Former Apple Engineer gives rare glimpse into the development of the original iPhone



Apple is known to be extremely secretive, especially about the internal development of its products, so every time someone talks about their time at Apple, we learn something new about the company and its products.

Francisco Tolmasky, a former Apple engineer who worked on mobile Safari, recently spoke with The New York Times, about the tough task of bringing the rich web experience to a mobile device with underpowered hardware. Tolmasky was noticed by Apple recruiters for his contribution to the open-source WebKit rendering engine that powers Safari. He started at Apple in 2006 at the age of just 20.

Tolmasky says the iPhone team was divided into hardware and software groups, and both teams worked separately in a secluded area of Apple’s campus. With the organisational changes of 2013, Apple removed this separation to increase collaboration between the hardware and software teams for making better products.

The software team was further split into a web and apps team, and Tolmasky was in the 5-member strong web team, that was responsible for developing mobile Safari.

NYT reports:

[Tolmasky] told how several of the iPhone’s apps and key features came to be created. The keyboard, he said, was the result of a sort of hackathon run by Mr. Jobs. The chief executive had been unhappy with the keyboard prototypes for the iPhone, so he assigned everyone on the team to work only on keyboards for an entire week. An engineer on Mr. Tolmasky’s team won the contest, and from then on his full-time job was to work on the iPhone keyboard.

Mr. Tolmasky also reflected on the creation of the crucial maps app for the first iPhone. A lesser-known story was that Mr. Jobs decided he wanted a maps app on the iPhone only a few weeks before the smartphone was introduced at Macworld Expo in January 2007. Another of Mr. Tolmasky’s teammates, Chris Blumenberg, was given the task, and worked nonstop until there was a functional maps app for the presentation.

“Within a week he had something that was working, and in two weeks he had something to show at Macworld that we were showing,” Mr. Tolmasky said. “That was the kind of effect Steve could have on you: This is important, this needs to happen, and you do it.”

Another anecdote Tolmasky shares is how Jobs didn’t like the confusion created by an iPhone designer, also named Steve, and said ‘Guess what, you’re Margaret from now on.’ From then on, the designer Steve was knows as Margaret in the team.

Tolmasky left Apple in late 2007 following the success of the iPhone, after which his team didn’t feel like a start-up anymore. He later went on to make 280 North, a mobile web app company, which was acquired by Motorola for $20 million. Now, he’s working on Bonsai Slice, an iPad game, where you use the device as a sword and slice objects in the virtual world.

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