When he set out to create the iPhone, Steve Jobs deliberately picked engineers with no mobile phone industry experience because he didn’t want Apple’s smartphone to be “tainted” by old ideas about what could and could not be achieved, says a former software engineer who worked on the project.
“We had the opportunity to hire people from Palm, from Nokia, to help us build this thing. [But] Steve said, ‘No, no, we don’t need to do that,'” Andy Grignon told me during a recent onstage interview at the DENT conference on innovation in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“He wasn’t just being an asshole, although he did have that tendency,” said Grignon, who was a senior manager on the iPhone in charge of making sure that the radio software worked. “What he was actually doing was, under the auspices of keeping the program secure and secret, he didn’t want anyone outside of Apple knowing what we were up to, but he had something in his head, and it manifested itself later on. He didn’t want the project tainted by what we thought of as a phone at the time.”
During the interview, Grignon recalled how he and the Apple team pitched the idea of visual voicemail during a meeting with counterparts at AT&T, only to receive a patronizing pat on the head and be told by the AT&T team that he had no idea how complicated voicemail was, and that Apple’s idea wouldn’t work.
“We came up to a stalemate, and I went crying to Steve, and they worked it out at the CEO level,” Grignon said.
Indeed, the leeway that Apple enjoyed in retaining control over development of the iPhone — without having to consult with the wireless carrier at every turn — was unusual at the time. Jobs’ forceful personality, and his ability to get deals done at the top, was what enabled Apple’s insanely motivated team to produce such a game-changing device, Grignon said.
“I actually don’t think that anybody except for Apple was capable of building the iPhone, because not only did you have a guy like Steve running the ship, but you had a bunch of mini-Steves beneath him running their respective ships,” said Grignon, who is also slated to speak at MacWorld 2014 in San Francisco (“The Making of iPhone: Stories From an Insider,” 3 p.m. Friday). “It was just a whole cluster of assholes. I was one of them! But we were motivated in a way that I’ve never seen a team motivated before.”
Grignon is now running his own startup, Quake Labs, in Half Moon Bay, California. He and many other former members of the iPhone team are working on Eight.ly, cloud-based software that will help businesses and individuals publish multimedia and social media content across multiple platforms seamlessly, without having to do their own coding.
“What the Fuck Is a ‘Fuckchop’?”
At DENT, Grignon also shared the story behind Jobs calling him a “fuckchop” — a tag that stuck with Grignon so much that he had business cards made with the title.
Jobs’ verbal attack came during a demo in the early days of videoconferencing on iChat AV, Grignon said.
“We were there, we were waiting for [Jobs], and he comes in… He reads all his e-mail and asks, ‘What the fuck is a “fuckchop”? It doesn’t make any sense,’ and we start laughing about it… Then we start doing the demo, and I go into my office to do a video call.”
Suddenly, Grignon’s audio dropped out. Jobs and the rest of the people in the meeting could see Grignon but couldn’t hear him. He could definitely hear them, though.
“Like a knucklehead, I start trying to figure out what’s going on while he’s there, and I start wasting his time, and that would set him off going sideways just instantly,” Grignon said. “He got more agitated and more agitated, and I could read him, but I was just so fixated on fixing just this one thing. Finally, he said, ‘You know what? Forget this, I know what “fuckchop” is, it’s you! Stop wasting my fucking time! Let’s move on!'”
Then Grignon heard a click as the videoconference ended abruptly.
“If there’s ever a time you kind of wanted to throw up a little bit in your mouth, that’s it,” Grignon said. “I wouldn’t say that I felt devastated, but I really felt like a real piece of shit. It took me a long time to get over that.”