Apple's iPhone: the untold story

By Yoni Heisler, Network World |  Consumerization of IT, Apple, iPhone

Movie references aside, there was no mistaking the determination and vision that drove development of the iPhone. More than just a phone, Forstall explained that the ultimate goal was to create a phone that Apple employees themselves would use. "We wanted something that was a great phone," Forstall said.

Make no mistake about it, what Apple was trying to do with the iPhone was monumental. Putting things into perspective, remember that Apple began working on software features in 2005 that were hailed as revolutionary when they were finally unveiled in 2007. And further highlighting the challenges of the task at hand, Forstall admitted on the stand that he wasn't entirely confident his team could pull off what they were trying to do.

The touchscreen changes everything

Moving onto the actual development of the software, Forstall explained that a lot of the original innovation done on the iPhone centered on the device's capacitive touchscreen and developing software to work in conjunction with that.

While large capacitive touchscreens are now commonplace, the smartphone landscape in 2007 was markedly different. At the time, RIM's BlackBerry devices were extremely popular and any smartphone worth its salt came with a tactile keyboard.

Apple, however, forged its own path and completely did away with a tactile keyboard. Instead, the hallmark feature of the iPhone, the pièce de résistance if you will, was its 3.5 inch multi-touch screen.

At a time when most smartphone browsers provided users with a dumbed down browsing experience, Forstall and his team wanted to enable users to access the entire Internet as it was meant to be viewed, sans Flash support of course. To that end, Apple viewed a phone with a large multi-touch screen and no tactile keyboard as a selling point, not a detriment.

Because the cornerstone of the iPhone design was a large multi-touch display, Apple's engineering team had to create an entirely new framework for how consumers interacted with their phones.

"When creating the iPhone, there were so many completely unsolved problems that we had to tackle," Forstall explained. "Every single part of the design had to be rethought for touch."

As one example, Forstall said that Apple had to engineer scrolling on the iPhone to work not only when a user's finger moved vertically up and down, but also when a user's thumb would move in an arc-like trajectory.

"And so we had to figure out a way", Forstall said, "with this new form of input, with this touch and multi-touch input, to scroll something in the way the user would want it, even though there is imprecise input here."

Forstall explained that the amount of work that went into building the original iOS interface was "immense," adding that he "devoted years of my life to this," and that it was "very, very difficult."

While the way we interact with smartphones today seems highly intuitive, the user experience that we may now take for granted was the result of a lot of hard work, creative engineering, and thoughtful consideration as to how people would ideally interact with their device.

As a quick example, most iPhone users are likely familiar with the "tap to zoom" feature when browsing the web. Note, it might also sound familiar because it was one of the patents Apple asserted against Samsung in its recent trial.

Well as it turns out, the idea for "tap to zoom" came from Forstall and was borne out of the heavy testing he was doing on early iPhone prototypes.

When browsing the web, Forstall noticed that he was constantly "pinching to zoom" so that he could read text on the screen. And so it dawned upon him that it'd be much more efficient "for the iOS to take of this automatically with a single double tap."

"The team went back and worked really hard to figure out how to do that," Forstall said

And so slowly, many of the basic features that we now associate with the modern day smartphone were put together. A large buttonless screen capable of displaying the full web, a multi-touch display with gesture support and more.

Design team considered curved glass on front and back of new phones

Just as important to the iPhone's software was the design of the device itself. Apple has long prided itself on innovative industrial design and the work that went into creating the original iPhone design really reflects that.

When long time Apple designer Christopher Stringer took the stand in August, we learned quite a bit more about Apple's secretive industrial design group.

When Apple began working on the original iPhone design, Stringer said that the goal was to build a "new, original, and beautiful object" that was "so wonderful that you couldn't imagine how you'd follow it".

Stringer explained that Apple's industrial design group is comprised of 16 'maniacal' individuals who share one singular purpose - to "imagine products that don't exist and guide them to life."

The industrial design group at Apple works closely together and often gather around what Stringer referred to as a "kitchen table" where team members exchange sketches and ideas for current and future products on a weekly basis.

Naturally, an exceptional design aesthetic is the ultimate goal, and as a result, feedback from group members on proffered designs can be "brutally honest."

In a fascinating revelation that highlights Apple's obsession with even the tiniest of details, Stringer explained how Apple designers will often create mockups of a single design element - such as a button on the iPhone - and sometimes create upwards of 50 mockups of that single design element.

Once a sketch is given a green-light of sorts, Stringer explained that "the next step is CAD modeling, followed by physical mock-ups."

And speaking of one of the more interesting things to emerge at trial were photos of iPhone prototypes that never made it to market. The sheer number of designs Apple experimented with - though not all were aesthetically striking - really underscores Apple's passion for design and its unending efforts to explore every avenue to create a truly magnificent device.

Notably, the initial iPhone design Apple's designers were keen on involved a device with two pieces of curved glass, one on the front and one on the back. Apple's design team, however, was forced to abandon this idea because the technology involved in cutting the glass was cost prohibitive at the time.

A look at the evolution of the iPhone

And throughout the design process, Apple's industrial design team worked closely with technical liaisons who provide detailed feedback regarding issues such as drop-test results for various designs.

While this isn't terribly surprising, it does speak to the close collaborative process that goes into the design of Apple's hardware.


Originally published on Network World |  Click here to read the original story.
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