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Steve Jobs wanted the original iPhone to have a permanent ‘back button’ like Android

Published Jun 19th, 2017 12:49PM EDT
iPhone History

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Brian Merchant’s new book, The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhoneprovides a captivating and intriguing look at how the most revolutionary product of our time was designed and developed. Through a series of interviews with Apple engineers and designers who played an integral role in the iPhone’s creation and development, including Tony Fadell, Bas Ording and Greg Christie, Merchant maps out how the iPhone came to be after more than two years of non-stop work at breakneck speed.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the original iPhone is that the design Apple went with — from both a hardware and software perspective — effectively became the blueprint upon which every subsequent smartphone was based. Whether you’re an iPhone fan or partial to Android — or even if you’re a nostalgic fan of the Palm Pre — there’s no denying the long-lasting impact Apple’s first iPhone design had on the entire smartphone industry. Indeed, practically every smartphone on the market today features a rectangular design, a multi-touch display, and apps arranged as a grid of icons.

Interestingly enough, the iPhone design Apple unveiled in January of 2007 might have looked vastly different if Steve Jobs had his way. According to Imran Chaudhri, a veteran Apple designer who spent 19 years working on Apple’s elite Human Interface Team, Steve Jobs wanted the original iPhone to have a back button in addition to a home button. Believe it or not, the original iPhone could have very well looked like a modern-day Android device.

The touch-based phone, which was originally supposed to be nothing but screen, was going to need at least one button. We all know it well today – the Home button. But Steve Jobs wanted it to have two; he felt they’d need a back button for navigation. Chaudhri argued that it was all about generating trust and predictability. One button that does the same thing every time you press it: it shows you your stuff.

“Again, that came down to a trust issue,” Chaudhri says, “that people could trust the device to do what they wanted it to do. Part of the problem with other phones was the features were buried in menus, they were too complex.” A back button could complicate matters too, he told Jobs.

“I won that argument,” Chaudhri says.”

Indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of Merchant’s book is that it details how the iPhone’s development was truly a team effort and not the sole result of Steve Jobs’ genius. If anything, the book includes a number of examples of Steve Jobs having to be talked into ideas that he was subsequently given credit for coming up with himself.

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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