The hell of designing the original iPhone

Being part of a dream can be a nightmare. And in some cases, the relationship is directly proportional to greater greatness of the dream; the more dramatic is to be part of it. That is what must have thought Andy Grignon, senior engineer at Apple in the morning January 8, 2007 took a particular different way than usual to go to work. That day was to meet Steve Jobs. There was little more than 24 hours for one of the most important presentations of the recent history of the technology. The next day, the MosconeCenter convention center in San Francisco would become the showcase for the whole world expected a new icon: the iPhone.

And many might think that Grignon was a lucky guy “Working directly with Jobs!”. The truth is that, at least during that time, was not what exactly what he must have thought. Yet it was not an illusion, but terror, the feeling that accompanied it during those hours. At that time, the iPhone was still a prototype, and so did iPhoneOS operating system (this was its original name, before moving on to be called iOS). And, of course, the bad things that have the prototypes are that they generally feel quite. Not surprisingly, they are used specifically to detect problems that are solved in the final version. But Jobs wanted to make a real presentation with the device in operation, and showing all that was capable of.

Grignon was, at that time, the engineer responsible for the original iPhone radios. Radios are the components that allow the phone to connect to different types of networks. Specifically, in this case we speak of a radio gem (to connect to the telephone network), other Bluetooth wifi and third. This means that without the work of the senior engineer, the iPhone could not connect wirelessly to anything or a wireless network, or a handsfree Bluetooth or, worse, to the telephone network.

Thus, any connectivity related failure during a presentation, which would be a more difficult situation for it. And, if anything was known Steve Jobs from its early days as an entrepreneur, was to push hard for their workers, by requiring more than humanly possible and never accept a “no can” answer. Back in the days of the first Macintosh, when it led this team, boasted that its team members could spend more than 30 hours working tirelessly. And not afraid to come to blows with any of them if they did not get what he wanted. For Grignon, who participated in the project of the iPhone almost since the beginning of it, he says he won over 20 kilos and just emotionally exhausted.

In the final stretch of preparations for the presentation of the January 9, very few people were allowed access to testing iPhone presentation at MosconeCenter. And this might sound great and generate envy, but nothing is further from reality. Those present were, of course, directly related to the device and its features, so when something went wrong, Steve Jobs did not hesitate to blame who corresponded with phrases like “You are [expletive] up my company” (“You are [censored] my company”), or “If we fail, it will be because of you. The tense situation was unbearable for many employees. Do not forget that between the presentation and the offering for sale spent nearly half a year (it filed on January 9 and was released on June 29). At that time, there were only a few hundred prototypes, yet very poor, and had not even been able to start mass producing.


During the preparation of the presentation, employees discovered, among other things, that the iPhone could play a snippet of a song or video, but not full pieces. Also that the device worked well if you didn’t send an email and then access a web page, but not vice versa. Many, many hours of trial and error, led the team to prepare what they called “The golden path” (golden path), which consisted of a list of specific tasks that should be carried out in the proper order to avoid (or at least minimize) the risk of failure during start iPhone long.

But even with the golden road, had elements that could fail and one of them was responsible for connecting the radio phone to the telephone network. As throughout the presentation, the audience could see the phone screen replicated on a large screen, the effect of seeing how the iPhone is connected and disconnected continuously, could greatly detract from the presentation. So Grignon team took a surprising solution: “tricked” the device to always show five bars of coverage (the maximum).

This was not the biggest problem. The main problem was the device memory management, still very poor, and that caused it to hang performing many tasks, forcing you to reboot. Jobs had several prototypes during the presentation, so that after performing one could quickly switch to another and let the first restart. The greatest problem was the “grand finale”. Jobs wanted to finish the presentation with simultaneous use of all key functions in one phone.

And, worst of all, did not have a plan B. We were so convinced that everything could and should work well, that failure would not have a way out. But in the end, the pressure exerted by Jobs, the amazing talent of its teams and because denying it, hopefully, helped the end of the road, after two and half years working very, very hard, outside a presentation in which everything went well, and a device that changed everything in the world of mobile telephony.

Joyesh Chakma



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