Tony Fadell explains early iPhone development process

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in iPhone
Former Apple executive Tony Fadell discusses the genesis of what would become the iPhone, Steve Jobs' insistence about a rotary dial in software, and the evolution of the iPod in a new interview.




"The first thing was, we wanted to make an iPod Video product work better. So let's put a big screen on an iPod, remove the wheel, and make the wheel virtual, so you can look at widescreen videos and pictures," Fadell told The Verge in an interview on Wednesday. "Because the click wheel was getting in the way, and we wanted to not make the device bigger, but we wanted to just add a bigger screen, we wanted to try to figure out."

However, the improvement of the iPod wasn't the only thing that Apple had in mind. Initially there was a separate project for the iPhone.
"I don't know if we had the winner product, I think we had the winner design." - Tony Fadell
"Then there was the iPod phone, which would keep the screen small -- a lot like that Nokia small screen design. Then we'd just use the wheel as the interface because that's so iconic, " said Fadell. "But what really failed at the end of the day with the iPod Phone was that you couldn't dial a number. Like, 1, 2, 3, like a rotary phone. Everything else was working but the one main thing that didn't work was dialing a regular number -- it was so cumbersome."

Working with Steve Jobs on the iPhone

Fadell claims that Steve Jobs was the biggest proponent of the click wheel for dialing numbers on the future iPhone.

"We tried everything. We tried having little buttons on the click wheel so you could click," said Fadell. "There was a Nokia phone where they had a circular pattern for the numbers, in hard buttons, and Steve was like "Go make that work." So we tried that."

The team ultimately had to tell Jobs that it wasn't working out from a user-interface standpoint.

"So we were halfway through, like four weeks or five weeks into it, and we said 'This is not working.'" reminisced Fadell "We pushed this for like another four, five weeks to keep trying, and we're saying, 'This is a waste of time.' But we had to be ready, because that's what he wanted."

One vision, different paths

Fadell recounts taking charge of the division in the early stages of development, when the iOS was just taking form, and Apple was also considering an embedded Linux project.

"There was a Linux-based OS that Jon [Rubinstein] and a couple of other people had started, and then there was the reduced OS X that Avie [Tevanian] had started with Scott [Forstall]. They were competing to see which one was better. He and Jon had that battle," clarified Fadell "I took over and we had a few conditions to make sure it could work on the hardware, since macOS was so big at the time."

"Steve was happy and all that stuff," said Fadell regarding the decision. "It was a couple of weeks from the time I took over the division to the time I was convinced that we would be able to move forward with the [iOS]."

The shipped product

"I don't know if we had the winner product, I think we had the winner design," said Fadell. "It was so immediate, when we passed enough of those hurdles that we knew we had the winning design."

Ten years ago Monday, Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPhone during the keynote address at Macworld 2007. Originally slated to have a plastic display cover, the final product had a first-of-its-kind glass multi-touch display, with a 320-by-480-pixel resolution at 163 pixels per inch, up to 16 gigabytes of flash memory, 802.11g Wi-Fi, a 2-megapixel camera, support for the EDGE 2G wireless network, and Bluetooth 2.0.

The iPhone 7, released in September 2016, is said to be up to 120x faster than the original iPhone, and has a 750x1334-pixel display at 326 pixels per inch, up to 256 gigabytes of storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 12-megapixel cameras, 4G network support, plus Bluetooth 4.2. Other features include Apple Pay, and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

Fadell and former Apple engineer Matt Rogers went on to cofound Nest Labs, best known for the company's smart home thermostat. Nest and Apple had a close partnership that fell apart in 2014, when Google acquired the company for $3.2 billion.

Last year, a reorganization within Google placed Fadell in charge of the company's wearable Glass project. Fadell also remained in charge of Nest, which is now technically separate from Google under the firm's new umbrella company known as Alphabet.

Fadell announced that he was leaving Nest in June 2016.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    Walter WhiteWalter White Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
  • Reply 2 of 17
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 4,455member
    I'm dubious about his version of the story. Pretty sure that it was Forstall's team that did the iPhone. 
    mdriftmeyer
  • Reply 3 of 17
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 2,375member
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    I disagree...the current interface is so much better than the previous one.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 17
    macxpress said:
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    I disagree...the current interface is so much better than the previous one.
    I have enormous reservations about the interface. It mainly seems like a mess of ideas. The first iPhone didn't offer much to do but as they added more and more functionality, it's got out of control.

    Loading a desktop version of a site in Safari is anything but intuitive. I've been wanting arrow keys on the keyboard from day one. The settings area needs to be tidied up too.
  • Reply 5 of 17
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    Not true. Industrial designers aren't responsible for software UI design. The human interface team was put under Ive (and now reports directly to Tim Cook). The guy on stage demoing the new iMessage app at WWDC worked for Scott Forstall.
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 6 of 17

    avon b7 said:
    macxpress said:
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    I disagree...the current interface is so much better than the previous one.
    I have enormous reservations about the interface. It mainly seems like a mess of ideas. The first iPhone didn't offer much to do but as they added more and more functionality, it's got out of control.

    Loading a desktop version of a site in Safari is anything but intuitive. I've been wanting arrow keys on the keyboard from day one. The settings area needs to be tidied up too.
    Um, tap on the share sheet and there's an icon that says request desktop site. What's difficult about that?
    StrangeDayspeterhartmike1
  • Reply 7 of 17
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    The "engineers" were never in control of Apple, unless you mean Woz during the '70s. What engineers do you mean? 

    At that table you see a pretty diverse group of people from Jobs (product) to Schiller (marketing) to Ive (hardware design) but all working on multiple aspects. I know outsiders on rumor sites and forums like to fill in the blanks and imagine how it is at apple today, but the reality is few of us have any exposure to the inner workings of modern Apple. Craig and his team are software people and I'm sure they have a lot of input on how things turn out too. 
    edited January 11 watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 17

    avon b7 said:
    macxpress said:
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    I disagree...the current interface is so much better than the previous one.
    I have enormous reservations about the interface. It mainly seems like a mess of ideas. The first iPhone didn't offer much to do but as they added more and more functionality, it's got out of control.

    Loading a desktop version of a site in Safari is anything but intuitive. I've been wanting arrow keys on the keyboard from day one. The settings area needs to be tidied up too.
    Um, tap on the share sheet and there's an icon that says request desktop site. What's difficult about that?
    You can also tap and hold the refresh icon and get it there. 

    I dont really see how iOS is "out of control" complexity wise. Typical "Apple sucks now" narrative. 
    watto_cobrastudiomusic
  • Reply 9 of 17
    stukestuke Posts: 15member
    Why do we keep hearing from this guy?  He left Apple.  He left Alphabet/Google/Nest.  Why should I care let alone read about his story today?
    taniwhamdriftmeyerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 17
    It's like they come together and test all the ideas, then throw out the ones that don't work. It seems like a pretty easy to replicate method - yet I frequently run across products in the market where I ask myself "did anyone.. even a single person in this company ever try using this product?"
    radarthekat2old4fun
  • Reply 11 of 17
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 3,558member
    It's like they come together and test all the ideas, then throw out the ones that don't work. It seems like a pretty easy to replicate method - yet I frequently run across products in the market where I ask myself "did anyone.. even a single person in this company ever try using this product?"

    It kind of reminded me of Sony.  Back in the day when they were still (kind-of) relevant, Sony made great hardware, beautiful in fact.  However, it was always a disaster because the software that ran the hardware was so mediocre and had so many restrictions due to their stranglehold on licensing that it was almost unuseable.  Their iPod competitor comes to mind.  I lost track of the number of times I tried their products and thought to myself if anyone at Sony ever tried using their electronics for more than an hour.

    Apple does have its act together in this area.  They will tirelessly make sure that the products is truly useable and seamless.  No one else really has been able to master such an easy philosophy. 
    radarthekat
  • Reply 12 of 17

    avon b7 said:
    macxpress said:
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    I disagree...the current interface is so much better than the previous one.
    I have enormous reservations about the interface. It mainly seems like a mess of ideas. The first iPhone didn't offer much to do but as they added more and more functionality, it's got out of control.

    Loading a desktop version of a site in Safari is anything but intuitive. I've been wanting arrow keys on the keyboard from day one. The settings area needs to be tidied up too.
    Um, tap on the share sheet and there's an icon that says request desktop site. What's difficult about that?
    You can also tap and hold the refresh icon and get it there. 

    I dont really see how iOS is "out of control" complexity wise. Typical "Apple sucks now" narrative. 
    Go back to 2012 and there were all kinds of complaints about iOS not progressing. I remember the Verge ran an article called it's always 73 and sunny in Cupertino complaining about how stagnant and stale iOS had become. We finally have a lot of things people wanted, like 3rd party keyboards, widgets, extensions, control center. etc. and now people are saying iOS is out of control.
    radarthekat
  • Reply 13 of 17
    stuke said:
    Why do we keep hearing from this guy?  He left Apple.  He left Alphabet/Google/Nest.  Why should I care let alone read about his story today?
    I'm sure it annoys people inside Apple, especially if he's embellishing anything. That's one thing I respect about Scott Forstall. He's stayed quiet.
  • Reply 14 of 17

    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    The "engineers" were never in control of Apple, unless you mean Woz during the '70s. What engineers do you mean? 

    At that table you see a pretty diverse group of people from Jobs (product) to Schiller (marketing) to Ive (hardware design) but all working on multiple aspects. I know outsiders on rumor sites and forums like to fill in the blanks and imagine how it is at apple today, but the reality is few of us have any exposure to the inner workings of modern Apple. Craig and his team are software people and I'm sure they have a lot of input on how things turn out too. 
    People mistakenly think Jony Ive was put in charge of software. He wasn't. Craig Federighi runs software. The user interface team did report into Ive (now they report directly to Tim Cook) but they're not an island and no doubt work hand in hand with software engineers. Same with the industrial designers. A lot of them are listed on patents along side hardware engineers. They all work together on this stuff.
  • Reply 15 of 17

    I think this was the phone Steve was talking about.

    The 3650. Released in 2003.

    I used to love browsing the Nokia phone site to see the wacked out designs they had. They truly were the masters. Sad they ended up where they are now.

  • Reply 16 of 17

    I think this was the phone Steve was talking about.

    The 3650. Released in 2003.

    I used to love browsing the Nokia phone site to see the wacked out designs they had. They truly were the masters. Sad they ended up where they are now.

    Nokia really did have a lot of different and even conflicting designs. I remember browsing their phones as well.  Interestingly, it wasn't till the E61 that I felt they finally hit on something.  That was one of the first phones that ran a mobile version of Webkit and it had a nice display for its time.  It got lost in the confusion of their offerings.
    edited January 12
  • Reply 17 of 17
    avon b7 said:
    macxpress said:
    You notice that the guys designing the interface were engineering guys and product guys. Now we have people from Ive's team doing that stuff. The problem is that they are not very good at it. We need the engineers back in control at Apple.
    I disagree...the current interface is so much better than the previous one.
    […]
    Loading a desktop version of a site in Safari is anything but intuitive. I've been wanting arrow keys on the keyboard from day one. The settings area needs to be tidied up too.
    I used the desktop version function just a couple of times. It's not very useful on a (relatively) small display. Anyway, the function is right there in the menu and you can reorder the menu items to your needs.
    Can't find a reason to have arrow keys on the keyboard. Instead of "driving" the cursor with the arrow keys, it's easier just to touch the screen directly on the desired position.
    I agree about the settings area. Need some spring cleaning. 
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