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Apple designer's court testimony recalls birth of iPhone

Martyn Williams | April 7, 2014
Apple vice president Greg Christie recalls the first two years of iPhone development, before the phone was announced, as part of Apple's patent litigation against Samsung.

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The roots of the iPhone can be traced to many corners of Apple's campus in Cupertino, California, but a Silicon Valley courtroom heard Friday heard how some of the most recognizable software features came from a team working in a dark, dirty, windowless room with special security to keep others out.

The story of the iPhone's software design was related by Greg Christie, an Apple vice president and software designer, as part of Apple's patent infringement case against Samsung. Christie is one of the inventors listed on the patent for the "slide to unlock" function, which is one of the patents in question in Apple's lawsuit against Samsung, on trial in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California.

Christie engaged the jury and courtroom with his behind-the-scenes tale of his part in the development of the phone, which began with a knock on his office door.

"One day, I was sitting in my office, and Scott Forstall came in, shut the door, and he asked me, 'How would you like to do a phone?'" Christie recalled of the first time he heard of Apple's ambitious plan. Forstall was leading some of Apple's OS X design at the time.

"I said, 'Sure, you bet,' and we started to discuss it a bit further," he said "It was a pretty general description at the time, but it would be touch-based, have a large screen for a phone, but a very small screen for a desktop computer, and my team should start working on designs for it."

Over the next few months, Christie's team would demonstrate ideas they had for elements of the iPhone software at the end of meetings focused on OS X design that took place every couple of weeks.

"We'd work on small designs, brainstorm, demonstrate them and review. That went on for a few months," he said.

The meetings took place in a room on the second floor of the building where Christie worked that was reserved for meetings with Steve Jobs.

"It had special security, a PIN code to open the door, there were no windows," Christie said of the room.

At the start, everything seemed to be going well, but that changed in January 2005, just after the Macworld conference.

"Steve was pretty frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of progress on the work," said Christie. "He made himself pretty clear."

Christie's team was given an ultimatum: They had until the next meeting to put together an end-to-end demonstration that showed all of the disconnected experiences working together, or the project would be given to another team at Apple.


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