updated 03:15 am EDT, Sun August 5, 2012
Describes 'Fight Club' type secrecy on iPhone project
The head of Apple's iOS division, Scott Forstall, took the stand in the Apple vs. Samsung trial in San Francisco Friday afternoon, where he answered questions about the operating system, Apple's procedures and inspirations, and described a serious commitment to development secrecy that goes further than even many analysts had expected. Forstall provided the court with a short history of his rise in the company, including an early encounter with Steve Jobs during his initial interview.
Asked by Apple's own attorney about his history, Forstall said he graduated from Stanford University with a masters in Artificial Intelligence and an undergrad degree in symbolic systems, a field that combines computer science and linguistics among other areas of study. He first met Steve Jobs while being interviewed for a job at NeXT in 1992. He was being briefed by another interviewer when Jobs burst into the room, conferred with the interviewer briefly, asked a few questions of Forstall and then conferred with the interviewer again. Jobs told Forstall, "I expect you'll get an offer, and I expect you to accept it."
After Jobs left, the interviewer said simply, "If you had any questions about whether Steve is hands-on ... there you go." Forstall became a software engineer for NeXT and transferred to Apple along with Jobs in 1997. Once there, he worked on Mac OS X and said that "over time, I was responsible for more and more pieces" of the OS. Eventually he was promoted to head of the OS X team. He described the goal as creating an operating system that "could last for another 20 years."
Forstall testified creating what came to be known as iOS as an outgrowth of the idea to do a tablet. Once work began progressing on a tablet, Forstall said he and Jobs wondered if the technology they were developing could be transferred to a phone as well. Forstall started with developing scrolling, then pinch and zoom, on a small subset of the screen inside the tablet prototypes, and in 2004 the company became convinced of the viability to making and phone and switched from developing a tablet.
Forstall was put in charge of developing the OS for the phone, but given a strict limitation by Jobs: he could not hire anyone from outside the company. He described this as "quite a challenge" in court, but eventually decided to seek out the "superstar" engineers from all departments and ask them if they were willing to work on a secret project, even though they were top of their class in their current role. "What I can tell you about this job," he recalled telling the recruits, "is that if you choose this new role, you're going to work hard, give up nights, work weekends for years."
While he now has a team of 1,000 people who report directly to him and 2,000 employees that interact with his team, at the beginning of the project there was no guarantee that the project would be a success, in part because Forstall had "stolen" so much talent from other parts of the company that other projects got delayed. "We wanted to build a phone for ourselves," he told the court. "A phone we really loved. A computer in your pocket." But having been restricted from hiring anyone outside the company, none of the engineers he had, good as they were, had experience building a cell phone.
Jobs moved the team into a single building on the Apple campus, and gave the project a code name -- "the purple project." Forstall referred to the building as the "purple dorm" and recalled that people were around at all hours and "it smelled like pizza." One whole floor was locked down, cameras installed, and the doors had badge readers. There was a sign on the entrance that said Fight Club -- because, Forstall explained, "the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club."
The biggest initial hurdle, he said, was getting past the resistive touchscreens in use at the time and getting to a capacitive touchscreen. Redesigning software that had been designed for a keyboard and mouse was the next challenge. The team created an entire new UI and, despite the popularity at the time of the BlackBerry, decided early on they didn't want a physical keyboard. "People thought we were crazy," Forstall recalled.
Another issue was the team's desire to bring the "entire Web" to a smartphone. At the time, the phones available that could access the web utilized a stripped-down technology called WAP, that Forstall referred to as "a dumbed-down, baby Internet experience." When asked how much time and energy had been invested in the initial creation of the phone interface, he replied "I personally devoted years of my life to this, as did hundreds of people on this team" and described it as "very, very difficult."
Forstall described the patent on which he is listed as the inventor, the technique of recognizing and enlarging articles with a double-tap and navigating around by tapping, and how he developed it (in part by studying the early prototypes and deciding that "pinch to zoom" as way to enlarge the article took too much time). Getting the system to the point where it could recognize the block of text the user wanted and center it without going over was a major feat of engineering, but that it made the user experience much better. Apple ended up doing an ad about the Internet experience on the iPhone as being superior to anything that was available at the time, during which Forstall's invention was highlighted. The ad was then was shown in court.
When the attorney for Samsung began his cross-examination, his first question for Forstall involved concerns among the team that the original iPhone's processor might be too slow compared to the speed of other phones at the time. "So looking at what your competitors was doing was okay?" the lawyer asked. Forstall said yes, and added that Apple executives all owned, and looked critically at, rival phones. He had mentioned earlier that the executive team at Apple all "hated" their cell phones at the time, and that this was in part the inspiration to build the iPhone.
The attorney for Samsung produces an email between a number of the executive team at the time from Jobs and sent originally to then-iPhone hardware lead Tony Fadell. In the email, Jobs references a Samsung-made Bang & Olufsen phone that refers to a round "clickwheel" type number pad and says in another part "this may be our answer." Asked if this could be interpreted as Apple looking to Samsung phones (Samsung built the B&O phone) for inspiration, Forstall says he can't tell from the email if Jobs' "answer" is referring to the B&O phone or if he had come up with his own solution by illustrating what the other phone was doing wrong. During a later exchange, Apple's lawyer noted a later email from Jobs regarding the same Samsung device in which Jobs says "they really screwed this up," referring to the round number pad design (seen below).
When the lawyer for Samsung showed another email specifically talking about a Samsung model and inferred that Apple was comparing its project against Samsung phones, Forstall cautioned him that the employee who sent the email was a "radio person" primarily testing other phones against its own prototypes for call performance (number of calls dropped) both against other phones and on different networks -- and that the testing did not address interface or design. He did admit under questioning that Apple had done competitive teardowns of rival phones during this period. Apple's lawyer, on rebuttal, had Forstall point out that the teardown of the Samsung Galaxy was done three years after the iPhone debuted, eviscerating the notion that Apple had examined it with an eye to copying anything.
Questioning then moved on to talking about the Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet, which in two of its three versions has been banned from sale for copying Apple's iPad design and other patents. Samsung entered an email into evidence that shows then head of Internet software and services Eddy Cue telling the executive team that there will be a market for a 7-inch tablet, and that Apple should take up the idea of creating one.
The Samsung attorney moved on to asking Forstall a series of questions about whether Apple claims to have invented things like touchscreens, zooming in and out and so forth. Apple's lawyers objected to the questioning, but Forstall said he did not know the full extent of Apple's patents and thus answered that he didn't know about specific claims of such broad inventions.
Forstall was asked if it was OK to benchmark Apple's own products against rivals. He replied that it is fine to benchmark for performance reasons, but "it's not okay to copy and rip something off." When a Samsung attorney attempted to interpret the point Jobs made in an Bang & Olufsen phone email that the clickwheel number pad was something in Samsung's designs worth copying, Forstall vehemently disagreed with the interpretation. Apple never shipped a product nor produced a known prototype that used round clickwheel-style number pad.
Asked if he ever told anyone at Apple to copy from Samsung's designs, Forstall denied the idea. He said that his team "wanted to build something great, and we thought we could build something better than anyone had built. There was no reason to look to [Samsung] on this."
Correction: the last sentence of Forstall's testimony was misquoted slightly in the original version of this article.
Samsung's 2006 Bang & Olufsen phone, the Serene