NY Times mag publishes iPhone launch revelations

A number of revelations behind the original launch of the iPhone in 2007 have been published in The New York Times Magazine. Fred Vogelstein, author of the upcoming “Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution,” profiles a number of Apple employees at the time, including Andy Grignon, senior manager in charge of all radios in the original iPhone. Grignon tells of the tense moments leading up to launch, as the iPhone suffered from numerous bugs prior to the unveiling. During rehearsals, Grignon “had rarely seen Jobs make it all the way through his 90-minute show without a glitch” — including dropped calls, lost Internet connections, freezes, and unprompted shutdowns. A “golden path” was pre-determined to keep the iPhone from crashing through the numerous known issues, but backups on stage were ready in case of a failure.

The report notes that “software in the iPhone’s Wi-Fi radio was so unstable that Grignon and his team had to extend the phones’ antennas by connecting them to wires running offstage so the wireless signal wouldn’t have to travel as far.” AT&T brought in a portable cell tower to boost phone reception, and Apple rigged the on-screen cellular strength indicator to show 5 bars at all times, even if the phone’s radio crashed and restarted. But the biggest problem involved memory, as the iPhone often required a restart when multitasking. Jobs usually had a backup plan, but not this time. “It was Apple TV or the iPhone,” Grignon said. “And if he had gone to Macworld with just Apple TV … the world would have said, ‘What the heck was that?’ “

Jobs initially resisted making a phone, and Apple designed and built three early versions of the iPhone in 2006, putting inordinate pressure on employees in the process. Employees were pulled from other areas at Apple and told that they would work on something amazing, but that it would be the hardest work they had ever done. Other insights in the piece include the challenges of shrinking OS X, developing capacitive multitouch, and some incredible details on the lengths of Jobs’ obsession with secrecy surrounding the launch—including a squashed plan to keep contractors sleeping at the venue the night before the unveiling to avoid leaks. The successful iPhone demo ended with Grignon and the iPhone team drunk from scotch snuck into the keynote event.

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