back to article Original iPhone dev team was 'shockingly small' - Apple engineer

A former Apple engineer has revealed key details of the process behind the design of the iPhone. In a rare interview, senior software engineer Greg Christie described a frenzied creative process and hinted that Steve Jobs was the boss from hell. Jobs approached Christie and his team to asked them to get involved in a top secret …

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In some ways, I'd say that this reveals how to run a successful project: Small, dedicated team, with strong support from senior management, clear requirements and a passionate project sponsor.

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Anonymous Coward

The most successful projects I've worked on...

...were devised by me, programmed by me, documented by me, tested by me, and deployed by me.

With very little in the way of support from management.

And once the projects hit the big time and become wildly successful, in swings an army of business analysts, project managers, tester, change control etc. et fucking cetera, that make like barely worth living.

Sheesh.

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Re: The most successful projects I've worked on...

That's all very well for a small one-man project, but you can't build an iPhone's hardware and software from scratch with just one person.

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@A Non e-mouse

I couldn't agree more. What we practice here is, however, a continuous demonstration that doing it the other way doesn't work: largish, rather undefined team which is pestered with daily business, a deadline set somewhere in eternity, lots of interference but much less support by senior management and a project, erm, they didn't think of a project sponsor really.

Well, I shot dead their first and even much larger attempt because it was going far off track. The second attempt wasn't that bad but management changed and so did the project scope. And this now is what a frustrated project team came up with. I'm sure it will be a huge success! /sarcasm

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Re: The most successful projects I've worked on...

"you can't build an iPhone's hardware and software from scratch with just one person"

That wasn't the case in Apple either.

The development Greg is really talking about is that of the key UI features, not the full OS.

Even those working on the OS never got to see the real UI, just a faked-up UI that used the OS calls. That allowed the OS folks to develop OS features without seeing what the final product would look like.

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"Successful projects ... devised by me"

With very little in the way of support from management.

If you did them on the clock, you damn well did have support from management.

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Re: The most successful projects I've worked on...

er actually you can pretty much.

But it would take a bit longer.

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The bigger the team, the harder the battle to stay focused on basics.

Every project I have ever worked on was: get the base right ... with a project lead with cojones and vision - easy.

The hardest part of any project is to get a project lead with cojones and vision, very few have both.

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Joke

RE ...very few have both.

What d'you mean? Project lead is female or blind?

SCNR

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And this is whats missing today

Now thats how to make a product, know what you want and drive for it. with Steve Jobs gone, Ive, sorry Sir Ive will be pushed and in return the corporate decision makers again. Time to sell the stock again.

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Re: And this is whats missing today

Why on earth would Johnny Ive be pushed?

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@Lord Tennant Re: And this is whats missing today

It's 'Sir Jonathon (call me Jony)'.

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Re: And this is whats missing today

>with Steve Jobs gone, Ive, sorry Sir Ive will be pushed and in return the corporate decision makers again

Nah. Steve Jobs was ill for a long time, and knew to have plans for an Apple without him - indeed Tim Cook was acting CEO for months on end during Jobs' illness. Tim Cook, by recently telling some investors on where to get off, has shown that he knows better than to think short-term.

Sir Jony might look like a big softy, but he isn't the sort to be pushed around easily. If he was, he'd still be in the UK designing bathrooms.

Of course, there is no guarantee that it will be Apple who dominate profits in a new product sector (as they did with phones and tablets) but they are in a better position than most (enough cash to buy any company or talent they need).

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Bub

Re: And this is whats missing today

Having enough cash to buy any company or talent needed isn't enough. Ask Microsoft.

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Re: And this is whats missing today

No, having lots of cash isn't the only required ingredient, but it helps! Apple have a track record of not being Microsoft.

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So how big was it? Small is relative. Article is lacking in useful information.

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Couldn't agree more with most of the comments so far. One of the reasons for the success of the iPhone was that it didn't look like it was designed by a committee. Small, focused and well lead teams are the way to go. We're very lucky where I work, we do have a small team, a VP who sees his role as setting us tasks and tough but achievable deadlines and then making sure nobody else interferes with our progress - almost work bliss ;-)

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Dead right...

As the old saw puts it, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee."

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Re: Dead right...

"As the old saw puts it, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee.""

There are some things that can only be done by committees, but they need commitment and usually leadership.

If you were crossing a large desert, which would you want - a horse or a camel?

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Re: Dead right...

"If you were crossing a large desert, which would you want - a horse or a camel?"

An airplane.

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It didn't need a big team

Actually Big teams are counter productive.

Most of the development was the revised GUI on the OS adapted from OS X as iOS.

They didn't develop any phone or CPU hardware, that had all become virtually commodity parts by then. From the late 1980s the reason for resistive screens was for two reasons:

1) Stylus use of stupid concept of miniaturised desktop GUI.

2) Holy Grail of Handwriting recognition.

Capacitive screens were ignored due to low resolution. Their big step was to say "forget handwriting". The idea of gestures wasn't invented by Apple. That dates back to 1980s or earlier. The stupidity of using a desktop "WIMP" GUI on a small screen was identified in late 1980s. But MS and others wouldn't listen (WinCE ). Part of it too was that for a long while (i.e. Nokia Communicator) a high end phone with GUI and applications was seen as a Business tool, not a consumer gadget.

The best way to do any product is a small team. Or several very small teams working on unrelated aspects.

Maybe if Steve hadn't killed Newton they could not have see their way to an iPhone as it is known today.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It didn't need a big team

Other than the differences caused by the technical limitations of the time, the old PalmPilot, and by extension the one with the phone in it, seem very much to be prototype iPhones. Grid icon layout, standard apps, downloadable apps, touch screens, etc.

If you found your group of designers/software guys who'd been in a bunker for the last 20 years, chucked them a PalmPilot and said, higer-res, loads of colours, touchscreens can now do this you don't need a stylus, make it as sleek as possible, I wonder how different the result would be.

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Re: It didn't need a big team

The GUI is quite a bit more revised than perhaps is obvious: Core Animation originated on the iPhone and made its way over the the Mac only afterwards (though, publicly, it was on the Mac long before the iPhone was announced). Core Animation primarily does three things: (i) it draws every view to GPU storage, always; (ii) it introduces an extra transform into the composition process, allowing any view to have any linear transform applied to it when drawn to the screen; and (iii) it takes advantage of Objective-C's dynamic runtime — including lookup of setters by name — to write introduce common code that can adjust a value from A to B per a function f(t) of time, then targets that one piece of interpolation logic all over the place to make the coding difference between an animated transition and a static one just a couple of lines of code.

I'm willing to bet that stuff, the 'how do we run a consistent metaphor at 60Hz on the hardware?', is what took the majority of the time for the team. Obviously iOS became the first GUI OS to work only in the presence of a GPU but which thing prompted the other? It's all obvious in hindsight but I'll bet time was spent on the back and forth over that.

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Re: It didn't need a big team

Gestures was bought in. Apple purchased Fingerworks Inc. of Delaware, USA, which might have been a spin off of University of Delaware.

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Re: It didn't need a big team

"The best way to do any product is a small team. Or several very small teams working on unrelated aspects."

Bollocks. Things are never unrelated. In order to write good software, or design good hardware, you need to understand the context it is being used in and the trade offs worth making.

At one company I worked for, I was nominally developing software but spent a good 10% of my time hanging out with the hardware guys to make sure that they understood the software impacts of their decisions, so that they could make better decisions, and to take the info back to the software people to discuss with them and make sure all the drivers etc would work.

Another example, there might be two ways to write an algorithm: fast but using lots of RAM, or slow but using little RAM. Unless you have adequate knowledge of the RAM footprint, RAM costs etc, you can't make the right call.

I worked for Apple for a year. The inter-group secrecy was stifling and certainly slowed things down.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It didn't need a big team

It must have been the B team that designed the excreable iTunes program. In comparison the Palm Desktop program is wonderful, or am I showing my age and prejudices.

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Anonymous Coward

As a non-fan of Apple, Reg, I have to say that the childish ripping on Jobs is becoming intolerably tedious. When people start feeling embarrassed while reading your articles, it's time to move on to a new obsession...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @David W.

I'm fine with calling out Jobs on his actual flaws, but drowning an article in snarky jibes about fruit is infantile, not informative.

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Re: @David W.

"but drowning an article in snarky jibes about fruit is infantile, not informative."

I'm afraid you're reading the wrong website then. There's plenty of other websites if you don't like this one.

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Re: @David W.

Fair comment; I thought you were making a general complaint, not one about the Reg's house style.

Yes it can be irritating, but not half as irritating as Private Eye's all-public-schoolboys-together-mocking-the-establishment-before-daddy-finds-us-a-job. Yet Private Eye and the Reg both serve useful purposes. I guess you have to put up with it or rely on the Telegraph for your news coverage. (On today's front page, what would Kitchener have done about the Russkis in the Crimea)

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Re: @David W.

>I'm afraid you're reading the wrong website then. There's plenty of other websites if you don't like this one.

That is true, but some intelligent people read the Reg and comment on its articles, so it is a shame when an opportunity to discuss different approaches to technology is wasted on tedious slanging matches. Fortunately, this thread has been left relatively unscathed.

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Re: @David W.

As my grandfather used to say:

"Learn to suck out the juice and spit out the pips."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @David W.

"Learn to suck out the juice and spit out the pips."

That's well and good, but if the guy who's putting the pips in has a comment section in which one is invited to discuss the arti... the juice... then it doesn't seem unreasonable to raise the point when pip-spitting is outdoing juice sucking per unit time.

And I'm pretty sure that's as far as that analogy should ever be taken.

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Pint

mirrors the endless discussion of Max Clifford's penis

I salute you, I raise a glass to you, and I will even buy you a pint.

I don't know if it adds to the story, but every time I see that man I laugh and laugh and laugh

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Re: mirrors the endless discussion of Max Clifford's penis

Me Too.

I remember when all the Saville stuff started to break, Clifford was quoted as saying (something like) "There's an awful lot of famou people going to be very worried now."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: mirrors the endless discussion of Max Clifford's penis

Even before the sex scandal I thought Clifford was an odious leech.

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Re: mirrors the endless discussion of Max Clifford's penis

Odious leech? I think you'll find that only describes one part of him

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MS Courier

>"Steve thought it was foolish to do a split screen on such a small display," Christie added.

Splitscreen in hardware, or in the OS as two windows side by side?

Though perhaps niche, a device like the aborted MS Courier would be handy for collating and annotating content. It was a clamshell device with two touchscreens, offering some fair screen realestate yet still fitting in a jacket pocket. Obviously it wasn't ideal for video, but it would have been fine for webrowsing, and indeed the two screens lent it to working with a 'source' and a 'destination' document.

Only Sony have tried to do a similar device - a flavour of a 'Z' Android tablet, in which the second screen could act as a keyboard.

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Ultimately people may not like Jobs for his management style, but it did work after all. If he had launched the iPhone and it had been rubbish his team would have been able to say they told him so about setting tight deadlines and getting angry with them when ideas where not being put together quickly enough, but history didn't turn out that way, he was proved right in what he thought was acceptable to launch.

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Ethernet and Steve Jobs

Read an article by Bill Krause on a16z.com earlier today. Discussing the development of an Etherenet adaptor he said:

We had put Ethernet on a card, and instead of having to screw a tap we had a connector that looked a lot like the one you screw into your cable box and TV. And were all excited about it. We set up four PCs, and we called Steve Jobs who was a good friend and told him, “You have to come over and see this demo.” Steve comes over and we hook it up and show it to him.

It was a classic Steve response: “Who’s the brain-dead asshole that came up with this shit? This is dreck, this is crap. You want to make it easy to install, just plug it into the telephone jack for cryin’ out loud.”

Why didn’t we think of that? No one knows to this day that Steve Jobs deserves the credit for creating Ethernet the way it is today, and it is a part of why it beat out other competing technologies. It was another one of his brilliant insights around user-interface.

They should have bought him a pint - or several

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ethernet and Steve Jobs

So God created mankind in his own image; in his own image God created them; he created them male and female.

Genesis 1:27

If only Steve Jobs was around - we'd be rectangular with rounded corners, and be uniform Apple white.

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Team Size

I agree with most of the posts here that succesful projects tend to done by small independent teams with a clear target and fairly strict deadlines. See any .Gov project with continual spec changes and layers of 'management' between developer and user. In any trade leave the artisans to get on with their job.

But it is equally important to say that such a recipe does not guarentee success. Building the right thing the wrong way, or more commonly the wrong thing the right way is a failure, irrespective of team size.

The only real measure of a projects success is, Is it used and found useful by the users?

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Re: Team Size

"But it is equally important to say that such a recipe does not guarentee success. "

But it can guarantee that any failure will come quicker, and that's important, both to learn from, and because it keeps the cost of failure down.

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"Yet micromanaging Jobs steered them to worldwide mobe DOMINATION"

Pedantic point, but iPhones only show "domination" in the US market. Elsewhere in the world they barely break above double digits of percentage of sales compared to the other manufacturers.

US Sales

http://www.eweek.com/mobile/iphone-sales-make-apple-top-mobile-phone-vendor-in-america/

Global Sales

http://www.statista.com/statistics/263355/global-mobile-device-sales-by-vendor-since-1st-quarter-2008/

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Anonymous Coward

"iPhones only show "domination" in the US market"

I think they show domination in profits which is what businesses really, really, want.

They are expensive, not everyone can afford them, but they showed folk a form of touch-screen design that was usable and desirable. The significance is not for now, where there are good viable competitors, but when launched and the old guard of phone makers were, as you might say, caught off-guard.

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Indeed, everybody keeps talking about the iPhone and what Apple did in the context of now when deriding Apple. The problem is, the world wasn't as it is now back then, if you wanted a good touch screen that was responsive and made sense to use with your finger and not a stylus the iPhone was the only choice.

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Anonymous Coward

Required reading

While a little dated the "The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering" by Fred Brooks should be required reading for anyone doing system development.

I had the pleasure of using working with OS/360 and had to smile every now and then - especially when dealing with the linker.

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Re: Required reading

A classic example is the development of the video game 'Halo: Combat Evolved' which was done by a relatively small team at Bungie. Whether you like the game or not, the team made an effort to re-examine the actual game-play of first-person shooters to remove the tedious parts of the genre, then set it against a fairly straightforward plot in a world inspired by Niven and Iain M. Banks.

The sequel, Halo 2, was a mess by comparison. Bungie have said since that because they felt expected to make a much larger game, they recruited a far larger team - which of course meant the overall vision became fuzzy. The sprawling plot was hard to follow, and new features that sounded good on paper ('Wield two guns at once! Wow!) detracted from the simplicity of the original game.

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Joke

Re: Required reading

"the team made an effort to re-examine the actual game-play of first-person shooters to remove the tedious parts of the genre..."

...and then accidentally shipped the stuff they removed.

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