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Apple’s secrets: How Apple’s legal fight with Samsung revealed a gold mine of top-secret information

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 9:09PM EST
Apple Secrets

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Following a contentious patent battle that raged on for nearly five years, Samsung last week finally agreed to pay Apple $548 million in damages for infringing upon a number of iPhone and iPad patents. While Samsung may still be holding out hope that it may someday recover those millions, it seems that we can finally start closing the book on the most widely publicized patent dispute in recent memory, one which saw Apple and Samsung battle it out in courtrooms across all corners of the globe.

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One of the more interesting aspects of Apple’s legal battle with Samsung is that it gave us an unprecedented look behind the veil of secrecy that typically shrouds all aspects of Apple’s product development and day-to-day operations. Over the course of discovery, innumerable court filings, and a fascinating trial, the inner workings of Apple were brought to the forefront for the first time in history. From photographs of iPhone prototypes to how Apple conducts market research, Apple’s legal battles with Samsung provided tech enthusiasts with a treasure trove of previously top-secret information.

With Samsung now agreeing to pony up for damages, we thought it’d be a good time to take a step back, reminisce, and take a look at some of the more interesting nuggets of information the hard-fought patent dispute brought to light.

Crazy iPhone Prototypes

Without question, one of the most intriguing items to emerge from Apple and Samsung’s trial were a number of iPhone prototypes that never ended up seeing the light of day. A brief selection of the more interesting designs can be seen below.

Here we have an iPhone prototype with 8 sides.

And a few more interesting and downright bizarre designs for good measure.

Thankfully, Apple never opted for this black and white design below.

Here, in one of the earliest known iPhone prototypes, notice how the OS uses circular dots as an indication of signal strength rather than vertical bars. Apple would eventually implement the five circular dots on a shipping iPhone once Jony Ive was granted full control over the look and feel of iOS. You can also tell that this was an extremely early iPhone prototype based on the icons being used, with many of them simply being copies of their OS X counterparts. As another point of interest, note that the home button has a ‘menu’ label on it.

We can be glad that Apple never fully pursued this prototype design.

And lastly, we have o bulky iPhone prototype that looks like it might have inspired the iPhone 4 design.

How the iPhone project started

In the build up to and throughout trial, Apple executives provided us with incredibly detailed information surrounding the early days of iPhone development. Some of the more interesting tidbits to emerge include the following.

Early beginnings and software

  • Control of the iPhone team was given to Scott Forstall, with Steve Jobs giving Forstall free rein to hire anyone from any division within the company to the team.
  • Jobs also told Forstall he couldn’t hire anyone from outside the company.
  • When pitching the project to prospective team members, Forstall couldn’t even tell them what they’d be working on. Rather, Forstall cryptically told them that if they opted to join, they would have to “work hard, give up nights, work weekends for years.” Not mincing words, Forstall also told prospective team members: “If you choose to accept this role, you will work harder than you ever have in your entire life.”
  • Initial development on the iPhone was referred to as “Project Purple” and took place in a separate building that Forstall likened to a dorm. “”People were there all the time. It smelled like pizza,” Forstall said.
  • Security was air-tight. The building where iPhone development was taking place was replete with video cameras and card readers. While testifying, Forstall said that some workers on the team “would have to show their badges five of six times” before being able to access key development areas.
  • The original iPhone team put up a “Fight Club” poster on the wall because, well, the first rule of Project Purple is that you don’t talk about Project Purple.
  • Forstall said that the amount of work that went into creating the original iOS interface was monumental, and that he himself “devoted years of my life to this.”
  • The double-tap to zoom feature was dreamt up after Forstall grew weary of constantly enacting pinch-to-zoom when reading text on a webpage.
  • Though likely larger now, the size of Apple’s iPhone team in 2012 was 2,000 strong.

Software aside, the trial also gave us an unprecedented look at the industrial design team tasked with housing Apple’s software in innovative and sleek hardware. While testifying at trial, long time Apple industrial designer Christopher Stringer relayed a number of interesting nuggets of information.

Hardware and industrial design

  • Apple’s industrial design group, at the time the iPhone was in development, consisted of 16 ”maniacal individuals who share one singular purpose – to “‘imagine products that don’t exist and guide them to life.'”
  • Apple’s industrial design group collaborates closely and often exchange sketches and ideas for current and upcoming products around a single table.
  • Feedback on suggested designs, Stringer explained, was often “brutally honest.”
  • The iterative process is extensive. In some instances, a single design element will result in 50 proposed mockups.
  • Apple’s industrial design group works closely with technical liaisons who provide the designers with extensive feedback regarding how various designs affect issues such as durability during drop-testing.

Some of the early iPad prototypes featured a kickstand

Though the Microsoft Surface actually features a kickstand, Apple, when coming up with some of its earliest iPad prototypes, also experimented with the idea of incorporating a kickstand the device.

Apple wanted the original iPhone to be curved

During trial, Stringer also revealed that the original idea for the first iPhone was to release a device featuring two curved pieces of glass. This idea was ultimately abandoned, however, because the technology needed to cut the glass to Apple’s specifications was too expensive at the time to do at scale.

Still, prototypes of a curved device were built and can be seen below.

Apple tossed around the idea of a car years ago

While on the stand, Apple executive Phil Schiller said that the company was open to anything when brainstorming product ideas to build on the success of the iPod.

“We were searching for what to do after iPod that would make sense,” Schiller said. “If we can make the iPod, what else can we do?” Some of the ideas tossed around included a dedicated camera, a car, and an assortment of other “crazy stuff.” Interestingly enough, former Apple executive Tony Fadell relayed just a few weeks ago that he and Jobs, back in 2008, once talked about what an Apple Car might look like.

How Apple keeps its iOS source code locked down

Ahead of Apple and Samsung’s 2012 trial, Apple’s Henri Lamiraux, a key VP of iOS engineering (he retired in 2013), submitted the following declaration to the court in an effort to keep portions of Apple’s iOS source code sealed.

Apple source code is provided the highest level of protection and security within Apple. Physical access to the iOS source code is limited to select groups of authorized Apple employees, with access being provided only to portions of cod on a need-to-know basis. Access is limited to employees directly involved in software development, management, and security. The employees with such access must be approved by management as authorized employees, their accounts must be specifically granted access.

Apple hated Samsung’s “The next big thing is already here” ad campaign

For a while, Samsung had a string of well-done ads lampooning the stereotypical Apple fan. In private emails that were made public at trial, Apple’s Phil Schiller hated that Apple had no adequate response for Samsung’s jabs, and event went so far as to suggest to Tim Cook that the company needed to hire a brand new ad agency.

In the wake of a Samsung ad that aired in 2013, Schiller sent the following email to one of his ad contacts at TBWACHIATDAY.

 It’s pretty good and I cant help but think ‘these guys are feeling it’ (like an athlete who can’t miss because they are in the zone) while we struggle to nail a compelling brief on iPhone…Something drastic has to change. Fast.

On that note, one of the more prominent anti-Apple Samsung ads can be seen below, and if you look closely, you can even see a brief cameo from the Silicon Valley character Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti.

Apple conducts market research on iPhone demand every month

Steve Jobs may have famously declared that Apple does no market research, but that’s not exactly the case. During the course of Apple and Samsung’s trial, Apple VP of iPhone and iOS Product Marketing Greg Joswiak said that Apple surveys users once a month across multiple countries.

“The surveys reveal,” Joswiak explained, “country-by-country, what is driving our customers to buy Apple’s iPhone products versus other products such as the Android products that Samsung sells, what features they most use, our customers’ demographics and their level of satisfaction with different aspects of iPhone.”

That being the case, Apple is aware of how iPhone preferences vary “in exacting detail” across individual countries.

Also interesting is that this market research is kept closely guarded and, more often than not, only circulates within a small group of Apple executives.

“No iPhone-related surveys or iPad-related surveys are allowed to be distributed to anyone outside this group without my personal express permission, which I regularly refuse,” Joswiak further added. “When I do approve further distribution, it is almost always on a survey question-by-survey question basis, and even then distribution is limited to individuals who have a demonstrated need to know.”

Steve Jobs viewed the iPhone vs. Android battle as a holy war

Perhaps not terribly surprising given Jobs famous threat to go thermonuclear on Google, an October 2010 email from Steve Jobs referenced 2011 as a “Holy War with Google.” Notably, this email was sent out about 6 months before Apple sued Samsung.

Apple’s product roadmap is well thought out in advance

Another portion from the same Steve Jobs email reveals that Apple, back in October of 2010, was already planning LTE support and talking about iPhone 5 hardware, nearly a full two years before it would actually launch. We also see Jobs reference releasing the iPad 2 to stay ahead of competitors.

Apple was kicking around the idea of a TV subscription in 2010

From the same Jobs email, we have this interesting tidbit.

Most iPhone buyers use cases

An Apple survey revealed that upwards of 78% of iPhone users buy cases for their devices.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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