Blog Post

Things you never knew about the iPhone

A stream of Apple executives and employees called as witnesses in the Samsung trial this week has forced them to give up some interesting bits of information that the famously secretive company would no doubt like to be kept private. Much of what we’ve heard has to do with Apple’s vaunted product design and development process. But we’ve also gotten some concrete detail about how the iPhone, in particular, came to fruition.

Here’s some of the most interesting facts learned this week about the iPhone.

  • Before deciding to build the iPhone and iPad, Apple considered other product categories, including “crazy stuff” like a car or a camera. (Wired)
  • The iPhone was code-named “Project Purple.”
  • When Scott Forstall, SVP of iOS software, started hiring what would become the iPhone team, he was told by Steve Jobs he couldn’t bring in anyone from outside Apple. (AllThingsD)
  • Once the team was in place, they took over a floor in a building at Apple HQ, added extra security, and hung a Fight Club poster outside. As in, don’t talk about Project Purple. (CNET)
  • Even as the iPhone’s popularity has soared, Apple has continued to lavish more millions on campaigns advertising the device. It spent $97.5 million in 2008 on iPhone ads in the U.S., $149.6 million in 2009, and $173.3 million in 2010. It spent almost that much, $149.5 million, on iPad ads in 2010. (AllThingsD)
  • Because it lost a bid to keep a customer survey secret, we know more about iPhone owners’ buying habits. Like that they are a cautious bunch: 78 percent of them buy a case for their device. (WSJ)

The revelation of details like this show us that even if Apple ends up winning this case, it’s still lost something: mystery. Everything about the way Apple conducts itself as a business makes clear that it absolutely hates giving up this kind of information outside of a very small group within the company. As innocuous as these details may seem to some, Apple’s ability to keep its product development process under wraps is part of what adds to the company’s aura of success. Apple doesn’t want the competition — and especially its customers — to know what goes on behind the curtain.

20 Responses to “Things you never knew about the iPhone”

  1. Erica–this WSJ opening paragraph rang a bell when I read it; it’s almost a carbon copy of your exec.summary. And it only appeared < 2 hours ago. Strange.

    "SAN JOSE, Calif.—Apple Inc. (AAPL), one of the world's most secretive companies, is finding there's a price in pushing its grievances against rival Samsung Electronics Co. (005930.KS) in federal court: disclosure."


  2. “The revelation of details like this show us that even if Apple ends up winning this case, it’s still lost something: mystery. Everything about the way Apple conducts itself as a business makes clear that it absolutely hates giving up this kind of information outside of a very small group within the company.”
    This can be said of any company developing new products, even Samsung. Every company wants to keep the knowledge of what they are developing to as few people as possible, no point letting everyone know what products they are working on that might hit the market. But I guess this is a surprise.

  3. Paul Rubin

    What do I know now that I didn’t suspect or know before?
    1. That Apple considered other projects before they settled on the Smart Phone industry? So? That’s a surprise?
    2. That the iPhone project had a code name and was highly secretive? Every book or magazine article about Apple tells us that.
    3. That the iPhone is amazingly popular and there’s a substantial ad campaign behind it? Big secret? These numbers are largely available from the quarterly guidance.

    As I see it, only two big secrets came out. One is that Steve Jobs wanted to handle this project internally at first and not bring in outside people. An interesting if slightly unbelievable tidbit for a company with zero experience making phones but perhaps that’s why the iPhone is so good. And the second is info from a customer survey. So 78% of iPhone owners use cases? I’m shocked when I see anyone use an iPhone without a case so I take that stat with a grain of salt. I can’t remember the last time I saw a caseless iphone in use in the real world.

    • I like the naked phone. It is pretty strong and scuff proof. It is like art by itself. I might spring for a simple bumper for first year but I only keep until a new one comes out. The case just takes away the sex appeal of it. Like wearing a condom.

    • Handling the project internally was probably the best idea! Jobs knew they had to do this with a clean slate. None of this “when I worked at RIM, we did this” nonsense.

      Plus, Apple is the only one with the experience & capability to design a UI typically found on computers, and build the hardware around it. Hence all the knock-offs we see now… All made by disassembling iPhones to see how the hardware works, and scrounging around for some software to run it (Android).

  4. Frank Xavier

    Interestingly, I just finished reading Abramson’s biography of Steve Jobs. It is amazing just how much of the testimony highlighted sofar is contained or referred to in the biography as the ongoing process of getting the products designed/devoloped and to market. The trial commentaries of Schilling and Scott Forestall are echoed very strongly in the biography. In fact, reading the trial reports connects so readily to the biography content that it is almost seamless. The trial comments could almost be appended to parts of the biography.
    Frank Xavier

    • Predrag

      The biography you’re referring to is probably Isacsson’s (and not Abramson’s). And the comentary you’re referring to probably aren’t by Schilling, but by Schiller…

  5. ChiefBox

    Erica, This is not new news; search the web and forums about working at apple and you’ll find many references to Apple’s internal practices about product development. How projects are treated like an NDA – only employees working on them know about them within Apple. How else can you keep things close to the vest!! For example the company I worked at had many leak holes, every time a new project was announced or strategy (in an org/dept meeting) “rumors” were posted with in hours.

  6. rabensam

    Looking at the original quote, Schiller may not have been saying that a camera was a crazy idea but that a car would have been. When you consider that the iPhone is more used on Flickr than any real camera and then look at the current digital camera market, Apple entering that field with an iCamera wouldn’t be crazy at all.

  7. jdroeck

    What I don’t understand is that 78% (!) buys a case. Isn’t the iPhones brilliant design one of the main reasons to buy one? (n/o)
    The design is also praised in every review. That just seems a little bit ambiguous to me…

    • John V. Keogh

      The iPhone 3 with its curved ceramic back slipped easily into the pocket and didn’t seem to need a case to me, but the heavier iphone 4 with glass back and front does.

    • After breaking two of the phones just weeks after purchase is why I’ve invested in the lifeproof case this time around. This also adds the fact that I can now take under-water pics with my iPhone which is pretty cool as well. I do like the design of the original phone but when you crack the screen as many times as I have, in my case, you need a case.