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Scott Forstall describes iOS development, challenges in Samsung trial


Following Apple's marketing chief Phil Schiller, iOS head Scott Forstall to the stand to testify in the Samsung patent infringement trial.

Forstall introduced himself as managing iOS software for Apple, "the operating system that runs all iPhones, iPad and iPod Touch," as well as user interface design for both iOS devices and Macs.

He reports to the company's chief executive Tim Cook as serves as a member of the Executive Team, with 1,000 people directly reporting to him.

Forstall noted that he completed his undergrad and grad studies at Stanford University, earning a degree in symbolic systems, the intersection of computer science and linguistics, and a masters degree in artificial intelligence.

He reported that he first met Steve Jobs in 1992 at an initial interview at NeXT, describing Jobs as walking into his interview session, taking over the conversation, then informing him that he could expect a job offer from NeXT, and that NeXT expected him to accept it.

Forstall followed Jobs to Apple after its acquisition of NeXT in 1997. Through 2004, Forstall noted that he managed OS software in the transition of NeXT's technology to Mac OS X.

"I was one of the people who started the project and created a piece of it. Over time, I was responsible for more and more pieces," Forstall said, noting that he took over the whole OS.

Forstall said that the OS team at Apple "wanted an operating system that could last for another 20 years," noting that the Classic Mac OS Apple had during the 1990s "didn’t have those legs."

The development of iPhone & iPad

Asked by Apple's attorney to discuss the development of the iPhone and iPad, Forstall stated, "In 2003, we had built all these great Macs and laptops and we started asking ourselves what comes next. One thought we settled on was a tablet. We settled pretty quickly if we could investigate doing that with a touchscreen, so we started investigating and building prototypes."

Forstall added, "In 2004, I remember sitting with Steve [Jobs] and saying we all hated our cell phones. We were asking ourselves: could we use the technology we were using with touch and use that same technology for phone. Something that would fit in your pocket.

"I'll never forget," Forstall noted, "we took that tablet and built a small scrolling list. On the tablet, we were doing pinch and zoom. So we built a small list to scroll on contacts and then you could tap on it to call. We realized that a touchscreen that was the size that would fit in your pocket would be perfect for the phone. So in 2004, we switched over from developing a tablet to developing the iPhone."

Apple's Purple Project

Describing his role in developing the iPhone, Forstall stated, "in 2004, when we decided to build the iPhone, Steve knew that there would need to be a lot of different groups."

Forstall related that he was be responsible for building the software team. Jobs told him he couldn’t hire anyone from outside of Apple to work on the interface, but he could bring in anyone from within the company to work on the iPhone team.

"That was quite a challenge," Forstall said. "What I did was find people who were true superstars of the company, amazing engineers, bring them into my office and say, ‘you’re a superstar in your current role. I have an other offer, another option. We’re starting a new project. It’s so secret I can’t tell you what that project is. I can’t tell you who you will work for. What I can tell you is if you chose this new role, you’re going to work hard, give up nights, work weekends for years."

Forstall added, “we wanted to build a phone for ourselves. A phone that we really love. A computer in your pocket. We wanted to bring out something great without anyone else finding out what we’re doing so they wouldn’t leak it."

Asked if he was confidence his team would succeed, Forstall answered, "not at all."

Forstall described the iPhone team working in a locked down floor on the Apple campus, where all doors were secured with badge readers and activity was monitored by cameras. The iPhone project was given the code name Purple, so the building was called the "purple dorm."

"People were there all the time. It smelled like pizza," he said. Alluding to the movie "Fight Club," Forstall said, "The first rule of the Purple Project is you don't talk about the Purple Project."

Technological challenges of the iPhone

Forstall noted that a lot of the iPhone's innovation was related to the iPhone’s touchscreen, particularly its use of a capacitive touchscreen rather than the more commonly used resistive sensors designed to be used with a stylus.

Other challenges related to the fact that Apple software had historically been designed around the keyboard and the mouse.

"Every single part of the design had to be rethought for touch," Forstall stated. "We started with a brand new user interface. That’s one. Second, we didn’t want to have a physical keyboard on here. If you look back to even 2005 when the engineering team started on this, smartphones all had a physical keyboard. The most popular one at the time was the BlackBerry. People thought we were crazy."

Forstall also noted, "we wanted to give people the entire web, the entire Internet experience. And the Internet is designed for a much larger screen. When a web designer is building a site, they expect a [large] screen like this. We had a small screen. So we wanted to solve the problem of giving people the entire, Internet experience on this device."

Other companies were approaching the web on smartphones using WAP, a technology Forstall described as "a dumbed-down, baby Internet experience."

When asked how much investment went into creating the user interface, Forstall said that the task of building a user interface that could fit into a device one could use with your fingers was "immense."

Forstall noted that he "devoted years of my life to this," and described it as "very, very difficult."

Forstall describes the '163 tap to format patent

Asked about patent '163, which names Forstall as an inventor, he explained that it covers a lot. In browsing the web in a browser like Safari, Forstall explained, there are columns of horizontal stories representing content on web pages. The patent tries to address how to navigate among those stories by responding to user taps and double taps.

The patent describes technology that "makes it real simple for user to move around, navigate around the web site by double tapping on what you see," Forstall explained.

Asked how he developed the ideas, he stated that he devoted a lot of time practicing browsing on early prototypes. He noted that pinching in and out of the stories to get the zoom "just right" took a lot of time. Instead, he decided it would be better for the device handle this automatically: just double tap on the story and have it zoom up and center appropriately.

"The team went back and worked really hard" to figure out how to do that.Asked if the task was challenging, Forstall laughter and said, "understanding that [web page] structure — and the structure the user cares about — is part of the challenge."

Asked if this patent represents a "significant feature," Forstall answered, “Absolutely! I remember what it was like before, during development and after. It allowed me to browse the web much more fluently.

"And we know from our users," Forstall stated, "that browsing the web is one of the things they do on their iPhone. It allows you to have a dramatically better experience."

Apple even created an advertisement based on this zooming feature, Forstall noted, which Apple's legal team subsequently demonstrated to the court.

Forstall's cross examination by Samsung

Samsung's cross examination first asked if Forstall recalled concerns about processor speeds compared with competing smartphones, and if the iPhone development team included looking at competitor's products, including Samsung's. Forstall said he agreed it was acceptable to look at other vendor's products.

Samsung next cited an email circulated between Apple's top executives where Steve Jobs commented on an existing click wheel-based Samsung phone and then stated "this may be our answer, we could put the number pad around our clickwheel." A second email, from Forstall, forwarded a press release for a different Samsung phone.

Asked if these were examples of Apple looking for inspiration at Samsung phones during the development of the iPhone, Forstall answered that he wasn't sure if Jobs was describing an aspect of the phone or referencing his own solution.

In a third Apple email Samsung presented, Forstall was asked if Apple was benchmarking competing phones, including those from Samsung. In reply Forstall noted that Apple was analyzing call performance of a number of phone models and carriers, and that the email was sent from a person who was performing a call drop test.

Forstall also clarified that Apple had acquired a variety of phone models to do feature analysis of how the phones handled calls, not to study their user interface and design. Forstall also noted he was aware that Apple had performed competitive teardowns of other mobile devices on the market.

Samsung's attorney specifically directed attention to Galaxy S features that are not on the iPhone (including Swype text input and aspects of the TouchWiz UI), oddly implying that Apple copied these features after performing a teardown of the unit.

An email circulating between Cook, Forstall and iTunes head Eddy Cue was next presented by Samsung, noting Cue commenting on the Galaxy Tab and stating that there would be a market for smaller 7 inch tablets.

"I believe there will be a 7-inch market and we should do one," Cue said in the email. "I expressed this to Steve several times since Thanksgiving and he seemed very receptive the last time."

Samsung's attorney next asked about how a web page like the New York Times could be an electronic document with other documents embedded in it, apparel referencing Apple's '163 "click to focus" patent. Forstall answered that HTML provides a semantic structure, and that specific regions on the page aren't necessarily documents embedded inside of each other.

The attorney then challenged Forstall to answer whether Apple invented zooming in and out on a touchscreen, a question which Apple's attorneys objected to. The attorney then asked if Apple invented touchscreens, and Forstall answered that he didn't know the extent of Apple's patents and therefore had to answer that he did not know.

Asked if it was acceptable to benchmark other vendor's products, Forstall answered,"it’s fine to benchmark for performance reasons. It’s not ok to copy and rip something off."

Asked if he told anyone at Apple to copy Samsung's designs, Forstall replied, "I never directed anyone to go and copy something from Samsung. We wanted to build something great. There was no reason to look at anything they had done."

The attorney then challenged Forstall with an email from Jobs that was represented to mean he had found something worth copying, to which Forstall disagreed with that interpretation of the email.