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The One Device

The Secret History of the iPhone

By Brian Merchant
13-minute read
Audio available
The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant

The One Device (2017) lays out the history of what may be the most important piece of technology on the market: the Apple iPhone. From an interview with an IBM engineer to the frightening depths of a Bolivian mine, Merchant takes us everywhere and explains how the iPhone was born and what it means for the world.

  • Tech geeks and gadget nerds
  • Lovers of technological history
  • iPhone users

Brian Merchant is a journalist of science and technology. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, Slate, Fortune magazine and the Los Angeles Times, among many other publications. He’s also an editor for Motherboard – the science and technology department of VICE.

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The One Device

The Secret History of the iPhone

By Brian Merchant
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant
Synopsis

The One Device (2017) lays out the history of what may be the most important piece of technology on the market: the Apple iPhone. From an interview with an IBM engineer to the frightening depths of a Bolivian mine, Merchant takes us everywhere and explains how the iPhone was born and what it means for the world.

Key idea 1 of 8

The iPhone has changed the technological world and its history stretches far beyond Steve Jobs.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, you know that the iPhone is a colossal success. Indeed, it’s so successful that, in 2016, when technology-industry expert Horace Dediu made a list of the world’s top products, he listed the iPhone as not only the best-selling phone, but the best-selling camera, music player, video player and computer. The phone has sold one billion units. To give some perspective, that’s 550 million more units than the mega-hit Harry Potter series sold.

Not just that, but when Wall Street analysts took stock of the most profitable products in the world, the iPhone was one of the top items on their list as well. It was even one place above Marlboro cigarettes, one of the biggest manufacturers of one of the world’s most addictive products.

So the iPhone is ludicrously popular. But why?

Most people attribute its success to Steve Jobs, the man often given sole credit for its invention. However, the history of the iPhone truly begins in the early 2000s with a small group of Apple employees who were secretly experimenting with human-computer interfaces.

The group contained a few software designers and input engineers and one industrial designer, all of whom met, without Job’s knowledge, to experiment with unconventional user interfaces. Among them was Joshua Strickon, who’d recently received his PhD from MIT Media Lab. He was a wiz with human-computer interaction and touch-based technology software.

Alongside Strickon were people who pioneered the field itself, like Greg Christie, head of the Human Interface team and a lead force on Apple’s handheld mobile device, the Personal Digital Assistant.

Other crucial people in the team were designers Imran Chaudhri and Bas Ording. One member of the original iPhone team described them as “the Lennon and McCartney of user interface design.”

The group collectively believed that the traditional keyboard and mouse were outmoded. So they set out to enable more direct interaction with computers and explored motion sensors and multitouch technology in particular.

After months of tinkering, they produced the first, very low-tech prototype of what would eventually become the iPhone. However, they certainly weren’t the first to delve into such technology.

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