The inside story of the iPhone’s ‘Slide to Unlock’ gesture

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slide to unlock lock screen
Slide-to-unlock is one of the iconic gestures of the iPhone. It looks simple, but it was tricky to get right.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

iPhone turns 10 This an excerpt from Unsung Apple Hero, an e-book about UI designer Bas Ording’s career at Apple. Ording is responsible for a big chunk of today’s computing interfaces, but is little-known because of Apple’s super-strict privacy policies. Hit the link at the bottom of this post to get a free copy of the e-book.

One of the key design decisions that Apple’s Human Interface Team made early on while developing the iPhone was to go all in on big, simple gestures. They wanted to make a single, simple swipe accomplish as much as possible.

It’s a bit ironic. After investing so much in multitouch technology, which relies on multiple touch inputs, one of Apple’s key edicts was to make as many gestures as possible work with a single finger.

Earliest iPhone test rig built from wood, duct tape and old Polaroid lenses

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iPhone team members
Members of the original iPhone development team, Greg Christie, Bas Ording and Brian Huppi talking to journalist Brian Merchant.
Photo: Lyle Kahney/Cult of Mac

PALO ALTO, California — The first iPhone “prototype” was strung together using bits of wood, duct tape and some old Polaroid lenses.

Key members of the Apple team reminisced about those early DIY efforts Wednesday night during a discussion led by Brian Merchant, author of The One Device, a new book about the birth of the iPhone.

“This thing was really kludged together,” said Brian Huppi, a former Apple engineer who helped build the first system. “It was built out of wood, duct tape and old lenses from the ’60s.”

The inside story of the iconic ‘rubber band’ effect that launched the iPhone

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Bas Ording Apple interface designer
Former Apple designer Bas Ording created the rubber band effect, which convinced Steve Jobs to build the iPhone.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

iPhone turns 10 One day in early 2005, interface designer Bas Ording was sitting in a secret, windowless lab at Apple HQ when the phone rang. It was Steve Jobs.

The first thing Jobs says is that the conversation is super-secret, and must not be repeated to anyone. Ording promises not to.

“He’s like, ‘Yeah, Bas, we’re going to do a phone,'” Ording told Cult of Mac, recalling that momentous call from long ago. “‘It’s not going to have any buttons and things on it, it’s just a screen. Can you build a demo that you can scroll through a list of names, so you could choose someone to call?’ That was the assignment I got, like pretty much directly from Steve.”