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And Then Steve Said, ‘Let There Be an iPhone’

The New York Times has published a really great behind-the-scenes look at Apple’s original iPhone project.

It was well known, though, that to build the touch-screen Apple put on the iPhone and produce it in volume was a challenge few had the money or guts to take on. The next steps — to embed the technology invisibly in a piece of glass, to make it smart enough to display a virtual keyboard with autocorrect and to make it sophisticated enough to reliably manipulate photos or Web pages on that screen — made it hugely expensive even to produce a working prototype.

From the start of the project, Jobs hoped that he would be able to develop a touch-screen iPhone running OS X similar to what he ended up unveiling. But in 2005 he had no idea how long that would take.

They faced and overcame many challenges along the way. Anybody who thinks phones with edge-to-edge multitouch screens (and no physical keyboard) running a desktop caliber OS was inevitable should read the full piece.

The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn’t play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.

Jobs rarely backed himself into corners like this. He was well known as a taskmaster, seeming to know just how hard he could push his staff so that it delivered the impossible. But he always had a backup, a Plan B, that he could go to if his timetable was off.

But the iPhone was the only cool new thing Apple was working on. The iPhone had been such an all-encompassing project at Apple that this time there was no backup plan.

Steve's product introductions were often magical. Little did we know at the time just how much stage magic was at work during the iPhone introduction. In the end, it worked flawlessly and was truly an awe-inspiring moment. I will never forget it.