Apple engineer Greg Christie talks about designing the iPhone for "normal people"

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Yoni Heisler
April 7th, 2014
In this article: design, greg christie, iphone
Apple engineer Greg Christie talks about designing the iPhone for "normal people"

When Steve Jobs first unveiled the iPhone, he took some time to highlight what was then the current state of the smartphone market. In short, Jobs said that phones at the time were either easy to use and not very powerful, or were powerful but extremely confusing.

The iPhone, Jobs promised, would be both. A powerful phone that was at the same time extremely easy to use. Indeed, Apple's calling card has always been technology that's more intuitive, inviting, and easier to use than the competition.

Not surprisingly, this notion figured prominently during the development of the original iPhone. While testifying last week during Apple and Samsung's second California trial, Apple engineer Greg Christie -- who was part of the iPhone team since its very inception -- talked about the underlying philosophy that permeates Apple's engineering efforts.

CNET reports:

One of the biggest challenges is that we need to sell products to people who don't do what we do for a living," Christie, one of the inventors of the slide-to-unlock iPhone feature, said. When designing products, Apple keeps in mind that it wants "normal people – people with better things to do with their lives than learn how a computer might work – to use the product as well as we can."

About two weeks ago, Christie granted the WSJ a rare interview wherein he discussed the origins of the iPhone project and the tremendous hurdles involved in getting the product to market. On the stand last week, Christie shed a little bit more light on that process.

PC World reports:

"One day, I was sitting in my office, and Scott Forstall came in, shut the door, and he asked me, 'How would you like to do a phone?'" Christie recalled of the first time he heard of Apple's ambitious plan. Forstall was leading some of Apple's OS X design at the time.

"I said, 'Sure, you bet,' and we started to discuss it a bit further," he said "It was a pretty general description at the time, but it would be touch-based, have a large screen for a phone, but a very small screen for a desktop computer, and my team should start working on designs for it."

As for the design process itself, Christie recalled that it was arduous work that entailed over two years of constant attention.

It was exhausting and it was exciting. From 2005 through to the announcement in January and sale in June 2007, it was pretty much nonstop. You had to be prepared to discuss what you were working on at anytime of the day, any day of the week, any week of the year.

While not much publicly known about Christie, a few interesting tidbits were revealed last Friday when he was on the stand. A few quick examples include: Christie attended Dartmouth College, taught himself BASIC at a young age, and first became open to the idea of owning a Mac back in 1991 when Apple released the PowerBook 140.

One final tidbit is that some of the early iPhone demos made in front of Jobs were also made in front of Apple board member Bill Campbell. Following one of the earlier iPhone demos, Campbell told Jobs, "Steve, this is going to be bigger than the Mac."

And it was. During Apple's most recent holiday quarter, 56.3% of Apple's revenue came from the iPhone while just 11.1% of its revenue came from Mac sales.

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