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The Story of the Original iPhone's Development 221

Posted by Soulskill
from the nobody-wants-to-see-how-the-iSausage-is-made dept.
jds91md writes "Today's NY Times delivers a great story of the development of the iPhone by Apple. It focuses on the events during the leadup to Steve Jobs taking the stage with shockingly buggy prototypes and pulling off the show that is now history. 'Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality. Some had noticeable gaps between the screen and the plastic edge; others had scuff marks on the screen. And the software that ran the phone was full of bugs. 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.' One of the big problems was the phone's connectivity. The man in charge of the iPhone's radios, Andy Grignon, had to deal with Jobs's anger when rehearsals didn't go well. Grignon said, 'Very rarely did I see him become completely unglued — it happened, but mostly he just looked at you and very directly said in a very loud and stern voice, "You are [expletive] up my company," or, "If we fail, it will be because of you." He was just very intense. And you would always feel an inch tall.'"
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The Story of the Original iPhone's Development

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  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday October 04, 2013 @05:59PM (#45039897)

    The whole story is a great testament to engineers, in that (a) it's incredible they could have made the demo work that well, and (b) Apple actually shipped the thing described in that story just six months later - and it was basically pretty functional and solid.

    Even for you Apple Haters out there that have zero interest in reading something like this - well anyone who is an engineer should read it, and if you can't bring yourself to do that at least read the very last paragraph which is fun for everyone.

    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday October 04, 2013 @06:02PM (#45039927) Journal

      It's also a great testament to what an utter fucking prick Jobs was. An effective utter fucking prick, but an utter fucking prick nonetheless.

    • by noh8rz10 (2716597) on Friday October 04, 2013 @06:03PM (#45039935)

      such a stressful story! My blood pressure was up just reading it. Imagine being caught in SJ's whithering gaze! The scary part is that when he told people "you f'd my company" that was the nice time, and other times he became unglued! Then to have to sit there in the audience, knowing there is nothing you can do! I would have been quaking in my boots.

      the interesting thing is it didn't go into too much depth about iOS. in the early years SJ kept insisting to miniaturize OSX, but at some point they obv switched. there must be a story there!

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by bensyverson (732781)
        iOS (then iPhone OS) basically is a miniaturized OS X. Nothing changed.
      • No, it is still LARGELY based on OS X. It uses the same kernel
        (Darwin) and many of the same API's.

      • by Alomex (148003)

        This is the typical response of an abuse enabler. People from all walks of life have repeatedly pointed out that Jobs was an A grade a-hole, yet we have noh8rz10 belittling one of the targets of his abuse.

        • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

          how did I belittle? I sympathized with the dude who obviously had a harrowing experience! you're right I'm forgiving SJ his a-hole-ness, because he was a great man. no fanboi-ism, just facts.

    • by icebike (68054) on Friday October 04, 2013 @06:08PM (#45039981)

      Its also a testament about demonstrating something way before it was ready. A specific sequence of events that had to occur in a given order to prevent it crashing? Really? Send your most visible exec out with total crap in his hands?

      Couldn't they just wait till it actually worked? Its not like anyone was racing them to market in those days.

      • by MrEricSir (398214) on Friday October 04, 2013 @06:13PM (#45040025) Homepage

        Its also a testament about demonstrating something way before it was ready.

        Which if you've been an engineer for more than, say, 10 minutes, is something you've experienced in your career.

        • by icebike (68054)

          No, you only see Almost ready products in public demos, never flaming disasters carefully masked.
          Most engineers worth their salt wouldn't even show pre-alpha products to management.

          • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday October 04, 2013 @06:33PM (#45040181)

            never flaming disasters carefully masked.

            It wasn't a flaming disaster though, just a lot of components that all worked pretty well already, but very very unstable - especially in combination.

            That is very, very far in the live demo world from a "flaming disaster". Flaming disaster would have been a browser that could only parse simple HTML, mail client that ate emails, phone that failed to dial ever, etc.

          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            Well, public demos are relatively rare overall. Sure Apple does it, but most companies will have smaller initial demos, either to invitees only or as a dog and pony show to a specific customer. But definitely the idea of showing something off before it even works is common. Usually you've got a snake oil purveyor leading things (from sales department, or a CEO), and if things break badly there's a lot of sleight-of-hand being done to hide the product while it reboots.

            Things are rarely flaming disasters b

          • Didn't Apple do a public demo of their Copland operating system? Indeed, IIRC, they even distributed a few copies of an early alpha version to some developers, despite it reportedly being in a similar state.

          • No, you only see Almost ready products in public demos, never flaming disasters carefully masked.
            Most engineers worth their salt wouldn't even show pre-alpha products to management.

            Sure, you do. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Y_Jp6PxsSQ [youtube.com] Oh...wait. That wasn't carefully masked. It was just a flaming disaster. Carry on.

        • by McGruber (1417641)

          Its also a testament about demonstrating something way before it was ready.

          Which if you've been an engineer for more than, say, 10 minutes, is something you've experienced in your career.

          I really hope you are not a bridge engineer!

          • by narcc (412956)

            I think he's one of those people who still think "software engineering" is related in some way to other actual engineering disciplines.

      • Send your most visible exec out with total crap in his hands?

        Depends on the exec. Some are completely incapable of doing this - they either panic and push the wrong buttons or fail to gracefully recover when they fumble.

        When you are starting off, the goal is to demo the vision, not the product. So it is not only ok, but commonplace to have incomplete/buggy device. But if your execs cannot pull off these kinds of demos, the whole thing is DOA.

      • by stenvar (2789879) on Friday October 04, 2013 @06:24PM (#45040113)

        Couldn't they just wait till it actually worked? Its not like anyone was racing them to market in those days.

        Android had been in the works since 2005 and probably could have been released on a phone in 2007, but their acquisition by Google probably cost them a year. And at the time, Palm, Microsoft, and Nokia were formidable competitors. In 2007, they had become complacent and failed to update their OSes, but Apple didn't know that at the time.

        Yeah, people were "racing them to market", and the initial iPhone was a pretty iffy proposition and pretty limited device.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cusco (717999)

        This is yet another example of the differences between Gates and Jobs. Gates went on stage and demo'ed their operating system. Jobs went out with his immaculately rehearsed script of things to do in the only order that they had managed to make work. Win95 blue screened when it hit a bad driver, while IOS (arguably a much more immature product when demonstrated) gave the illusion of being ready for consumers.

        • by icebike (68054)

          IOS (arguably a much more immature product when demonstrated) gave the illusion of being ready for consumers.

          Not really. I distinctly remember Jobs nonchalantly handing off a crashed phone for another one and making it look
          like a planned event. He fooled no one. The press called it out, (but of course let it slide), because it was Jobs after all.

        • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Friday October 04, 2013 @08:59PM (#45041109)

          This is yet another example of the differences between Gates and Jobs. Gates went on stage and demo'ed their operating system. Jobs went out with his immaculately rehearsed script of things to do in the only order that they had managed to make work. Win95 blue screened when it hit a bad driver, while IOS (arguably a much more immature product when demonstrated) gave the illusion of being ready for consumers.

          Absolutely. This is the difference between geeks/engineers, and people who know how to market things. Geeks and engineers in general don't even like the ability to market. They think it is "bells and Whistles" or "Madison Avenue". I suspect that like most good geeks, Gates went out cold, and tried to demo his products, probably the first time he'd seen them in action. I suspect that (almost certain) that Jobs rehearsed his spiel many times before going out. And if there was a stability problem, what ran before what, he knew it and worked around it.

          In the end, when everything worked well, the orchestrated marketing meant nothing othre than it did it's job.

          • by multi io (640409) <olaf.klischat@googlemail.com> on Friday October 04, 2013 @10:50PM (#45041665)

            This is yet another example of the differences between Gates and Jobs. Gates went on stage and demo'ed their operating system. Jobs went out with his immaculately rehearsed script of things to do in the only order that they had managed to make work. Win95 blue screened when it hit a bad driver, while IOS (arguably a much more immature product when demonstrated) gave the illusion of being ready for consumers.

            Absolutely. This is the difference between geeks/engineers, and people who know how to market things. Geeks and engineers in general don't even like the ability to market. They think it is "bells and Whistles" or "Madison Avenue". I suspect that like most good geeks, Gates went out cold, and tried to demo his products, probably the first time he'd seen them in action.

            Haha. People here seem to have forgotten that Microsoft practically invented the term "vaporware" all by themselves. They were undisputed masters in that field. The "Cairo project" arguably existed for the sole purpose of shying customers away from NeXTStep, and was buried as soon as the latter was no longer thought to be a threat. And who remembers WinFS? They probably even shipped some developer previews of that before cancelling it.

            In contrast to that, Jobs at Macworld 2007 only promised that Apple would deliver a device 6 months later which would work as could reasonably be inferred from the demo. And they did that. So technically Jobs wasn't even "lying" at that demo, the whole thing can essentially be seen as a somewhat more elaborate slide-show presentation which just happened to include a half-working prototype as well.

        • Insightful comment, but this being Slashdot you are of course modded 'troll.' Sigh.
          • by cusco (717999)

            Amusing. First 'Troll' mod that I've had in a while. IIRC my last Troll mod and my last Flamebait was also pointing out the differences between MS/Gates and Apple/Jobs.

    • by willy_me (212994)

      In the initial stages the iPhone was hidden from most Apple employees. Even those that worked specific parts of the software design would not know how it was supposed to come together. To bring all the employees inline with development would inevitably result in the design being leaked before the big announcement. As it stands, rumors of it existed but people only had basic ideas of how it might look and operate.

      The final announcement greatly preceded the launch - something that is very rare for Apple

      • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday October 04, 2013 @06:37PM (#45040213)

        But considering how inflexible the first version of the OS was, not impossible.

        If you look at the jailbreaking stuff from launch time though, the platform itself was not really inflexible at all. Many of the classes iOS developers know and use today were there at launch. The device itself have a limited set of applications but underneath it really was running a scaled down OSX and using ObjectiveC for applications just as the desktop did...

        I totally agree with you on the need for groups to be able to work together being a reason why the announced it so far ahead of launch (comparatively). They got it as far as they could (really farther) with the left hand not being able to know what the right was doing.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        Sounds plausible. I had a friend who was a manager at Apple, unrelated to phones, and at one point they had a bunch of managers come together to do final assembly on one of the subsequent phone models just to keep it a secret a little longer.

    • by Imrik (148191)

      Reminds me of my final project in a CS class, we had a program that actually worked but didn't have time to compile all the data for it. Instead, we made a quick mock up that responded to specific buttons in a specific order, creating what was essentially a slide show of how it actually worked.

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      And the rest of the day turned out to be just a [expletive] for the entire iPhone team.

      Erm, so what is he saying here? I need to know WHICH expletive to get the sense of the sentence but the morons censored it.

  • ...perhaps you shouldn't be demoing it to the public yet.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, you are right, what the hell were they thinking? It's too bad they didn't listen to your advice, otherwise they might have been successful. :(

  • Golden Path (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ed Johnson (2881561) on Friday October 04, 2013 @06:28PM (#45040145)
    I don't know why this surprises anyone. EVERYTHING I have ever designed had to be demoed before it was ready, sometimes a year or more before it was ready. Usually we could arrange to have the actual engineers (me or someone on my team) do the demo, and we always tred to practice to insure we could demo only things that worked. When the boss had to do the demo we always had extensive rehearsals, and emphasized that he must perform the steps exactly as we practiced or bad things would likely happen. On some projects hardware was so late we had to build simulators and hide them under the table so the software would have something to control/monitor. I believe this sort of demo is very common in any sort of R&D environment including big name companies demoing new products/technologies for the first time. Every demo of an early prototype will crash or show unexpected behavior at some point during the demo, the key to the impression it makes is how well the demonstrator handles the issue - getting mad in a public demo is never a good idea. Usually you just tell someone else to file a bug report, and move on - explaining that there is, of course, still some polishing to do; or use it as an opportunity to explain the way you work with customers to resolve such issues - leaving the impression that you engineered the failure in order to fit that topic in to the presentation. My ex boss was a master of that technique. Even in my current job where my products are for internal use I am frequently asked for demos before products are ready, the difference being I don't have to offer smooth explanations when things go wrong, usually I just have to offer an estimate of when it might be done.
    • I have no problem with even totally canned demos, as long as everything works as promised when the product ships. A "premature demo" can still be valuable for demonstrating product concept and eliciting user input. Interest will fall off if the lag between demo and shipping is too long, however.

    • by n7ytd (230708)

      Ah yes, the dog and pony show, with super glued, hand-built prototypes and fake UI screens. The real danger is always in management, who must think, "hey, we saw it working last week, why do these eggheads say they need more time now? What's left to do?"

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This is why there are specific kind of demos where you don't want everything going smooth, or at the very least, you make something obviously unfinished. I've gone as far as making my UI uglier for a demo: People thought they were funding UI improvements, when in reality we just needed a whole lot more investment in the backend to support realistic loads effectively. Otherwise, the app would have looked ready to go, but fail miserably when in production.

  • The next chapter in the The Time Traveling Adventures of Reginald Smitherington, Klutz: In Reginald's previous episode he dropped in on Preston Tucker and helped him with the debut of his revolutionary car, mistakenly connecting the fuel line to the distributor and starting a fire.

    This time Reginald helps Steve Jobs improve upon his perfectly assembled and functioning mobile phone, by introducing some last minute code, to make the presentation even more spiffy...

  • And it all lead to that moment Steve Jobs announced the iPhone to the world, and started the downward fall of Blackberry.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/the-inside-story-of-why-blackberry-is-failing/article14563602/?page=all [theglobeandmail.com]
  • Jobs got through a long and involved demo without a crash nor even a glitch. Compare this to so many Microsoft presentations, where you know good and damned well they put every bit as much effort into finding a "golden path" for the demo, but it crashes ANYWAY!

  • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Friday October 04, 2013 @09:13PM (#45041173)
    What disappoints me about all the stories of Jobs's excellence is it's apparent that, because I'm unable (and unwilling) to work 80 hours per week, I'll never be part of something amazing. Seems like no one has ever taken their kids to soccer practice *and* changed the world.
  • Jon Rubinstein, Apple’s top hardware executive at the time, says there were even long discussions about how big the phone would be. “I was actually pushing to do two sizes — to have a regular iPhone and an iPhone mini like we had with the iPod. I thought one could be a smartphone and one could be a dumber phone. But we never got any traction on the small one, and in order to do one of these projects, you really need to put all your wood behind one arrow.”

    Wow, they really need to revisit this idea now. The world has changed since 2007, and Apple now has a lot more money, resources and competition from a range of Android phones, big and small. I personally prefer the "small" 4 inch screens, but I know that most of the market wants gigantic phablets. It made sense back in 2007 to have all the wood behind one arrow, but now they've just got all their eggs in one basket.

  • I know one of the engineers who worked on that. He was a quiet, competent guy, and didn't like being screamed at by Jobs. He quit right after the iPhone shipped.

  • From the article:

    "The story was that Steve wanted a device that he could use to read e-mail while on the toilet — that was the extent of the product spec".

    I had no idea I was taking part in such an important use case.

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