Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Mixed Messages in an Excerpt From ‘The One Device’

Vice’s Brian Merchant has a new book coming out about the iPhone’s origins. Called “The One Device”, it will apparently chronicle the development and production on the tenth anniversary of the iPhone’s release. The Verge published an excerpt from the book this morning and it seems to contain a number of inaccuracies or mixed messages.

There are little things amiss. For example, on the “Project Purple” codename:

Why Purple? Few seem to recall. One theory is it was named after a purple kangaroo toy that Scott Herz — one of the first engineers to come to work on the iPhone — had as a mascot for Radar, the system that Apple engineers used to keep track of software bugs and glitches throughout the company.

The mascot for Radar is not a kangaroo; it’s either an anteater or an aardvark because, well, they eat bugs. This is really tiny detail, but it’s the kind of thing that makes me question the depth of research afforded to this book. The Radar mascot is well-known even outside of Apple, particularly in the broader development community.

But then there are bigger things, like Tony Fadell’s on-the-record claim that Phil Schiller demanded a hardware keyboard during planning meetings:

He “just sat there with his sword out every time, going, ‘No, we’ve got to have a hard keyboard. No. Hard keyboard.’ And he wouldn’t listen to reason as all of us were like, ‘No, this works now, Phil.’ And he’d say, ‘You gotta have a hard keyboard!’ ” Fadell says.

Apparently, one of those meetings became particularly heated:

“We’re making the wrong decision!” Schiller shouted.

“Steve looked at him and goes, ‘I’m sick and tired of this stuff. Can we get off of this?’ And he threw him out of the meeting,” Fadell recalls. Later, he says, “Steve and he had it out in the hallway. He was told, like, Get on the program or get the fuck out. And he ultimately caved.”

John Gruber:

So I’ll just say this: this story about Phil Schiller pushing for a hardware keyboard comes one source (so far — if anyone out there can back that up, my window is always open for little birdies), and that one source is the guy who admittedly spent over a year working on iPhone prototypes with a click wheel interface.

Phil Schiller also denies Fadell’s story. Very few people were privy to meetings about the iPhone in 2005, so this will likely remain a he-said-he-said standoff, unless Steve Jobs’ ghost wants to chime in.

For what it’s worth, Merchant’s book will probably be an entertaining read. I’m certainly going to check it out. As usual with ostensibly secret-spilling books about Apple, though, it should be enjoyed with an elevated level of skepticism.

Update: Tony Fadell says that the anecdote about Schiller isn’t correct. But Merchant quotes him directly in the excerpt published on the Verge, so something isn’t adding up here. Either the writer completely botched Fadell’s quote — which raises serious questions about the accuracy of the entire book — or Fadell dramatized it while being interviewed and wishes to walk back from an exaggerated recollection.