Apple nearly scrapped iPhone, admits its British designer

Jul 31, 2012

Six weeks ahead of iPhone5 launch, Sir Jonathan Ive tells how smartphone was nearly abandoned

Getty Images

THE APPLE iPHONE, a design classic that has changed people's expectations of mobile phones and helped make Apple the world's most valuable company, was very nearly scrapped before it went into production.

That was the claim made by its British designer, Sir Jonathan Ive, at a business summit in London yesterday, six weeks ahead of the expected launch of the iPhone5 .

Sir Jonathan said many "incredibly compelling" new products had been abandoned at Apple over the years and that the iPhone seemed destined to join them on the scrapheap because of seemingly insurmountable difficulties with the touchscreen.

"There were multiple times when we nearly shelved it because there were fundamental problems that we couldn't solve," he said. "With the early prototypes, I would put the phone to my ear and my ear dialled a number.

"The challenge is that you have to then detect all sorts of ear shapes, chin shapes, skin colour and hairdos. We had to develop technology, basically a number of sensors, to inform the phone that 'this is now going up to an ear, please deactivate the touchscreen'.

Sir Jonathan, senior vice-president of design at Apple, was one of the keynote speakers at the Creative Services Summit at Lancaster House, attended by delegates from advertising, media, design and architecture.
As The Times reports, it was well known that the California-based technology giant had encountered glitches before the iPhone's release in 2007, but "few outside Apple will have known that it considered shelving the project".

Sir Jonathan owned up to another Apple secret. "We absolutely don't do focus groups," he said. "That's designers and leaders abdicating responsibility. That's them looking for an insurance policy, so if something goes wrong, they can say, well this focus group says that only 30 per cent of people are offended by this and, look, 40 per cent think it's OK."

All a focus group guarantees, said Sir Jonathan, is mediocrity.

Meanwhile, according to iMore, the iPhone5 will be revealed at an 12 September event and released in stores on 21 September.

Sign up for our daily newsletter