The original iPhone launch keynote was not just Jobs’ best performance, but also, one of the best product launches ever. But there was a lot that went into making Jobs’ vision of the iPhone a reality, and a detailed NYT article offers a great behind-the-scenes look into the design and development of the original iPhone.
The entire article is largely based on conversations with Andy Grignon, an Apple engineer who worked on the original iPhone’s wireless radios. He recalls that although Steve Jobs’ demo of the iPhone during the keynote seemed perfect, there was a lot that could go wrong mainly because both the on-board software and the hardware weren’t mature enough:
[Grignon] felt terrified. Most onstage product demonstrations in Silicon Valley are canned. The thinking goes, why let bad Internet or cellphone connections ruin an otherwise good presentation? But Jobs insisted on live presentations. It was one of the things that made them so captivating. Part of his legend was that noticeable product-demo glitches almost never happened. But for those in the background, like Grignon, few parts of the job caused more stress.
Only a hundred or so iPhone units existed when Jobs demoed the device in January 2007, and they dropped calls every now and then, lost internet connection and had memory issues because of which they froze and had to be restarted. There were other software bugs too:
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.
So how was the demo flawless, despite these very glaring bugs? The iPhone team carved out a “golden path,” a set of tasks which, when performed in a certain order, didn’t cause the phone to crash. To cover up for the buggy Wi-Fi radio, the iPhone team extended the antenna using wires. Apple had AT&T place a portable cell tower inside the hall, and the software always displayed full signal bars irrespective of the actual strength, to hide any baseband crashes.
Jobs’ obsession with secrecy is well-known, and here’s an example of it, as detailed in the article:
Even people within the [iPhone] project itself couldn’t talk to one another. Engineers designing the electronics weren’t allowed to see the software. When they needed software to test the electronics, they were given proxy code, not the real thing. If you were working on the software, you used a simulator to test hardware performance.
And no one outside Jobs’s inner circle was allowed into Jonathan Ive’s wing on the first floor of Building 2.
The entire NYT article makes for a great read, and includes various bits of information that hadn’t been known before, right from how Jobs and Ive originally dreamed of an aluminium iPhone to how some Apple execs were pushing for two iPhones — standard and mini. So head to the source link for an enjoyable long read.
In case you haven’t already, you can watch Steve Jobs’ iPhone keynote below: