In a British Business conference in late July, Apple’s VP of design, Sir Jony Ive, said that the iPhone project was nearly axed on multiple occasions before its debut, because Apple found it difficult to solve fundamental problems associated with the device.
This is an interesting piece of information, and comes at a time when Apple’s already revealed quite a bit in court filings about the various internal prototypes leading up to the original iPhone.
“We nearly shelved the phone because we thought there were fundamental problems that we can’t solve. With the early prototypes, I held the phone to my ear and my ear [would] dial the number,” he said. “You have to detect all sorts of ear-shapes and chin shapes, skin colour and hairdo…that was one of just many examples where we really thought, perhaps this isn’t going to work.”
Apple, of course, did find a solution to the problem in the form of a proximity sensor that turns off the display when the iPhone comes near the ear. Strangely though, even after 5 public releases of iOS, the iPhone still vibrates during calls right on the ear when a new notification arrives.
Another similar problem, which Ive doesn’t talk about in the conference, was the fit-to-screen zooming in Safari. In his testimony in the Apple-Samsung trial, Forstall spoke about the feature, and how they had difficult problems to tackle when implementing it. CNET has a report on Forstall’s testimony, and the relevant bit is quoted below:
Forstall said he had come up with the idea after spending time with prototypes of the iPhone, using the pinch to zoom feature that was already there in order to perfect the part of a Web page he was looking at. He explained that he began doing this a lot, to the point where he wanted an automatic way to make that happen, something the company says it solved by analyzing Web page code.
“There was a lot of work to figure out the correct structure and the correct box, and zoom into that one,” Forstall said.
Ive also spoke about Apple’s near-bankruptcy situation in the late nineties, and how it helped the company rise back to success:
“Apple was very close to bankruptcy and to irrelevance [but] you learn a lot about life through death, and I learnt a lot about vital corporations by experiencing a non-vital corporation,” he told the British Business conference. “You would have thought that, when what stands between you and bankruptcy is some money, your focus would be on making some money, but that was not [Steve Jobs’] preoccupation. His observation was that the products weren’t good enough and his resolve was, we need to make better products. That stood in stark contrast to the previous attempts to turn the company around.”
Ive also spoke about Apple’s focus and say no to ideas, and how the company doesn’t get enough credit for that. He added that the company’s focus is not on making money, but developing great products.