Former iOS chief Scott Forstall gave a rare interview last night at an event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, where he discussed the birth of the iPhone and his relationship with Steve Jobs.
Speaking to journalist John Markoff after an opening hour with original iPhone engineers Nitin Ganatra, Hugo Fiennes, and Scott Herz, Forstall’s appearance was the first time he had spoken publicly since he was ousted from Apple in October 2012, following the botched launch of Apple Maps.
Forstall proved a charismatic storyteller on the night as he discussed his school education and his early career at Steve Jobs’ NeXT, before moving on to his work on the first iPhone at Apple. The former iOS chief spoke with genuine warmth about his time with the company, but stopped short of offering any huge revelations, although the audience was treated to a few more details as well as some humorous episodes along the way.
For example, Forstall claimed that before the iPhone was conceived, Jobs had initially wanted a tablet with capacitative touch and multitouch in order to get one over on someone he “hated” who worked at Microsoft.
“It began because Steve hated this guy at Microsoft. That is the actual origin,” Forstall said, before adding that it wasn’t Bill Gates. After hearing the person boast about Microsoft’s tablet and stylus development, said Forstall, “Steve came in on a Monday, there was a set of expletives and then he said, ‘Let’s show them how it’s really done’.”
Regarding the iPhone, Scott Forstall said the idea for the device was initially born when he and Jobs were eating lunch and they noticed everyone was using their phones. “We hated them,” he said. “No one seemed like it was a pleasurable thing to use a phone, but it’s a nice thing for communication.” The episode prompted Jobs to ask the tablet design team to redouble their efforts to perfect multitouch but to miniaturize it for a device that you could put in your pocket.
Forstall also touched upon the concept of skeuomorphic design, claiming he had “never heard of skeuomorphism” when he was working on iOS and that it sounded “unnatural”.
“When I look at design – when I look at good design – it’s approachable, friendly, you can use it without a manual. It’s fun. We talked a lot about photo-illustrative design. It was infused into the design sense of Apple by Steve Jobs since the original Mac. We used these design philosophies. It doesn’t mean we loved it, or loved every single part of it. We know it worked. How do we know it worked? You just have to watch people use it.”
Elsewhere, Scott Forstall chose to highlight the many emails he received from customers explaining how the iPhone and iPad had changed and even saved lives. One email was from a 100-year-old woman who had been an avid reader and writer all her life, before age had made these pastimes impossible. The iPad bought for her by her family had allowed her to take up reading and writing again, long after she had all but given up hope.
Scott Forstall also spoke touchingly about his friendship with Jobs, including the time when Forstall contracted a rare and potentially lethal vomiting virus which left him in hospital for months, before the late Apple CEO arranged for an acupuncturist to treat him. After two sessions, Forstall was discharged from hospital and went on to make a complete recovery.
Scott Forstall shared a particularly funny anecdote about how Jobs insisted on paying for both their lunches at the Apple cafeteria, despite the fact that the $8 meals were charged against staff paychecks with each scan of their badges, and as CEO, Jobs only got paid a dollar a year.
Lastly, Scott Forstall said he is not currently developing technology himself, and will continue his work in an advisory capacity. You can watch all of the interviews on Facebook.
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