Birth of the iPhone: How Apple turned clunky prototypes into a truly magical device

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iPhone 2G prototype
iPhone 2G prototype
Photo: Jim Abeles/Flickr CC

iPhone turns 10 The world had never seen anything like the iPhone when Apple launched the device on June 29, 2007. But the touchscreen device that blew everyone’s minds immediately didn’t come about so easily.

The iPhone was the result of years of arduous work by Apple’s industrial designers. They labored over a long string of prototypes and CAD designs in their quest to produce the ultimate smartphone.

This excerpt from my book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products offers an inside account of the iPhone’s birth.

The lead designer of the original iPhone is leaving Apple

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The original iPhone was one of the best looking iPhones.
The original iPhone was one of the best-looking iPhones.
Photo: Apple

One of the top Apple product designers of the past two decades is parting ways with the company, according to a new report that reveals there’s been a big shake-up on Jony Ive’s team.

Christopher Stringer was the lead designer of the original iPhone and was one of the top two or three designers on Apple’s industrial design team. Now he has apparently decided to jettison from the company right before Apple moves into its new spaceship.

Kahney’s Korner: Are you ready for Cult of Mac version 2?

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The Cult of Mac is ready for its upgrade.
The Cult of Mac is ready for its upgrade.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Believe it or not, it’s been nearly a decade since The Cult of Mac got published. The book, by our fearless leader Leander Kahney, took readers on a deep dive into the world of Apple fanatics around the world. It introduced us to the creative and talented tribe of individuals devoted to Macs, iPods and all things dreamed up in Cupertino.

Now that seminal work about Apple devotees is ready for an update. As he gets ready to embark on a year of fresh reporting before writing the next chapter in Cult of Mac history, he’s revisiting the original text. And having a laugh, as you’ll see in this week’s edition of Kahney’s Corner.

It’s time to rewrite Apple history — with more Jony Ive

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It's time for Jony Ive to get the credit he deserves. Photo: Portfolio/Penguin

People are calling The New Yorker profile of Jony Ive the most important thing written about Apple in quite a while, and I’d have to concur.

Not only is it full of fascinating details, it puts Ive at the center of Apple, where he belongs. As the piece’s author, Ian Parker, writes: “More than ever, Ive is the company.”

This is something that’s been true for a couple decades, but still isn’t apparent to most people — even veteran Apple watchers. Such is the company’s secrecy, and the tendency of the public to equate everything Apple does with Steve Jobs, that the true story has yet to be told. Ive has not gotten the credit he deserves.

Behind The Scenes On How the iPhone Got Made

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An early “Sandwich” prototype which imagined the iPhone in Apple’s iconic white plastic. CREDIT: Apple/Samsung trial.

Leander’s new book “Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products” has debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list. (Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And huzzah!)

If you want to get a feel for the book, check out this excerpt over at Medium, which is richly illustrated with sketches and photographs of some of the prototypes.

The Medium excerpt is how Leander wanted to originally write the book; illustrated with all the images leaked during the initial Samsung vs. Apple trial. We’ve seen the prototypes all over the web. What is missing, though, is the journalist’s most important tool: context. This treatment pairs the pictures with the details of Apple’s design process.

Apple Blocks Historical Documents, Designer Reveals at Book Party

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SAN FRANCISCO — Apple is blocking the donation of 30-year-old documents to a museum, claiming they contain valuable trade secrets.

“It’s silly,” said Hartmut Esslinger, the design guru recruited to help Apple become a leader in design in the early 1980s.

Speaking at a Jony Ive book launch party on Thursday night, Esslinger explained that Apple has prevented him from donating some historical old documents to a museum.

Esslinger’s design firm, Frog Design, was hired by Steve Jobs to bring world-class design to Apple. Esslinger’s “Snow White” design language, characterized by elegant off-white plastic cases, influenced the entire computer industry for more than a decade.