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

originaliphoneJust 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.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
87 months ago
"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)
Score: 54 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
87 months ago
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.
Score: 54 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
87 months ago
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.
Score: 38 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
87 months ago
Well, they fooled me!
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
87 months ago

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.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
87 months ago

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.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple's First MacBook Pro With a Retina Display Will Become 'Obsolete' in 30 Days

Monday June 1, 2020 7:50 am PDT by
If you are still hanging on to a Mid 2012 model of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a Retina display, and require a new battery or other repairs, be sure to book an appointment with a service provider as soon as possible. In an internal memo today, obtained by MacRumors, Apple has indicated that this particular MacBook Pro model will be marked as "obsolete" worldwide on June 30, 2020, just over...

Five Mac Apps Worth Checking Out - June 2020

Tuesday June 2, 2020 2:25 pm PDT by
Apps developed for the Mac often don't receive as much coverage as apps designed for iPhones and iPads, so we have a series at MacRumors that highlights interesting Mac apps that are worth taking a look at. This month's apps are designed to make working from home a little bit easier. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Meeter (Free) - Working from home often...

Apple Music Joins Music Industry's Blackout Tuesday Awareness Campaign

Tuesday June 2, 2020 1:31 am PDT by
Apple Music has cancelled its Beats 1 radio schedule for Blackout Tuesday and is suggesting that listeners tune in to a radio stream celebrating the best in black music. Blackout Tuesday is a campaign organized by the music industry to support Black Lives Matter after Minneapolis citizen George Floyd was killed by police in the course of his arrest. On launching Apple Music, many users...

Next Apple Pencil Could Be Released in Black

Tuesday June 2, 2020 10:25 am PDT by
The next iteration of the Apple Pencil could be available in black for the first time, according to leaker Mr. White who shared the tidbit on Twitter this morning. A mockup of an Apple Pencil in black We haven't heard rumors of a next-generation Apple Pencil and it's not clear when a new model might be released. Apple is rumored to be working on mini-LED versions of the iPad Pro, and it's...

iPad Pro With A14X Chip, 5G, and Mini-LED Display Expected in First Half of 2021

Wednesday June 3, 2020 6:22 am PDT by
Apple plans to launch new iPad Pro models with an A14X chip, 5G connectivity, and a Mini-LED display in the first or second quarter of 2021, according to the increasingly reliable Twitter account L0vetodream. The leaker claims that the new iPad Pro models will be equipped with Qualcomm's Snapdragon X55 modem, which supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz. mmWave is a set of 5G frequencies that...

Apple Releases macOS Catalina 10.15.5 Supplemental Update With Security Fix

Monday June 1, 2020 10:56 am PDT by
Apple today released a supplemental update for macOS Catalina 10.15.5, the fifth update to the macOS Catalina operating system that was released in October 2019. The supplemental update comes a week after the release of the macOS Catalina 10.15.5 update. ‌macOS Catalina‌ 10.15.5 is a free update that can be downloaded from the Mac App Store using the Update feature in the System...

Tim Cook Addresses George Floyd's Death and Ensuing Protests and Riots as Apple Temporarily Closes Some U.S. Stores

Sunday May 31, 2020 8:04 pm PDT by
Amid unrest in numerous U.S. cities following last week's killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Apple CEO Tim Cook has shared an internal memo with employees (via Bloomberg) addressing the pain that many are feeling and urging others to commit "to creating a better, more just world for everyone." Cook also announced that Apple is making donations to several groups challenging...

iCloud Down for Many Users, Causing 'The Application You Have Selected Does Not Exist' Error [Update: Fixed]

Tuesday June 2, 2020 4:44 pm PDT by
iCloud appears to be down for many people at the current time, based on complaints from MacRumors readers and Twitter users. Apple's system status page was not initially displaying an error when the problems started, but has been updated to confirm an issue with iCloud account sign ins. The support site says that some users may be unable to sign in to their iCloud accounts and may also be...

iOS 14 Again Said to Be Compatible With All iPhones Able to Run iOS 13

Monday June 1, 2020 2:08 pm PDT by
iOS 14 will be compatible with all iPhones and iPod touch models able to run iOS 13, according to information shared today by Israeli site The Verifier. The compatibility data was allegedly found in a leaked version of iOS 14 and confirmed by what The Verifier says is a "trusted source from the system development process." iOS 13 is compatible with the iPhone 6s and later, with a full...

iPhone 13 Prototype Mockup Depicts Notch-Free Design and USB-C Port

Thursday June 4, 2020 10:07 am PDT by
We still have a few months to go before Apple unveils the iPhone 12, but rumors about the iPhone 13, coming in fall 2021, are already circulating. Japanese site Mac Otakara today shared a rough 3D printed mockup of a 5.5-inch iPhone said to be coming in 2021, which is from "Alibaba sources." The model may be built on leaked specifications and rumors, but where the info comes from is unclear. ...