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Apple's iPhone: The untold story

Yoni Heisler | Sept. 14, 2012
Apple is one of the most secretive companies on the planet, so the Apple-Samsung trial was fascinating in that it lifted the veil of secrecy that typically shrouds Apple's operations. From marketing budgets to photos of never-before-seen iPhone prototypes, the evidence introduced at trial gave the world an unprecedented glimpse into the inner workings of Apple.

On a heavily secured floor in a building on Apple's campus, the original iPhone team got to work. As one would expect, security on the floor was extremely stringent, equipped with security card readers and even video monitors to monitor activity. Forstall recalled, "The team took one of Apple's Cupertino buildings and locked it down. It started with a single floor with badge readers and cameras. In some cases, even workers on the team would have to show their badges five or six times."

Within Apple, the secretive iPhone project was referred to as Project Purple and the building where the work was taking place was called the "purple dorm."

At trial, Forstall explained that the long hours spent there made the "purple dorm" feel like a college dorm of sorts. "People were there all the time. It smelled like pizza," Forstall noted.

And highlighting the secretive nature of their work, the team put up a poster of "Fight Club", because you know, the first rule of Project Purple is that you don't talk about Project Purple.

Movie references aside, there was no mistaking the determination and vision that drove development of the iPhone. More than just a phone, Forstall explained that the ultimate goal was to create a phone that Apple employees themselves would use. "We wanted something that was a great phone," Forstall said.

Make no mistake about it, what Apple was trying to do with the iPhone was monumental. Putting things into perspective, remember that Apple began working on software features in 2005 that were hailed as revolutionary when they were finally unveiled in 2007. And further highlighting the challenges of the task at hand, Forstall admitted on the stand that he wasn't entirely confident his team could pull off what they were trying to do.

The touchscreen changes everything

Moving onto the actual development of the software, Forstall explained that a lot of the original innovation done on the iPhone centered on the device's capacitive touchscreen and developing software to work in conjunction with that.

While large capacitive touchscreens are now commonplace, the smartphone landscape in 2007 was markedly different. At the time, RIM's BlackBerry devices were extremely popular and any smartphone worth its salt came with a tactile keyboard.

Apple, however, forged its own path and completely did away with a tactile keyboard. Instead, the hallmark feature of the iPhone, the pièce de résistance if you will, was its 3.5 inch multi-touch screen.

At a time when most smartphone browsers provided users with a dumbed down browsing experience, Forstall and his team wanted to enable users to access the entire Internet as it was meant to be viewed, sans Flash support of course. To that end, Apple viewed a phone with a large multi-touch screen and no tactile keyboard as a selling point, not a detriment.

 

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