Steve Jobs had to be convinced that multi-touch was the future

Steve Jobs had to be convinced that multi-touch was the future


How much is your smartphone spying on you? Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Where would the iPhone and iPad be without multi-touch? Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Steve Jobs may have had an astonishing ability to predict where tech was going next, but he very nearly missed out on the iPhone and iPad altogether.

That’s because — according to a quote from Jony Ive in today’s freshly-released biography, Becoming Steve Jobs — Apple’s late CEO didn’t see “any value to the idea” of multi-touch: the breakthrough touchscreen technology which makes iOS regulars like “pinch-to-zoom” possible.

And it was left up to Ive and a few other core Apple employees to save it.

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Bas Ording early in his Apple days. Photo: Bas Ording
Bas Ording early in his Apple days. Photo: Bas Ording

Multi-touch at Apple reportedly began with a demo from Greg Christie and Bas Ording, who spent several months in 2004 creating a working prototype of an iPad-like screen, the size of a conference table. On it, a person could use two hands to move folders around, activate icons, shrink and enlarge documents, and “scroll” vertically and horizontally using swipes. They showed off the tech to top Apple execs by projecting it onto a video screen.

Jobs had been excited about creating a tablet (the iPad project started before the iPhone one), but he was less than impressed by the demo.

“Steve wanted to shelve the project,” Jony Ive recalls.

“I was so surprised because I was so excited about it … [but Steve] was completely underwhelmed. He didn’t see that that there was any value to the idea. And I felt really stupid because I had perceived it to be a very big thing. I said, ‘Well, for example, imagine the back of a digital camera. Why would it have a small screen and all these buttons? Why couldn’t it be all display?’ That was the first application I could think of on the spot, which is a great example of just how early it was. Still, he was very, very dismissive.”

After thinking about the idea for a few days, however, Jobs came around — and ran it past a number of Apple execs whose opinions he trusted. Jobs wasn’t immediately convinced he could make a go of a tablet as a mass-market product, but as a phone he could certainly see the application.

He told current Nest CEO and former Apple employee Tony Fadell to “go figure out how to add this multi-touch interface to the screen of a phone. A really cool, really small, really thin phone.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

You can pick up Becoming Steve Jobs today. Cult of Mac will have a review up as soon as we’ve finished reading and processing it.


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