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Former Apple product manager recounts how Jobs motivated first iPhone team


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When late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs assembled his first iPhone development team, he wasn't focused on conceiving a device that would run all sorts of apps and media but instead laid out a simple mission to his team: to create the first phone people would love so much, they'd never leave the house without it.

This insight into the thought process during the early days of the iPhone's development was shared during a lecture at a California school by former iPhone product marketing engineer Bob Borchers, who may be best known for his appearances in some of the iLife and iPhone guided tour videos.

"What's interesting is that the challenge Steve laid out for us when we created the iPhone wasn't to make a touch-screen device that would play apps and do all of this stuff," Borchers told students. "His [charge] was simple. He wanted to create the first phone that people would fall in love with. That's what he told us."

"Now if you're an engineer, like I am by training, you're like 'what the heck does that mean?'," he said. "But he was right. The idea was, he wanted to create something that was so instrumental and integrated in peoples' lives that you'd rather leave your wallet at home than your iPhone."

Borchers noted that Apple's success largely stemmed from focusing on only a handful of fundamental concepts: break the rules but do so in an exceptionally well manner, pay attention to detail and make people "think differently" about the relationship they have with their device, especially given that smartphones already existed in the market.

The product had to be a revolutionary mobile phone, the best iPod to date, and also let users carry "the internet in their pocket," the latter of which was somewhat of a foreign concept at the time, Borchers said. Downloadable apps, advanced GPS capabilities, video and photography features, and voice integration weren't part of the original mandate.

Instead, those featured blossomed from Apple's successful formation of a platform that could continue to surprise and delight users over time, with Jobs in particular exercising his penchant for perfection and attention to detail every step of the way.

For instance, Borchers recounted how the original iPhone almost shipped with a plastic touchscreen but right before its debut, Jobs confronted his team with the concern that while the plastic would protect the underlying LCD, it would scratch when users kept it in their pocket with keys and other items. This prompted his team to improvise on the spot, convincing Corning to resume production of its then-abandoned Gorilla Glass, which turned out to be the superior solution.

Similarly, Borchers also detailed Apple's well-known obsession with product packaging, saying that Apple spends "way too much time on" product presentation but its ultimately worth it because it effectively communicates to consumers that the product inside the box is special.

Meanwhile, Jobs and his team also did their part to break the rules of engagement when it came to dealing with its first official wireless carrier AT&T. As was customary at the time, the carrier wanted to purchase all of the phones outright from Apple and then turn around and market them to customers on its own.

"[We said] 'no, we don't want to do that,'" Borchers said. "We want to be able to sell the iPhone. We want to be able to talk directly to the customer. That was a big, big change for the industry.” 

The former product manager also showed students a couple of early iPhone ads, noting that the time on the iPhone in the commercials is always set for 9:42 a.m. because it represents the exact moment the iPhone was originally introduced. Borchers also pointed out that the phone number used to demonstrate the Google Maps function in one of the original iPhone ads was the actual number for Pacific Catch in San Francisco which still offers its calamari "iPhone special."

Borchers ultimately left Apple following the launch of the iPhone 4 to become a venture capitalist with Opus Capital. Apple and the iPhone had gotten "so big," he explained, that it was contrary to his passion for helping others get their own products off the ground, so he left to "get small again."

Borchers's lecture was captured by a student and posted to YouTube but those videos were quickly removed this morning after MacNN helped syndicate them to other journalists.