Squaring the Apple

There is an excellent article by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher at the New York Times called ‘How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work‘. The entire article is worth a close read, as it is about how incredibly flexible manufacturing is in China.

One part called ‘I Want a Glass Screen’ jumped out at me, though. It describes how Steve Jobs supposedly ordered the iPhone’s screen to be made of glass (instead of plastic), just a few weeks before the phone was to launch.

In 2007, a little over a month before the iPhone was scheduled to appear in stores, Mr. Jobs beckoned a handful of lieutenants into an office… Mr. Jobs angrily held up his iPhone, angling it so everyone could see the dozens of tiny scratches marring its plastic screen, according to someone who attended the meeting… “I won’t sell a product that gets scratched,” he said tensely. The only solution was using unscratchable glass instead. “I want a glass screen, and I want it perfect in six weeks.”

This part jumped out at me because I had recently watched an interview of Jobs from the ‘All Things D’ conference in 2010 (link goes to a transcript, but there are YouTube videos of the interview) where he described how he got the original idea for the iPhone. There relevant part is where Jobs said:

Interviewer: So when you built this OS, you did it in a phone. Why? Why not a tablet first.

Steve: I’ll tell you. Actually. It started on a tablet first. I had this idea about having a glass display, a multitouch display you could type on. I asked our people about it. And six months later they came back with this amazing display. And I gave it to one of our really brilliant UI guys. He then got inertial scrolling working and some other things, and I thought, ‘my god, we can build a phone with this’ and we put the tablet aside, and we went to work on the phone.

OK, so the New York Times article claims that the iPhone originally had a plastic screen and Jobs ordered it changed to glass just a few weeks before it shipped. In 2010, Jobs said that the original idea behind the iPhone was that it would be ‘a glass display, a multitouch display you could type on’.

On the face of it, it does not seem that both of these things can be true. Perhaps Jobs originally wanted a glass display, tolerated a plastic screen for the prototype, and then insisted on the glass display after all. Or maybe he misremembered or simply mischaracterized the development history. But, either way, these two stories don’t seem to be compatible.

I don’t have an explanation, but if you do, please let me know in the Comments section below.

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