Scott Forstall reveals why Apple made the iPhone

Museum Historian John Markoff moderates a discussion with former iPhone team members Hugo Fiennes, Nitin Ganatra and Scott Herz, followed by a conversation with Scott Forstall.

Don't miss this. Seriously.


  • Steve Jobs hated a guy at Microsoft who claimed their tablet PC would revolutionize computers so he came in and said it was all wrong, the stylus was wrong, and could be done better with fingers and capacitive multitouch.
  • Hardware team started and software team started figuring out the interface.
  • The first version was a table in a room where you could move a photo with your fingers.
  • At the same time, Apple was moving from a computer company to an electronics company with half the sales coming from iPod.
  • Apple was watching for what would take over the music space and cannabilize iPod. Phones seemed to be it.
  • Everyone hated their phones. It wasn't pleasurable to use. Steve wondered if they could take the tablet demo and shrink it down to a pocket-sized phone.
  • Bas made a demo and it was just exactly how everything should work, Steve saw it, said put the tablet on hold and start working on the phone.
  • Apple talked about MVNO, buying spectrum, partnering. Started meeting with carriers who thought manufacturers were terrible. So, they gave pages and pages of requirements.
  • Apple said the carrier could take care of the network, Apple would do everything else. They didn't get very far at first. Then Cingular came in and, finally, agreed.
  • Apple hadn't even really started building the phone yet.
  • Cingular execs would call in with ideas, like adding a dedicated button for email. Scott would tell them maybe they'd add it later. They though, Lego phone!
  • Steve thought the CEO of CingularAT&T should be on stage. Steve thought he should see it. Scott wanted to wait for the last possible moment.
  • Steve and Scott fly out to demo for Stan in Las Vegas. Scott was worried about reception so wanted to use Wi-Fi, but Four Seasons charged for that, so Scott worried about loging in. So, he called Four Seasons. Couldn't mention Apple. Couldn't mention Steve. Pretended to be a Cingular exec who needed to do a demo, please make sure Wi-Fi is free and ready to connect. Couldn't do it because Four Season and Mandalay shared a single point of connection, would have to make it free for everyone. Scott said, great. You're the Four Seasons, you can do it! They made it happen.
  • Answered some questions, did Wi-Fi demo. Cingular was super happy. Bet on the right horse. A few days later, IT guy from the Four Seasons calls: Can I please turn charging back on? Sure. Thanks so much!
  • Steve Jobs was demanding. Forced people to do their best. Was really compassionate and dedicated to his friends and relatives.
  • Steve saved Scott's life once. They were deep into Mac OS X before iPhone. Scott got really sick. A week passed. Second week passed. Throwing up constantly. Lost a lot of weight. Finally figured out what it was. Very rare virus. Scott was dying. Steve was calling every day, checking in.
  • Scott was so sick he wanted to die. Even strong meds weren't working.
  • Months later, Steve calls, says he has the best acupuncturist in the world. I'm going to bring her to you, she'll fix you.
  • Steve said if they tried to stop him, he'd just dedicate a wing to Stanford hospital. Nice to have friends like that.
  • One time at Apple they wanted to price something and Steve wanted to price it high. Scott said he had friends with no money, Steve was a millionaire, didn't understand. Steve said no, he was a multi-billionaire. Stuck with his price.
  • Steve came into the hospital with the acupuncturist. Scott asked if he had to believe in it. She said no, it didn't matter. She was going to fix him.
  • She stuck needles in him, nausea went away. For the first time in two months, he didn't throw up constantly. She came back the next day, he never threw up again. She came to his house the next day, he could eat again. First time in two months.
  • Scott was dying, Steve saved his life. Scott will always owe him that. He'd lost 50 lbs, wanted to die. She saved him.
  • Scott was blown away by Siri. He thought that technology was years away. He couldn't believe it was now. Very interesting. -When Steve was sick, Scott would go to his house every day, sit at his bed, talk. Some days Steve couldn't open his eyes, couldn't talk. Steve loved Siri because he couldn't type but could talk.
  • Scott was surprised when Steve died, he seemed like he would always be there. Scott was devastated.
  • Steve was funny. Steve would insist on paying for Scott at Caffe Macs. Scott said he felt bad. Steve said he was only paid $1 year. He didn't know who was paying when he badged. Multi-billionaire scamming Apple. (Haha!)
  • When the original iPhone came out, reviews didn't get it. Talked about number of clicks. iPhone was being compared against other smartphones of the time according to the presumed metrics of the time. But Apple was changing the entire paradigm. It wasn't about the number of taps, it was about people figuring out how to use it. People without a law degree would never figure out a BlackBerry. First time Scott saw a working iPhone prototype, he was blown away by it.
  • They weren't using it like a real phone outside. So Scott took the phone out. Steve asked for one, Scott said not yet. Too much configuration. One day Scott slipped an iPhone into his pocket and slipped out 4 doors out of lockout. Was terrified. Drove home. Closed all the drapes and doors. Started using it all the time. Only Steve had the number. Would duck away to use it.
  • Never felt like work. Finally Steve said, I'm the CEO, I get to decide, you're giving me a phone. Only two people in the world. Steve would call him all the time. It never felt like work to use it. Scott knew it would be huge.
  • Scott was not concerned about bad reviews. He'd used it. He knew. They were irrelevant. He knew it would be big.
  • Scott always thinks things can be better. That's what designers do.
  • Not currently building any new tech (far as you know!)
  • AR is very interesting if there's a form factor that makes sense. If not, it won't succeed. But the idea is really good.
  • Scott had never heard the term skeuomorphism. Had to look it up. He looks for things that are easy to use, understandable. iPhone was about being photoillustrative, metaphorical, relatable. Scott didn't love every part but they made designs that worked.
  • When they shipped iPad, Scott got an email from a guy with a 2-year old daughter who could understand what to do because the UI "told" her how. Same week, got an email from a woman who was 99 1/2 years old. Loved to read but couldn't any more. Couldn't type any more. Got an iPad, read two novels that first week. Big and bright. Could type without pressure. We knew we were doing something right.
  • Had hyper-collaborative team who dedicated their lives to making this happen. Scott wants to applaud them.

And that's a wrap!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.