In our special report today we present you with a fascinating account of one of Steve Jobs' secret meeting that involved creating the iPhone and how the iPod Phone almost came to be. It was much closer to reality than any us could have ever imagined at the time. We also discuss how a "breakthrough" feature was allegedly copied in the Android UI and what Steve Jobs thought of Google's alleged rip-off of Apple's iOS. So sit back with a coffee and enjoy our special report.
A Historical Account: How the iPod Phone Almost Materialized
One of the interesting stories in Walter Isaacson's biography was a recounting of how the iPhone came together and how Apple seriously considered developing an iPod styled smartphone. The abbreviated story goes like this.
In 2005 Steve Jobs started a secret project focused on creating a tablet PC. It came about after Steve Jobs was invited to a dinner for a friend of Laurene Jobs who was turning 50. The birthday boy just happened to be one of the leading engineers over at Microsoft working on the Tablet PC. It was also a dinner that Bill Gates attended and he feared that this engineer was blabbing too much about the Tablet PC and how it was going to change the world and kill notebooks. He even pushed Jobs to consider licensing the Tablet PC software.
I guess those were fighting words and so Jobs set up a secret project the following day to design a tablet with no keyboard or stylus (not a smart pen, but a stylus). He challenged his team to come up with a multiple input display which later became to be known as Multi-Touch. Six months later, Jony Ive had a crude but workable prototype ready. Jony Ive feared that Jobs "might say, 'This is Shit' – and snuff the idea." But he took the gamble and set up a private demonstration for Steve. Steve immediately loved the idea. "This is the future," he exulted.
Isaacson writes that it was such a good idea "that Jobs realized that it could solve the problem they were having creating an interface for the proposed cell phone. Jobs stated that "If it worked on a phone," he recalled, "I knew we could go back and use it on the tablet."
Jobs called Fadell, Rubinstein, and Schiller to a secret meeting in the design studio conference room, where Ive gave a demonstration of multi-touch. "Wow!" said Fadell. But they were unsure that they would be able to make it work on a mobile phone. So they decided to proceed on two paths: P1 was the code name for the phone being developed using an iPod trackwheel, and P2 was the new alternative using a multi-touch screen.
After six months of working on the trackwheel P1 and multi-touch P2 phone options, Jobs called his inner circle into his conference room to make a decision. Fadell had been trying hard to develop the trackwheel model, but he admitted they had not cracked the problem of figuring out a simple way to dial calls.
This was late 2005 and this account is somewhat supported by a patent that was given to Apple Legal in 2005 and ended up getting filed with UPSTO in early January 2006. Apple was even granted a patent for this in 2010 to confirm this.
The patent figures below and those in our cover graphic illustrate a series of designs that the P1 team were exploring. The depth of the patent is seen in the second round of patent figures where we see a dialing process flowchart and a very sophisticated language data structure system presented.
Now this is revealing on a number of levels. Firstly, we see that when Apple's engineering teams are asked to start a project, they immediately begin the process of drawing up a patent application. The timing of this account shows how tightly patents are tied to ongoing projects.
Secondly, we see in the case of the iPhone, that Steve Jobs implemented a two team, kind of best-team-wins approach to stir on internal competition. This is revealing because Patently Apple follows concept trends like NFC or Smart Pens where we see a wide range of approaches to a given project. And although the Steve Jobs biography reveals that Steve hated the "stylus" with a passion, we equally know that Steve wouldn't have allowed multiple teams to explore Smart Pens over a few years if it weren't something that he was set-on reinventing; a classic Apple and Steve Jobs trait that we all came to know over the years.
Did we just Witness Jobs' Famous Reality Distortion Field?
Yet perhaps the most interesting revelation for me in this recounting of the iPod Phone that almost came to be, was that there may have been a little pixie dust thrown into Steve Jobs accounting of the iPod Phone to Isaacson.
In Isaacson's biography, I learned of the depth of the famous Steve Jobs "Reality Distortion Field" approach to projects and marketing. I had heard of this personality trait over the years and dismissed it as nothing more than creative writing by some of Apple's critics. But in fact, this trait could be traced all the way back to Steve Jobs' earlier years. The biography is strewn with examples of this trait that Jobs possessed.
Isaacson may have even hinted at where this trait may have sprung from. It goes back to when Jobs was a kid and was told that he wasn't abandoned by his biological parents but rather "chosen" by his adoptive parents. That "chosen" angle was a little overplayed in the book in my view, but that's a story for another day. The point being that Steve learned very early on that the reality of his adoption was temporarily erased by the notion that he was chosen. That was a twist of perception and perhaps the beginning of how Steve learned to bend reality into how he viewed the world. Others simply saw it as the "reality distortion field."
So, how does the Reality Distortion Field apply here? Well, Apple's 2006 patent doesn't even list Fadell as being on this engineering team at all – even though he was supposedly the one in charge of the P1 team responsible for the iPod Phone. If you're the leader, you're sure to get on the patent. Secondly, who do we see on the patent credits for inventors? Not Fadell, but rather Steve Jobs.
So at that point in time, it shows us that the future iPhone could have gone the way of the iPod styled Phone and that Jobs wanted his name attached to both patents (iPod Phone and Multi-Touch Phone). So it appears that the recounting of the story of the iPod phone was a little lost in the translation. What makes this so interesting though, is that Jobs made fun of the original iPod styled Phone when introducing the iPhone in January 2007. What we thought during the presentation as being a total joke was in fact their runner-up project P1 – though slightly exaggerated of course; but who knew how close to reality that was? If you get to read Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, you'll get to understand how Steve's Reality Distortion Field was both endearing and troubling.
And One More Thing
One of the other tidbits associated with the birth of the iPhone was found on page 470 of Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. It covers the famous "Slide to Unlock" feature found in iOS devices like the iPhone, which Apple internally called the "Swipe to Open" feature. Isaacson recounts how the Apple team worried about how to prevent the device from playing music or making a call accidently when it jangling in your pocket. Jobs was congenitally averse to having on-off switches, which he deemed as inelegant. The solution was "Swipe to Open," the simple and fun on-screen slider that activated the device when it had gone dormant. This was considered a "breakthrough."
This "breakthrough" was of course patented and we recently covered Apple's granted patent in October without any fanfare. Then the Android-Heads came out in full force freaked out over this feature being patented. I won't link to these sites to give them any more traffic over this, but it's safe to say that some went completely overboard. These guys foam in the mouth with hate for Apple and the late Steve Jobs – make no mistake about it.
Then we covered the story that the Premier of Taiwan was ordering an investigation into Apple's Slide-to-Unlock" patent. I thought there was more to this story because getting the Premier of Taiwan to investigate a patent and making it so public in such a short time after the patent was granted, stunk. We later found out that Google's Eric Schmidt was coming to Taiwan and was working with the government on a new project. Ahh, the stench has a name and it's Google; in particular, Eric Schmidt. Schmidt made it clear that it was war on Apple's products and they promised Android OEMs that they could use any of Google's patents to wage war against Apple in court.
Is Google Apple's Enemy? Well, it's best to close this section off with a quote from Steve Jobs as presented in Walter Isaacson's Biography of Steve Jobs on page 512 as follows:
Isaacson recounts: "As he sat in the house in Palo Alto the week the lawsuit against was filed [against HTC], he became angrier that I had ever seen him:
"Our lawsuit is saying, "Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off," Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's 40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google's products – Android, Google Docs – are shit. "
I truly hope that Apple Legal will be given the green light by Tim Cook to sue Android OEM's or Google themselves over the "Slide to Unlock" feature – because it was considered a "breakthrough" feature by Apple's executive team and Android shouldn't be able to copy it without consequence.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, it was absolutely enlightening to see how the iPod Phone was in the race at the outset of the iPhone project. It was equally fascinating to see how Apple works in their war room and specifically how Jobs created competing teams internally to fight for the right to proceed with a given project full tilt. It was also revealing how the patent process is so closely tied to projects and how they file patents at the earliest point as possible should it be given the green like to go forward by the CEO.
And lastly we see how a breakthrough feature was allegedly stolen by Google and how a one time friend of Apple's became a Judas of modern times. Information obtained from Walter Isaacson's biography was key in putting this report together for which I'm grateful.
At the end of the day, we see that until the multi-touch P2 team proved itself the winner over the P1 team's approach to the future iPhone, there was a very real chance that the iPod styled iPhone could have won the day. Apple's success with such an iPhone wouldn't have gained them the explosive growth that they enjoy today nor the fruit that came afterwards in the form of the iPod Touch and iPad.
Isaacson's book brutally showed us how the original Mac truly failed in the end, how NeXT had failed at penetrating the market and just how close Steve Jobs came to failing with Pixar until a Hail Mary Pass type of meeting turned it around at the very last moment. So it was absolutely fascinating to read about how the iPhone could have gone the wrong way and changed history forever; Apple's history, that is of course. Sometimes the distance between success and utter failure is no more than a moment in time. It's always fascinating to read about what happens behind the scenes of important turns in history or pivotal moments in the life of a company. And when it comes to Apple and this particular account, I tip my hat to Walter Isaacson for his biography of Steve Jobs and his accounting of these events.
Here are a Few Great Community Sites covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, Computerworld Paraguay, The Guardian UK, Reddit, Mac Hash, Apple Enthusiast, Twitter, Twitter Gadget, Facebook, Fever, Pulse, Icon Factory, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, Macnews, MacTech, The Motley Fool, CBS MarketWatch, The Binary Bonsai, MacDailyNews, DanCameron.org, Alexmak Russia, iDownloadBlog, Techmeme, nccc.cool3c China, The Financial Post, intenseminimalism, and more.