Former Apple Executives Recall Designing Touchscreen Interface of Original iPhone

As we near the ten-year anniversary of the iPhone later this week, a few stories posted online have delved into the rich history of where the device started, how the original team came up with the idea for the touchscreen smartphone, and what it was like reviewing the device back in 2007.

In a new video shared by The Wall Street Journal today, three former Apple executives -- Scott Forstall, Tony Fadell and Greg Christie -- have taken a look back at the first days of designing the iPhone with Steve Jobs. Apple's former senior vice president of the iPod division, Tony Fadell, recounted a time when Jobs showed him the company's first demo for what would become the iPhone's touch-based operating system.

Image via WSJ

Jobs and the rest of the team were seeking a more elegant solution to a smartphone interface than the one they began with, which was an iPod click wheel interface, when Jobs invited Fadell into a demo room.
"Steve goes, "Come over here I need to show you something." So he walked me into the room...and it was basically like a ping pong table sized demo with a projector that was projecting a Mac interface on it. And you could use your whole hand and you could touch different things on it, like it was a big big Mac.

It was literally a ping pong sized multi-touch display. And he goes, "I think this is gonna solve our problem."
Former Apple vice president of iOS, Scott Forstall, recalled a specific time in 2005 when the iPhone team was put on a deadline of two weeks to come up with a better design for the smartphone's user interface. Jobs was not satisfied at the time with early iterations of the iPhone's look, and told Forstall and the team that he'd give the project to another group at the company if they failed to deliver.


Greg Christie, former Apple vice president of human interface, said that the team's design ultimately satisfied Jobs, and led to even more work over the next two years before the iPhone's launch in 2007.
"The first time he saw it he was completely silent, he didn't say a thing. He didn't say anything, he didn't gesture, he didn't ask a question. Then he sat back and he said, "Show it to me again." And so we go through the whole thing again and Steve was pretty much blown away by the whole demonstration. It was great work.

Our reward for doing a great job on that demonstration was to, you know, kill ourselves over the next two and a half years."
In 2006, Forstall froze development across the iPhone's user interface divisions to force the team to focus on one troublesome part of the smartphone's UI: the keyboard. At the time, Forstall said it was difficult to use and that if someone tried to type out an e-mail, they'd just "give up."

Forstall explained that one of the best keyboards pitched by a developer had a few clever advantages over all the others designed by the team. Namely, it could intelligently predict words, so if a user would type "T," the keyboard would make the hit region for "H" larger -- while the actual key remained the same size -- so that common words such as "the" were easier to type.

The full ten-minute video created by The Wall Street Journal, which is called "How The iPhone Was Born: Inside Stories of Missteps and Triumphs," is well worth checking out. Other topics discussed by Forstall, Fadell, and Christie include the creation of the iPhone's visual vocabulary (like pinch to zoom and rubber banding to mark the end of a scrollable page), as well as the company's Fight Club secrecy tactics for "The Purple Project," the code name for the original iPhone's creation.


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Former iOS Chief Scott Forstall Discusses Creating the First iPhone

Former iOS chief Scott Forstall gave a rare interview last night at an event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, where he discussed the birth of the iPhone and his relationship with Steve Jobs.

Speaking to journalist John Markoff after an opening hour with original iPhone engineers Nitin Ganatra, Hugo Fiennes, and Scott Herz, Forstall's appearance was the first time he had spoken publicly since he was ousted from Apple in October 2012, following the botched launch of Apple Maps.

Scott Forstall (right) speaking to John Markoff

Forstall proved a charismatic storyteller on the night as he discussed his school education and his early career at Steve Jobs' NeXT, before moving on to his work on the first iPhone at Apple. The former iOS chief spoke with genuine warmth about his time with the company, but stopped short of offering any huge revelations, although the audience was treated to a few more details as well as some humorous episodes along the way.

For example, Forstall claimed that before the iPhone was conceived, Jobs had initially wanted a tablet with capacitative touch and multitouch in order to get one over on someone he "hated" who worked at Microsoft.
"It began because Steve hated this guy at Microsoft. That is the actual origin," Forstall said, before adding that it wasn't Bill Gates. After hearing the person boast about Microsoft's tablet and stylus development, said Forstall, "Steve came in on a Monday, there was a set of expletives and then he said, 'Let's show them how it's really done'."
Regarding the iPhone, Forstall said the idea for the device was initially born when he and Jobs were eating lunch and they noticed everyone was using their phones. "We hated them," he said. "No one seemed like it was a pleasurable thing to use a phone, but it's a nice thing for communication." The episode prompted Jobs to ask the tablet design team to redouble their efforts to perfect multitouch but to miniaturize it for a device that you could put in your pocket.

Forstall also touched upon the concept of skeuomorphic design, claiming he had "never heard of skeuomorphism" when he was working on iOS and that it sounded "unnatural".
"When I look at design - when I look at good design - it's approachable, friendly, you can use it without a manual. It's fun. We talked a lot about photo-illustrative design. It was infused into the design sense of Apple by Steve Jobs since the original Mac. We used these design philosophies. It doesn't mean we loved it, or loved every single part of it. We know it worked. How do we know it worked? You just have to watch people use it."
Elsewhere, Forstall chose to highlight the many emails he received from customers explaining how the iPhone and iPad had changed and even saved lives. One email was from a 100-year-old woman who had been an avid reader and writer all her life, before age had made these pastimes impossible. The iPad bought for her by her family had allowed her to take up reading and writing again, long after she had all but given up hope.

Forstall also spoke touchingly about his friendship with Jobs, including the time when Forstall contracted a rare and potentially lethal vomiting virus which left him in hospital for months, before the late Apple CEO arranged for an acupuncturist to treat him. After two sessions, Forstall was discharged from hospital and went on to make a complete recovery.

Forstall shared a particularly funny anecdote about how Jobs insisted on paying for both their lunches at the Apple cafeteria, despite the fact that the $8 meals were charged against staff paychecks with each scan of their badges, and as CEO, Jobs only got paid a dollar a year.

Lastly, Forstall said he is not currently developing technology himself, and will continue his work in an advisory capacity. You can watch all of the interviews on Facebook.


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Scott Forstall to Discuss Creation of iPhone at Computer History Museum Next Week

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California has announced that former iOS chief Scott Forstall will sit down with journalist John Markoff on June 20 for a fireside chat about how the iPhone came to be.

Forstall was Apple's Vice President of iOS from 2007 until 2012
How did the iPhone come to be? The leader of the iPhone software team Scott Forstall sits down with Computer History Museum historian John Markoff to share his experience working with Steve Jobs on the secretive Apple iPhone project, codenamed "Project Purple."
Forstall's fireside chat will be preceded by a panel discussion with a trio of engineers from the original iPhone development team, Nitin Ganatra, Scott Herz, and Hugo Fiennes, who will talk about their work on the transformative device.

The two-part event is part of the Computer History Museum's ongoing "iPhone 360" project this year that explores the story of the iPhone, from its prehistory, inception, and launch, to its evolution and impact.
Coinciding with the 10th anniversary year of the iPhone launch in 2007, iPhone 360 includes integrated initiatives across the Computer History Museum to create new collections of artifacts and oral histories, scholarly research and insights, dynamic events, and educational content and curriculum.
"Putting Your Finger On It: Creating the iPhone" is scheduled for Tuesday between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Pacific Time at the museum's Exponential Center. Check-in begins at 6 p.m. Registration is available online.

June 20 also marks the release of the book The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant, in which Forstall is quoted. Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller and former iPod chief Tony Fadell have both turned to Twitter in recent days to refute some of the book's contents.


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