Had a Microsoft executive not boasted about Redmond’s plans to “rule the world” with a new Windows tablet and stylus, Steve Jobs might not have hit on the iconic design for the iPhone and iPad.
During a talk at the Computer History Museum this week, Scott Forstall, who led iOS development at Apple under Jobs, recounted the moment Jobs realized that fingers would be the way forward for mobile computing.
“It began because Steve hated this guy at Microsoft. That’s the actual origin of it,” said Forstall. “Any time Steve had any social interaction with this guy, he’d come back pissed off.”
It wasn’t Bill Gates, noted Forstall, but a Microsoft executive who was the husband of a friend of Jobs’ wife, Laurene Powell Jobs.
Apple had been working on a tablet project and at the time touchscreens relied on resistive touch. Jobs’ apparent frustration with this executive’s bragging about a stylus and tablet drove him to look at fingers and capacitive touchscreens.
“He came back one time and the guy said that Microsoft had solved laptop computing or they were going to do tablet computing with pens. And he just shoved it in Steve’s face, the way they were going to rule the world with their new tablets and pens. Steve came in on Monday and there was a set of expletives and then it was like, ‘Let’s show them how it’s really done’,” he continued.
As he recounts it, Jobs said: “First thing, they’re idiots. You don’t do it with a stylus. They’re cumbersome, you’re picking it up and putting it down. We’re born with 10 styluses.”
The first prototype of this concept involved a table and a giant overhead projector that allowed you to move photos around the surface. It wasn’t mobile, but the moment Forstall saw it he realized Jobs was right and the stylus was wrong.
However, the iPhone itself came from Jobs’ realization that mobile phones were becoming a threat to Apple’s then massive iPod business.
Apple was turning from a computing company into a consumer electronics company, thanks to the iPod, which made about half of Apple’s sales. Jobs was wondering what device could cannibalize its iPod music sales.
“The one thing that seemed like it would do it was phones,” said Forstall.
Forstall says he and Jobs were at lunch and noticed that no one looked happy using their phones despite everyone having one. So, Jobs suggested shrinking the tablet touch demo to a pocketable size.
Apple’s designers came up with a simple demo of the iPhone’s now familiar tap and scroll interface with cards containing contact numbers and email addresses.
“The second you saw this demo, you know this was it. There was no question. This was the way a phone had to behave. Steve saw it and said, ‘OK, put the tablet on hold. Let’s build a phone’.”