Fred Vogelstein, author of Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution, has published a massive, detailed account of the atmosphere around Apple in the lead up to the historic announcement of the original iPhone in 2007. This particular profile, which is entitled “And Then Steve Said, ‘Let There Be an iPhone,’” appears in The New York Times Magazine and portrays the exceptional excitement and nervous energy that encompassed the people who worked tirelessly to deliver what we now love and know as the iPhone.
Vogelstein begins with describing how Andy Grignon, the senior engineer behind OS X’s Dashboard and iChat, felt terrified ahead of his boss Steve Jobs demoing the iPhone publicly to world, namely because Grignon was responsible for the iPhone’s radios and his work was facing the ultimate challenge of sink or swim in front of the entire world, and more particularly the press.
Grignon and some colleagues would spend the night at a nearby hotel, and around 10 a.m. the following day they — along with the rest of the world — would watch Jobs unveil the first iPhone.
But as Grignon drove north, he didn’t feel excited. He felt terrified. Most onstage product demonstrations in Silicon Valley are canned. The thinking goes, why let bad Internet or cellphone connections ruin an otherwise good presentation? But Jobs insisted on live presentations. It was one of the things that made them so captivating. Part of his legend was that noticeable product-demo glitches almost never happened. But for those in the background, like Grignon, few parts of the job caused more stress.
Much of the piece illustrates the colorful gems of reality for the team behind the iPhone:
By the end, Grignon wasn’t just relieved; 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.”
Read on for more entertaining anecdotes and tales of what happened behind-the-scenes (and in the fifth row, in this instance) that made Apple’s tremendous announcement possible (and endurable).
The pressure to drink is admittedly understandable as Apple had essentially put all its cards into the iPhone:
Jobs rarely backed himself into corners like this. He was well known as a taskmaster, seeming to know just how hard he could push his staff so that it delivered the impossible. But he always had a backup, a Plan B, that he could go to if his timetable was off.
But the iPhone was the only cool new thing Apple was working on. The iPhone had been such an all-encompassing project at Apple that this time there was no backup plan. “It was Apple TV or the iPhone,” Grignon says. “And if he had gone to Macworld with just Apple TV” — a new product that connected iTunes to a television set — “the world would have said, ‘What the heck was that?’ ”
This bit describes the gap between Jobs’ and Ive’s ideals for design and the reality of science and how engineers were faced with building around those limits:
It incorporated a touch-screen and OS X, but it was made entirely of brushed aluminum. Jobs and Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, were exceedingly proud of it. But because neither of them was an expert in the physics of radio waves, they didn’t realize they created a beautiful brick. Radio waves don’t travel through metal well. “I and Rubén Caballero” — Apple’s antenna expert — “had to go up to the boardroom and explain to Steve and Ive that you cannot put radio waves through metal,” says Phil Kearney, an engineer who left Apple in 2008. “And it was not an easy explanation. Most of the designers are artists. The last science class they took was in eighth grade. But they have a lot of power at Apple. So they ask, ‘Why can’t we just make a little seam for the radio waves to escape through?’ And you have to explain to them why you just can’t.”
In one of my favorite scenes described, former SVP of iOS Software Scott Forstall’s chief of staff showed exactly what the pressure of working for Apple could do:
The pressure to meet Jobs’s deadlines was so intense that normal discussions quickly devolved into shouting matches. Exhausted engineers quit their jobs — then came back to work a few days later once they had slept a little. Forstall’s chief of staff, Kim Vorrath, once slammed her office door so hard it got stuck and locked her in, and co-workers took more than an hour to get her out. “We were all standing there watching it,” Grignon says. “Part of it was funny. But it was also one of those moments where you step back and realize how [expletive] it all is.”
You can read Vogelstein’s piece in its entirety here (it’s quite lengthy and makes for a good weekend read) and pre-order his upcoming book here. See Steve Jobs and company debut the original iPhone at Macworld Expo for yourself below: