One of my goals in 2016 was to make working from my iPhone as efficient as possible. The desire to make this happen initially sprung from experiences raising a baby. My wife and I began foster parenting in July of 2015, and one of our foster children was AJ, a four-week-old baby boy. AJ ended up staying with us for about a year before returning to his birth mother, and in that year I learned that when raising a baby, there are frequently occasions when only one hand is available for computing. I would often have a hand tied up feeding AJ or carrying him around, and if I needed to get any work done during that time, my iPad Pro was no help. iPads are built for two-handed computing, while iPhones work great with one.
In addition to the motivation of being able to get work done with one hand, one of the things I've learned during the past couple years is that the best computer for work is the one you have with you. Despite the iPad Pro being more portable than most Macs, it still pales in portability compared to the iPhone. Because my iPad doesn't travel with me everywhere, I need to be able to do anything on my iPhone that I can on my iPad.
Between my two current jobs, much of my work can be done while on the go – whether I'm waiting for an oil change to be completed, standing in a seemingly endless DMV line, or any similar scenario. In these short intervals of life, there are moments work can be done – which is where my iPhone comes in, because it's with me wherever I go.
If and when a pressing work issue comes up, in many cases it can't just be ignored until I get back to my desk; my iPhone needs to be capable of handling the task. Even if the issue isn't time-sensitive, getting things done while I'm out makes the load lighter when I do get back to my desk.
I've grown extremely proficient in using my iPhone to get things done, and there are six key things I've identified that make that possible.
The conventional wisdom is that two teams competed inside Apple to build the original iPhone. One team's design was based on the iPod, and the other's was based on the Mac OS X. Those stories resurfaced with the tenth anniversary of the iPhone’s unveiling and a video showing what appears to be a prototype click wheel-based iPhone interface.
Tony Fadell, who was a key player in the development of the iPod and iPhone, spoke to Nilay Patel of The Verge to dispell the accepted belief that separate teams competed to design the iPhone:
So there were two different types of prototypes. There's one, a prototype for the UI team, and typically, because UI teams are using Director — back in the day — and quickly mocking things up on a screen. One team is doing it like it's an iPod, and another team is doing it like it was a touchscreen. The teams were working together. So it wasn't like there were two different people trying different things. And then there was the development board prototypes where we’d rewrite the UI on the hardware to try things like touchscreen and hardware buttons. So there were two tracks in hardware and software UI development running at all times. And so the thing that you're seeing [in that video] was just what the UI guys were doing, devoid of any hardware, doing it on a Mac.
According to Fadell, what is seen in the video is a Mac app that was later ported to an iPhone.
Before an iPhone was lost in a bar in San Francisco, there was Tony Fadell's moment of panic:
He'd just got off a plane, felt his pockets, and... nothing.
"I was walking through every scenario thinking about what could happen," he told me. None of them ended well.
After two hours, relief - thanks to the efforts of a search party that didn’t know what it was trying to find.
"It fell out of my pocket and it was lodged in between the seats!"
Fadell, who was a key player in the development of the iPod, was part of the team that developed the original iPhone. In an interview with the BBC, Fadell argues that the fact that Apple started development from the perspective of the iPod that was important to the iPhone's success because:
While competitors like Microsoft were trying to shrink the PC into a phone, Apple was looking to grow the iPod into something more sophisticated.
At the same time, focusing on the iPod's click wheel had its downsides too:
"We were turning it into a rotary phone from the sixties," Fadell remembered. "We were like, 'This doesn’t work! It's too hard to use'."
Fortunately, another group within Apple was working on a ping-pong table-sized touchscreen that they were able to shrink down to a size that could be used for the iPhone.
The BBC's interview with Fadell is full of interesting anecdotes about the years leading to the announcement of the iPhone and is required reading for iPhone history buffs.
Not only was it truly mind-blowing at the time, but in retrospect, so much of modern computing was invented for that first iPhone phone and revealed to the world for the first time in that hour. Just watch the software demos: most modern UI mechanics and behaviors, large and small, began that day.
When it shipped six months later, it was possibly the best 1.0 in tech history, followed by a decade of relentless hardware and software improvements with the highest success rate and fastest advancement of any product line I’ve ever seen.
Regardless of modern UI design trends, we're still living in the era defined by the first iPhone.
Steven Levy, writing for Backchannel, interviewed Apple's Phil Schiller for the tenth anniversary of the iPhone's introduction:
“If it weren’t for iPod, I don’t know that there would ever be iPhone.” he says. “It introduced Apple to customers that were not typical Apple customers, so iPod went from being an accessory to Mac to becoming its own cultural momentum. During that time, Apple changed. Our marketing changed. We had silhouette ads with dancers and an iconic product with white headphones. We asked, “Well, if Apple can do this one thing different than all of its previous products, what else can Apple do?’”
In the story, Schiller also makes an interesting point about Siri and conversational interfaces after being asked about Alexa and competing voice assistants:
“That’s really important,” Schiller says, “and I’m so glad the team years ago set out to create Siri — I think we do more with that conversational interface that anyone else. Personally, I still think the best intelligent assistant is the one that’s with you all the time. Having my iPhone with me as the thing I speak to is better than something stuck in my kitchen or on a wall somewhere.”
“People are forgetting the value and importance of the display,” he says “Some of the greatest innovations on iPhone over the last ten years have been in display. Displays are not going to go away. We still like to take pictures and we need to look at them, and a disembodied voice is not going to show me what the picture is.”
Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone to the world 10 years ago was captivating:
today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products…. The first one: is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second: is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.
So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe just how cobbled together and buggy that demo iPhone was:
Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality. Some had noticeable gaps between the screen and the plastic edge; others had scuff marks on the screen. And the software that ran the phone was full of bugs.
Despite the unfinished state of the iPhone, the onstage demonstrations at Macworld Expo went smoothly. Jobs told the cheering crowd that the iPhone would be available in six months’ time in 4 and 8 GB models for $499 and $599 on a sole US carrier, Cingular. Jobs also revealed something that would have a much bigger impact on the iPhone’s long-term success: its operating system was built on a foundation of Mac OS X.
David Barboza of The New York Times has an in-depth look at Zhengzhou, a Chinese city of six million residents with a Foxconn factory that can build 500,000 iPhones a day. Apple’s presence in Zhengzhou is so large that it's called ‘iPhone City.’
The scale of Foxconn’s factory is immense:
[Workers] file steadily into dozens of factory sites, spread out across 2.2 square miles. At the peak, some 350,000 workers assemble, test and package iPhones — up to 350 a minute.
Based on extensive research that included over 100 interviews and the review of confidential Chinese government records regarding incentives received by Foxconn, The New York Times breaks down iPhone City’s stakeholders concluding that:
As China and the United States both brandish a new form of economic nationalism, they risk disrupting the system, without necessarily achieving their goals.
iPhone City is a complex system that developed over several years and involves economic incentives provided to Foxconn by local and national Chinese governments, intricate tax strategies that lower Apple’s costs, and a state recruited and trained labor force. We’ve had peeks at the enormity of Foxconn’s iPhone factory in the past, but Barboza goes further, with an excellent explanation of how interconnected each piece is.
Great-looking addition to the HiRise family by Twelve South: the HiRise Duet is an integrated iPhone charging stand and Apple Watch charging dock that combines a Lightning connector with a magnetic charging disc. The Apple Watch can recharge at night while in Nighstand mode (so you can easily hit the snooze button in the morning) while the iPhone stands upright. Because it's made of metal and weighs one pound, the HiRise Duet won't slide across surfaces (either because you're moving the cable or plugging in your devices). I like the Apple-inspired curved base, too.
The HiRise Duet is $119 with free shipping in the US. If I hadn't already bought a Belkin Valet Charge Dock last year (which doesn't support Nighstand mode), I'd get this one today.
Just in time for the new iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2, Studio Neat has introduced two handsome docks that integrate with charging cables that you supply. Called the Material Dock, one dock has a rounded rectangular base and charges the iPhone. The other model is circular and can charge an iPhone and an Apple Watch.
The Material Dock is made from natural, recyclable materials. The base of each dock is cut from a block of walnut features a soft matte finish. The iPhone and Apple Watch are supported by pieces of cork while charging. Small adjustments to the cork support allow the Material Dock to be used with or without a case on your iPhone, which is a nice touch that not all docks have. The bottom of the dock has non-slip strips of micro-suction material to keep it secure on a nightstand, desk, or other flat surface.
On the iPhone/Apple Watch model, the Apple Watch sits in front of the iPhone, which blocks the Home button. This probably wouldn't be an issue in under most scenarios that I would use the Material Dock, but if you expect you might want to use your iPhone while it and the Apple Watch are docked, it's worth keeping in mind.
I haven't tried the Material Dock, but I have used many of Studio Neat's other products in the past and all have been well-built from high-quality materials. If you want to tame your cables and charge in style, the Material Dock looks like a good choice.
The Material Dock is available on Studio Neat's website. The iPhone-only version is $45 and the iPhone/Apple Watch version is $70.