It’s hard to believe that a device that has become so commonplace has been around for a decade, but the now-ubiquitous iPhone celebrates its tenth anniversary this fall.
In anticipation of the anniversary, a number of accounts of its creation and early beginnings are coming, led by the book “The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone” by Brian Merchant that tells the story of iPhone’s birth that most people have never previously heard.
And that’s purposeful—Apple has intentionally made the iPhone’s creation mysterious to add to the mystique of the device.
New details shine light onto what actually happened in the secret lab and in factories around the world and how the device really came to be.
Code Name Purple: iPhone
The iPhone’s development was so secret that many people within Apple didn’t even know it was happening. The development team won an internal award that other Apple employees couldn’t fully appreciate because they didn’t know the project was happening.
The project was code named Purple and developed in an extremely secure lab that employees referred to as the Purple Dorm because people working on the project never left and the room smelled bad. It’s a good thing the project was successful because the amount of time and energy poured into it could have driven employees from Apple otherwise.
“You created a pressure cooker of a bunch of really smart people with an impossible deadline, an impossible mission, and then you hear that the future of the entire company is resting on it,” said Andy Grignon, one of the iPhone’s key engineers. “It was just like this soup of misery.”
As the project moved forward, Apple continued to pull in its best employees. No one had ever built a phone before, so there was a spirit of trial and error as the team members learned together.
From the trenches of Purple came an extraordinary device that many people poured their souls into for countless hours. For some employees, working on the iPhone meant sacrificing their own personal relationships and even marriages, but many of them knew from the start that they were working on something that would change history.
Many of those original iPhone employees have left Apple over the past decade, making them available to now discuss what things were really like during the early days.
Borrowing “New” Technology
The iPhone’s development really includes the development of multiple pieces of technology put together in a single device. The phone’s multitouch technology is what allows it to track several fingertips at once—most people know it because they can pinch to zoom in on the screen.
Although Steve Jobs always said Apple developed the technology, it was actually invented in the 1960s at the Royal Radar Establishment in England and again in the 1970s at CERN.
In 2005, Apple acquired FingerWorks, a company run by multitouch leader Wayne Westerman. Apple went on to add the technology to all of its newest devices.
Other new technologies came together for the iPhone, some developed by Apple and others contracted or purchased from other sources. The perfect storm of technology includes Gorilla Glass, motion sensors, ARM chips, wireless technology, and lithium-ion batteries, among other things that contributed to the revolutionary device.
Not every addition was successful, such as the phone’s infrared proximity sensor that turns the screen off when it is near a user’s head not recognizing dark hair, and some of the original ideas and specs changed over time to make way for newer or more successful features.
The iPhone has changed how the world works, lives, and communicates. To truly understand its importance, it can be helpful to take a step back to the beginning and see the device’s early days.
Knowing how much progress has been made in the past 10 years, it will be interesting to see where the iPhone of the next decade takes us.