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Interview: iPhone OS core developed in two weeks

updated 04:08 am EDT, Wed March 26, 2014

Ultimatum from Jobs was fuel to invent numerous features

Greg Christie, one of the original iPhone engineers and a witness likely to be called in the second Apple-Samsung patent trial starting next week, has revealed in a new interview that an "ultimatum" from then-CEO Steve Jobs pushed his team into creating the core of the "iPhone OS" (as it was called then) in just two weeks. The full interview, conducted by the Wall Street Journal, goes into detail about the secrecy required of the project and how the team came to invent much of what consumers think of as the principles of a smartphone operating system.

prototype being tested in 2006
prototype being tested in 2006

Two years before Apple debuted the iPhone, Christie and others on his team -- he had originally joined the company to work on the ahead-of-its-time Newton MessagePad -- were floundering with their task of figuring out how the iPhone would look and work, software-wise. Jobs finally told the team to either work it out in two weeks' time, or they would be moved to other projects. This motivated Christie and the others rapidly invent such fundamentals as the "slide to unlock" entry system, threaded message conversations, placing calls directly from the address book, and how to make the iPod functionality work on a touchscreen.

Apple subsequently patented many of those concepts, and has been fighting Samsung over them since a year or two after the iPhone debuted in 2007. Christie, whose name is on many of the patents, is likely to testify about the process of coming up with those ideas during the second patent trial, which begins March 31. One of the disputed patents in the new trial is the "slide to unlock" feature, which was subsequently emulated by Samsung and most other Android manufacturers.

Christie told interviewers that he was invited onto the iPhone project in 2005 by former software chief Scott Forstall, who asked him only if he wanted to work on the secret "project purple," which at the time he described as a phone and integrated music player operated by a touch screen. Following months of slow groundwork and the ultimatum that resulted in an OS foundation Jobs was happy with, Christie and his team showed the design to board member Bill Campbell, who predicted the resulting product would be "bigger than the Mac," and finally to designer Jonathan Ive, who was designing the chassis of the device.

Secrecy on the project was so rigid that the few employees who were directly involved (Christie described his team as "shockingly small" but wouldn't elaborate on an exact figure) could only work on it at home if they did so in a secluded part of their homes, cut off from other family members. All images of the device were to be encrypted.

From 2005 to the debut of the device in mid-2007, there was continuous "rethinking" of every part of the phone, with Jobs often obsessing on every detail. It was he who decided to eliminate a feature shown at the press announcement in January 2007, showing split-screen email with sender information side by side with the message area. "Steve thought it was foolish to do a split screen on such a small display," Christie said.

One of the final details to be ironed out before the introduction of the iPhone in early 2007 was the picking of albums to show off the iPhone's "cover flow" technology. Jobs told Christie's team that the albums need to feature bright colors and lots of faces -- but inherent in the request was that it would be music that Jobs preferred. The main image was eventually picked to be the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," years ahead of the Beatles finally joining the iTunes Store.

by MacNN Staff



  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-03-08

    Wow...G3 & Harmon Kardin Soundsticks! Nothing like a nearly decade old pic to remind you of what used to be "cool"

  1. prl99

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 03-24-09

    If there was any doubt as to who invented the current smartphone, this information says it all and it's all Apple. Let's see what Samsung makes up to counter it and what the crazy judge allows.

  1. mr100percent

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 12-06-99

    I'm curious what that device is in the background that looks like a white iPhone. It can't be though, because hardware and software divisions didn't intersect until later, so what is it? A USB number pad?

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by pairof9sView Post

    Wow...G3 & Harmon Kardin Soundsticks! Nothing like a nearly decade old pic to remind you of what used to be "cool"

    The G3 was seven or eight years old at the time, and was used as a main processor to simulate the low-power CPU of the iPhone.

  1. mr100percent

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 12-06-99

    Never mind my previous question:

    The Journal also features an image that shows the iPhone demo room from 2006. "This is a system Apple rigged together to run early prototypes of its iPhone software in 2006," the publication says about the picture above. "It tethered a plastic touch-screen device – code-named "Wallaby" – to an outdated Mac to simulate the slower speeds of a phone hardware."

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