updated 09:30 pm EST, Wed January 9, 2008
iPhone flips cell industry
The iPhone is one of the most widely craved devices to grace the consumer market; after millions of dollars invested in its development, and secrecy so intricate that even Apple’s own engineers were kept in the dark about the complete product. In 2002, shortly after releasing the iPod, Wired writes that CEO Steve Jobs began to notice the variety of devices that people would carry with them in day-to-day activities – such as a cell phone, BlackBerry, and MP3 player. Jobs realized that the products would inevitably come together and could potentially dethrone the iPod, so he decided that Apple would have to out-innovate the competition with its own device.
When work on the iPhone officially started, secrecy was Jobs’ top priority. He recruited engineers to work on Purple 2 – a moniker based off a failed initial iPod phone, whose project was dubbed Purple 1 – and split them across the Apple’s Cupertino campus. Software and hardware development teams weren’t even able to interface with each other directly; hardware engineers designed the product around dummy software, while software developers designed the operating system to run on a circuit board housed by a wooden box.
Even when dealing with executives at Cingular (now owned by AT&T), the project was strictly on a need-to-know basis. When Apple’s engineers would visit Cingular, they would register as employees of Infineon, the company making the iPhone’s transmitter. When the iPhone was announced at Macworld Expo in January 2007, approximately 30 senior employees were the only ones who had seen the device, including Jobs.
The iPhone’s design was difficult to finalize; a lukewarm reception of Motorola’s ROKR – a joint venture with Apple – as well as the previously mentioned iPod phone flop presented a challenge to Apple. Several of Apple’s hardware engineers suggested using touchscreen technology that was in development for a year, saying that they could adapt the interface to the size requirements of a handheld device. Jobs was confident in the choice, opting for a glass surface for the device; he noticed scratches on a prototype and instigated the change.
Apple bought many server-sized radio frequency simulators, each costing several million dollars, allowing engineers to test the device on a simulated phone network. Mockups of human heads were used to test the device’s radiation output, and were even filled with a substance to simulate brain density. A person familiar with the entire situation estimates that Apple spent around $150 million on research and development of the iPhone.
The expense and secrecy that Apple underwent seemed to pay off in the end, both for the company and the entire wireless industry. Many executives and experts in the field are being made to reconsider the wireless business model. Formerly, wireless companies revolved around snookering users into signing long contracts, while bullying hardware manufacturers into providing cheap throwaway phones and turning a blind eye to innovation and quality. Apple has helped companies to rethink this model by offering a killer app that will drive users to sign up with a particular carrier, and encourage creative competition in the market. Doing so has taken the power and control from the hands of wireless provider executives, and placed it with hardware manufacturers.