9 41 9 42: The secret of Apple's recurring numbers

For years, Apple has featured a recurring number in all of its iPhone ads and screen shots. The time in the status bar always reads 9:42. What's more, since the debut of the iPad, the time in every iPad ad and screen shot always reads 9:41.

9:42 or 9:41. Every single time.

What can those specific times mean? Well since Locke isn't answering my pleas for help (you'd think he was dead or something), I'll just have to turn to another Jon. Apple's iPhone number question has bugged Jon Manning, lead developer of Secret Lab, for years. Did the numbers have some sort of cosmic significance or were they just randomly selected by an Apple graphic designer with a thing for the 9:40ish time slot?

Jon dug around for answers, but after the search led nowhere, he eventually all but gave up on finding out what the numbers meant. Then, this past January, he began noticing the iPad's reoccurring numbers and knew it couldn't be random chance -- these numbers did mean something. How would he find out what that something was, though?

That's when fate stepped in. Jon was at the Palo Alto Apple store this past Saturday when none other than Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone software, appeared. Jon didn't sit around and question why, on the exact day that the numbers had been bugging him so much, Forstall suddenly decided to appear. Instead, he marched right up to him and demanded answers asked nicely about the numbers. That's when Forstall turned to Jon and transformed into a huge black smoke monster that judges people's souls nicely answered him.

"We design the keynotes so that the big reveal of the product happens around 40 minutes into the presentation," Forstall revealed. "When the big image of the product appears on screen, we want the time shown to be close to the actual time on the audience's watches. But we know we won't hit 40 minutes exactly."

"So you add a couple of minutes," Jon said.

"Yeah! And for the iPhone, we made it 42 minutes. It turned out we were pretty accurate with that estimate, so for the iPad, we made it 41 minutes. And there you are – the secret of the magic time."

So there you go, folks. That's the the secret behind Apple's recurring numbers. And Jon, you're on a roll, but you may want to stay away from any pan-Pacific flights for the time being. There's an island out there with your name on it.