SAN JOSE – Apple’s penchant for secrecy came into the spotlight in testimony in its patent infringement case Friday. Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president for iOS, also talked about the genesis of the iPhone and his first meeting with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Jobs put Forstall in charge of the software team for the iPhone in 2004, but gave him “a difficult constraint. For secrecy reasons he didn’t want me to hire anyone from outside Apple to work on the user interface--but I could have anyone within Apple,” said Forstall.
The software executive recalled how in 2004 he called Apple developers identified as “true superstars” one-by-one to his office.
“We are starting a new project so secret I can’t tell you want it is or who you will work for if, and if you chose to accept this role you will work harder than you ever did, working nights and weekends probably for a couple years,” Forstall told them. “Amazingly people accepted this challenge,” he said.
The original iPhone product became known as the purple project. At first, “we locked an entire floor down, put in doors with badge readers and cameras--some took four locks to get in,” Forstall said. “I referred to this building as the purple dorm, people were there at night and weekends, and it smelled something like pizza,” he said.
“On the front door we put a sign up [saying] ‘Fight Club,’ because the first rule about Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club,” he added, referring to the popular movie by the same name.
The project had its seeds in a 2003 effort to build a lower cost notebook and a time when laptops were dominating the PC market. Apple aimed to create a “notebook without a keyboard or hinge, and we settled pretty soon on one with a touch screen and not one that uses a stylus,” said Forstall.
In 2004 when it was still building prototypes for what would one day become the iPad, designers had another idea. “We all had cellphones, we hated our cellphones--they were flip phones at the time and we were asking ourselves if we could use the touch technology we were prototyping to tablets in a phone,” Forstall said.
Engineers created some basic prototypes showing a contact list and a phone dialer. “It was just amazing, we realized a touch screen that could fit in your pocket would work perfectly as one of these phones,” he said. “So we shelved the tablet in 2004 and switched over to what became the iPhone,” he added.
Forstall also recalled the first time he met Steve Jobs when he was interviewing for a job at Next Computer.
“I was in an interview, and Steve burst in the room and grabbed the person interviewing me and pulled him out and asked him a series of questions,” Forstall recalled. “Later Steve returned and told me he expected I would get an offer and he expected I would accept it--that was in 1992,” he said.
The Stanford University grad student accepted the job and continued working for Jobs after Apple bought Next. He is listed on several of Apple’s patents including US 7,864,163 that describes a double-tap method of zooming into an image on a handset, a patent Apple claims Samsung infringed.
Who would have ever guessed that we would learn about the development of an innovative technology through court proceedings and biographies? It is fascinating the variety of ways in which secret project details eventually become public.
I am not a fan of both Apple and Samsung, but I think the problems do not stemmed from these companies. I think it is the patent law that needs a thorough reform. (I believe Apple is also a victim as they lost a lawsuit to Creative's "ZEN" patent because of the user interface of the iPod)
As an engineer, I found it surprising that in the US, the judges do not have engineering technical background for these patent lawsuits. And even more surprisingly (from my patent class I took few years ago) is that the jury CANNOT have technical background because one jury may have larger influence over the rest juries if one have a stronger technical background than the others.
I think patent is still extremely important to protect the IPs and innovations. But I think a jury comprised of technical people in the field is more appropriate, so that these lawsuits will not be focusing on the shape of the devices but rather than the "real" infringement of innovations.
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