I live in Ann Arbor. My buddy on AT&T with his iPhone would drop calls with me repeatedly. Me with an unlocked iPhone dropped a call maybe once in a year.
 

/dev/toaster

macrumors 68020
Feb 23, 2006
2,475
249
San Francisco, CA
Those 1st gen iphones are fast becoming collectors items.

New and still in original wrapping they are far more expensive than the current 5s.

if you still have one keep it!

Fancy This?
I have mine still sitting in a box when I upgraded to the 3g. Hell, it is still running a pre-release of 2.0.

I am not holding on to it for the value, I want to look at it in 10 years to see how far we have come. The same reason I have my last pager and one of my original Motorola flip phones.
 
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