Emerging Technology

BEST OF THE WEB: The inside story of how Apple made the iPhone

Patrick Stafford /

Ever since Steve Jobs passed away there have been plenty of stories coming out from the Apple woodwork about the entrepreneur and his dedication – bordering on obsession – to his craft.

In a new book to be published by Fred Vogelstein this year, the author delves into the production of arguably the company’s most important device – the iPhone.

In an extract published in The New York Times last week, the book reveals secrets of the company’s original presentation of the phone itself. It was buggy, it broke every day, and Jobs was getting pissed off. He wanted everything to be perfect.

A key point of contention – he wanted to mirror what happened to his phone on the big screen behind him. It’s more difficult than you think.

So he had Apple engineers spend weeks fitting extra circuit boards and video cables onto the backs of the iPhones he would have onstage. The video cables were then connected to the projector, so that when Jobs touched the iPhone’s calendar app icon, for example, his finger wouldn’t appear, but the image on the big screen would respond to his finger’s commands.

But making the setup work flawlessly, given the iPhone’s other major problems, seemed hard to justify at the time.

The extract is brutal at times. (At one point, an Apple engineer claims when a bug occurred, Jobs would meet his eyes and blame him for ruining the company).

But like every other anecdote about Jobs, it’s clear this was a launch filled with strife. He even had to be told at one point why the phone couldn’t be built in pure aluminum. (Radio waves don’t work well through metal).

Engineer Andy Grigon was so nervous the day of the launch – he was drunk.

He’d brought a flask of Scotch to calm his nerves. “And so there we were in the fifth row or something — engineers, managers, all of us — doing shots of Scotch after every segment of the demo. There were about five or six of us, and after each piece of the demo, the person who was responsible for that portion did a shot.”

“When the finale came — and it worked along with everything before it, we all just drained the flask. It was the best demo any of us had ever seen. And the rest of the day turned out to be just a [expletive] for the entire iPhone team. We just spent the entire rest of the day drinking in the city. It was just a mess, but it was great.”

The book will be out soon. For now, this is a good first taste.

Transforming the smoke detector

You might have heard of a company called Nest. Founded by an ex-Apple executive Ton Fadell, (he helped make the iPod), the company has raised tens of millions and is keen on transforming the way we use appliances.

The company’s first project was a smart thermostat. The device actually detects when you’re in the house and moving around, and then raises or lowers the temperature accordingly. The company claims customers are saving hundreds on their bills.

The next project? A smoke detector. A smart one.

There are plenty of things to like about the device. It’s connected to Wi-Fi. It looks nice. But in this new piece over at Wired, the publication points out something much more interesting – the device has a vocal alarm.

This feature has the potential to save lives: Millions of people intentionally disable smoke alarms because they’re fed up when the alert blares at the slightest hint of charred bacon. Nest’s verbal alert gives owners a chance to head off a heart-palpitating klaxon call when none is warranted, making it less likely they’ll rip out the batteries in disgust.

And the Nest Protect will never wake you at 3 am to inform you that the battery is low—instead, when the lights go down at bedtime, its gentle ring of light provides a status report. A green glow means all is fine; a yellow circle tells you that it’s time to replace the battery.

Not only that – you simply wave at the alarm to turn it off.

It’s easy to dismiss this as just a gimmick. But Nest isn’t just about making better appliances. The piece goes on to show how Fadell is more interested in the “internet of things”, a time when our appliances will become more interconnected.

By applying exquisite design and new technology platforms like Wi-Fi and cheap sensors to everyday objects, you could make them perform better and build sophisticated services that took advantage of all the data that living in a house could produce.

It’s a good business move – the market for dumb appliances is huge given they’re required by building codes. Keep an eye on this company – if they can pull this off, it’ll be huge.

The young ones aren’t beating you just yet

The common assumption in tech is that young people are “natives” to new features and devices like smartphones. But in The New York Times, the publication cites a report that shows young natives aren’t as common as you’d think.

The study, conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the International Telecommunication Union, shows that only 30 percent of people ages 15 to 24 have spent at least five years actively using the Internet, the criterion used to define digital nativism.

Perhaps something to keep in mind.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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