The One Device: Story of the First iPhone

Steve Jobs presents the iPhone | 9 January 2007 | Courtesy of Blake Patterson
Steve Jobs presents the iPhone | 9 January 2007 | Courtesy of Blake Patterson

We use smartphones in our daily life to make calls, chat with friends, take photos and many more things which would be impossible to do on a cellphone twenty years ago. In the current cellphone market, we can find a variety of cellphone brands. One of these cellphone brands is Apple, with its famous iPhone. The iPhone is the most famous cellphone in the United States, having more than 101.9 million users, and it is also one of the most popular cellphones all around the world.1 However, did you know the story behind this product that you use every day? This story begins with Apple and the launch of the first iPod. This device allowed you to have a large number of songs in your pocket, something that was impossible to think about in 2001.

By November 2005, Apple sold 30 million iPods; however, Steve Jobs, the mastermind of this story, was worried about the idea that new cellphones could replace the iPod.2 According to Jobs, “Everybody carries a phone, so that could render the iPod unnecessary.”3 After he saw the cellphone market in 2005 and realized that the cellphones were not as good as he expected, he had the grand idea of launching a new cellphone with the power of a computer. As Jobs said in an interview with Betsy Morris when he was vacationing with his family in February of 2008,

We all had cellphones. They were so awful to use. The software was terrible. The hardware wasn’t very good. We talked to our friends, and they all hated their cellphones too. And we saw that these things really could become much more powerful. It’s a huge market. I mean, a billion phones get shipped every year, and that’s almost an order of magnitude greater than the number of music players. It’s four times the number of PCs that ship every year.

It was a great challenge: Let’s make a great phone that we fall in love with. Nobody had ever thought about putting operating systems as sophisticated as OS X inside a phone, so that was a real question. We had a big debate inside the company whether we could do that or not. And that was one where I had to adjudicate it and just say, “We’re going to do it. Let’s try.” The smartest software guys were saying they can do it, so let’s give them a shot. And they did.4

In order to commence the building of this device, Jobs talked with the CEO of Motorola, Ed Zander. He wanted to partner with Motorola because of its famous device called RAZR. This cellphone had a camera on it that was one of the things that drew the attention of Steve Jobs. Motorola did not have the same expectation that Jobs had about launching a mobile phone with the power of a computer; as a result, Jobs decided to design the cellphone only with Apple employees.5

Jobs wanted to do the design of the iPhone like what he did in his masterpiece — the iPod. He had the idea of using a trackwheel to navigate through the different functions of the cellphone. However, this idea was problematic because the cellphone did not have a natural fit in the hands.  At the time that Apple was designing the iPhone, they were also developing the iPad. This device would have a screen where you can do multi-finger gestures, something that would make possible the use of the screen as a keyboard. This idea came from Jony Ive, a British industrial and Chief Design Officer of Apple. Ive showed the idea to Jobs in a private presentation. Because Jobs loved this idea, he decided to use the multitouch screen on the iPad and on the iPhone. He said that this idea would set the iPhone a world apart from its competition.6  But, there was a company that was already doing a multi-touch screen called Finger Works.


Wayne Westerman was a doctoral student at the University of Delaware. He had repetitive strain injuries that are the damage and pain caused by repetitive movement and overuse. This problem that he had did not let him type much more than a word in a keyboard. For this reason, and also because he was interested in technological advances, he decided to create a device that would help him use a computer without having to press keyboard buttons. In order to get help to create this device, he went to his favorite professor, John Elias. With his help, they created Multitouch products that would help people with disabilities to use a keyboard. After creating the FingerWorks company in Elias’ department, they started to sell these products. The second product that they launched, a full-size keyboard replacement made up of two touchpads called TouchStream Mini, was on the cover of The New York Times. 7 This helped the company gain popularity among technological companies. Another popular product that they launched was the iGesture Pod. This touchpad had the conventional mouse functions like point, drag, and click; however, when you apply multiple fingers, you can activate features like scrolling, zooming, finding, back and forward in Web pages, file operations, game mode and more.8 The iGesture Pod won the best innovation award at CES, which is the tech industry’s major annual trade show.9 The goal that Wayne Westerman had with this company was helping people with the same problem that he had at the moment of typing in a keyboard.


Apple needed this touchscreen technology for their products, and so they acquired Fingerworks and its patents. The next challenge Jobs needed to solve was choosing the material for the iPhone. In the creation of the iMac and the iPod Nano, Jobs used aluminum. This material could not be manufactured in the quantities that Jobs needed in order to make the devices despite the fact that he had a factory built in China to manufacture it. For the iPhone, Jobs wanted to use a different material–a material that looks more elegant than the aluminum. Then, he decided to use glass. “After we did metal, I looked at Jony and said that we had to master glass,” said Jobs.10 This idea of using glass in Apple devices also comes from the Apple Stores. Jobs had the Apple Stores designed with huge windowpanes and glass stairs, because, with glass, costumers could see their products from the outside of the store. We can see this in the design of the Apple Fifth Avenue Store located in New York.

Apple Store Fifth Avenue | 30 December 2010 | Courtesy of Jorge Láscar

The glass for the Apple Stores was made in Asia. However, a friend of Steve Jobs called John Seeley Brown, who was on the board of Corning Glass, and told him that he should talk with Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning Glass. When Jobs called to the office of Weeks, he got an assistant, who offered to pass along the message. “No, I’m Steve Jobs. Put me through,” he said. However, the assistant refused. When Weeks heard about this, he called the main Apple switchboard and asked to speak with Jobs, but something similar happened to him. He was told to put his request in writing and send it by fax. When Jobs was told what happened, he took a liking to Weeks and invited him to Cupertino.11

After talking about what type of glass Jobs wanted for the iPhone, Weeks introduced Jobs to “gorilla glass.” This was an incredibly strong glass that Corning created; however, it didn’t have a market until Jobs decided to use it on the iPhone. Jobs said to Weeks that he wanted as much gorilla glass as they could make within six months. Because the gorilla glass didn’t have a market, none of the Corning’s plants made the glass at this point. With his great ability to convince people, Jobs convinced Weeks to have the gorilla glass within six months saying “Get your mind around it. You can do it.”12


Corning has been in business since 1851. One of the company’s earliest innovations was the bulb-shaped glass encasement for Thomas Edison’s incandescent lamp. As electric lights became commercially available, Corning figured out how to produce the bulbs in mass, bringing electric light to the world. This is why Corning is one of the oldest glass companies in the United States.13 In 1962, they created Chemcor Glass, which was 15 times stronger than regular glass. It could work for products like phone booths, prison windows, and eyeglasses. Some companies did place small orders for products like safety eyeglasses. But these were recalled for fear of the potentially explosive way the glass could break. Chemcor also seemed like it would make a good car windshield too; however, it didn’t work. In the end, all they had was an expensive glass that nobody wanted.14

After created this unwanted glass, Corning created the famous gorilla glass, which is one of the strongest glass products in the world. This creation gave the company a new opportunity to do business. After Apple bought this glass, Corning started to manufacture more glass for other cellphone companies as well. The company has served over 6 billion devices worldwide since its debut in 2007. John Bayne, Vice President of the company, mentioned that glass is more important than ever. It’s not only on the front of the device, but it’s also now on the back of the device. It can be used as a design element on the back, and it enables wireless charging and higher data rates like 5G. He said that glass is 100 percent the future of the smartphone industry.15


When Steve Jobs was working in Pixar Animation Studio, he participated in the making of the first animated movie Toy Story. In the creation of the movie, Jobs always paused the work in order to see every detail of the project. This was something that helped a lot to make this movie a success. The same happened with the design of the iPhone. The first design of the iPhone had the glass screen set into an aluminum case; however, Jobs didn’t like this design. According to what Walter Isaacson wrote in his book about Steve Jobs, Jobs couldn’t sleep because he didn’t love the design. He said that the iPhone should have been all about the display, but with the first design, the case competed with the display instead of getting out of the way. He also said that this first design was too masculine because it was not delicate enough like he wanted.16

iPhone first generation | 1 July 2009 | Photo by Carl Berkeley

After Jobs critiqued the first design, the team in charge of the design went to work. Despite the fact that the team worked on the first design for nine months, they agreed with Jobs about the need for a change. The new design they did was much simpler and delicate than the first one. It was a small object, shaped like a block of bar soap and with a weight of 135 grams. Besides the glass screen, the phone’s chassis was mostly made in aluminum and “embraced” the display to protect it from accidental side impacts. However, this new design had some problems with the internal circuit boards, antenna, and processor. For that reason, the team had to restart all the inside designs from zero in order to make the cellphone work. Something remarkable about the design is that the only evident physical input device was a frontal large round menu button. There were other four buttons on the phone’s sides to regulate volume, control phone calls, mute the phone ringing, and other functions.17

The design of the iPhone reflects Jobs’s perfectionism but also the desire for control. The case of the iPhone could not be opened to change the battery or to make any change in the inside of the device. The only way to do this was going to an Apple store, something that also was a good marketing strategy to used the Apple Technical Support. Jobs also made the case impenetrable in order to make the iPhone as thin as possible. He always believed that thin is beautiful. We can see this trend to have the thinnest devices in his other works like in the MacBook and on the iPad. Now, most of the technology companies have the same trend to make thin products.18


>In 2007, the year when the iPhone was launched, over one billion mobile phones were sold worldwide for the first time. Before the launch of the iPhone, Nokia was one of the potential sellers with 435 million handsets. This company was founded in southern Finland as a pulp mill company in 1865. Over the decades it expanded into then-emerging industries such as electrical power generation and manufacturing telephones. Around 1960, Nokia was a conglomerate selling everything from toilet paper to car tires. But by 1980, it had spun-off almost everything except its telecommunications businesses.19 Throughout 2007, Nokia controlled 37.8% of the global market share. Nokia was followed by Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and LG. Every company except Motorola increased its market share that year.20 Despite the big popularity of this company, it had a big fall after the launched of the iPhone.


Apple had been working on the iPhone for over two years. They called this Purple Experience Project in order to keep it secret for those two years.21 Because the company had taken a lot of time and effort to create this cellphone, it had to have an incredible launch. Jobs decided, the same as their previous devices, to grant a magazine a special sneak preview. For that reason, he contacted John Huey, the editor chief of TIME Inc., and told him about his idea for the preview. However, the novelist that wrote about the iPhone, Lev Grossman, noted that the iPhone did not really invent many new features, it just made these features a lot more usable. This made Jobs upset; however, he was still excited about the launch of the iPhone because he said that it was the best thing that Apple has ever done.22

First public showing of the iPhone | 9 January 2007 | Photo by Arnold Reinhold

The moment when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world was at Macworld in San Francisco. The Macworld was a show where Jobs presented the devices that Apple had. A lot of people were invited to make it as popular as possible, something Apple still does. They invite people who have influence in social media to make their product famous. For the January 2007 Macworld, Steve Jobs personally invited Andy Hertzfeld, a computer scientist, and inventor who was a member of the original Apple Macintosh development team during the 1980s, Bill Atkinson, a computer engineer and photographer who worked at Apple Computer from 1978 to 1990, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Inc and a best friend of his, and the 1984 Macintosh team.23

Starting at 9:00 am on the 9th of January, Macworld started with Apple’s standard tracks playing: Gnarls Barkley, Coldplay, Gorillaz. Then, Steve Jobs came to the scene saying “We’re going to make some history together today.” At this event, Jobs started introducing some new Apple products. Then, he introduced the iPhone. He said,

Well today, we’re introducing THREE revolutionary new products. The first one is a widescreen ipod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary new mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator…. these are NOT three separate devices! And we are calling it iPhone!24

The iPhone went on sale five months later, at the end of June 2007. Around the United States, news outlets reported snaking lines of customers waiting to pay $500 or $600 a pop for a new iPhone. “We’ve been in line for days,” said Melanie Rivera to CNN Money, a customer outside Apple’s SoHo store in New York City. “It’s very uncomfortable out here in these chairs. But people are very social. We’ve made it through the rain, so we feel like we’re getting closer to the phone.”25 To build anticipation, Apple limited each customer to just two devices. AT&T, meanwhile, said it would sell just one handset per person.26

At the end of 2010, Apple sold ninety million iPhones, and it reaped more than half of the total profits generated in the global cell phone market. Nowadays, and original first-generation iPhone could cost anything from $3,500 to $20,000 on eBay. This means that the 2007 iPhone will cost you 15 times more than the actual iPhone X.27 Steve Jobs was great at making decisions and working with his team in order to create the first iPhone. With his team he created the iPhone, one of the most significant inventions of this modern age. This device represents the perfectionist and the hard-working person that he was.

Mac addicts line up at an AT&T store on Broadway for iPhone debut | 9 June 2007 | Photo by Padraic Ryan
  1. Arne Holst, “Number of iPhone users in the United States from 2012 to 2021,” September 13, 2019, Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/232790/forecast-of-apple-users-in-the-us/.
  2. Sam Costello, “This Is the Number of iPods Sold All-Time,” May 6, 2019, Lifewire, https://www.lifewire.com/number-of-ipods-sold-all-time-1999515.
  3. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 465.
  4. Betsy Morris, “What Makes Apple Golden,” Fortune, March 17, 2008, https://fortune.com/2008/03/17/what-makes-apple-golden/.
  5. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 466.
  6. Brian Merchant, The one device: The Secret History of The iPhone (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017), 76.
  7. Brian Merchant, The one device: The Secret History of The iPhone (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017), 86.
  8. Peter Cohen, “iGesture Pad Debuts, Gesture-Based Touchpad,” MACworld, February 18, 2003, macworld.com/article/1009218/igesture.html.
  9. Brian Merchant, The one device: The Secret History of The iPhone (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017), 87.
  10. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 471.
  11. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 472.
  12. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 472.
  13. Erin Black, “From Glass Maker to Tech Company — How Corning Reinvented Itself With the Changing Times,” CNBC, April 25, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/24/corning-the-168-year-journey-from-pyrex-to-gorilla-glass.html.
  14. Bryan Gardiner, “Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future,” Wired, September 24, 2012, https://www.wired.com/2012/09/ff-corning-gorilla-glass/.
  15. Magdalena Petrova, “Corning Has a New Glass for Smartphones That’s Less Likely to Break — Here’s How It’s Made,” CNBC, July 18, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/18/corning-gorilla-glass-6-release.html.
  16. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 473.
  17. Riccardo Bianchini, “Apple iPhone’s Design – From The 1st Generation to iPhone X,” Inexhibit, October 30, 2019, https://www.inexhibit.com/case-studies/apple-iphone-history-of-a-design-revolution/.
  18. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 473.
  19. Klint Finley, “Hey, Nokia Isn’t Just a Company That Used to Make Phones,” Wired, April 27, 2016, https://www.wired.com/2016/04/hey-nokia-isnt-just-company-used-make-phones/.
  20. “Over a Billion Mobile Phones Sold in 2007,” Techcrunch, February 27, 2018, https://techcrunch.com/2008/02/27/over-a-billion-mobile-phones-sold-in-2007/.
  21. Rene Ritchie, “The Secret History of iPhone,” iMore, January 22, 2019, https://www.imore.com/history-iphone-original.
  22. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 473.
  23. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 474.
  24. Ryan Block, “Live from Macworld 2007: Steve Jobs Keynote,” Engadget, January 9, 2007, https://www.engadget.com/2007/01/09/live-from-macworld-2007-steve-jobs-keynote/.
  25. Rob Kelley, “iPhone Mania Hits Flagship Stores,” CNN Money, June 29, 2007, https://money.cnn.com/2007/06/29/technology/iphone/?postversion=2007062915.
  26. Luke Dormehl, “Today in Apple History: Fans Line Up to Get Their Hands on The Very First iPhones,” Cult of Mac, June 29, 2019, https://www.cultofmac.com/489390/today-apple-history-iphone-launch-day/.
  27. Quentin Fottrell, “The 2007 iPhone Will Cost You 15 Times More Than the iPhone X,” MarketWatch, November 5, 2017, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-years-later-some-people-are-still-holding-onto-their-original-iphones-2017-01-09.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I was actually glad to read about this because I got some background information how Iphones started and how much money has been made of this device. Also it was cool to know that Ipods were the first thing to come out for apple and he actually i didn’t want to replace them. Also its crazy how he didnt like his first “masculine” product, when he should have because he had developed something amazing.

  2. Avatar

    This is a great article, it is incredible all the advances that technology has achieved in the las two decades, I did not know much about the evolution of the iPhone, but now that I read your article I think it is very amazing how the Apple company went from an iPod that its only function was to reproduce songs to the smartphone that it is today, which basically have the same functions as computer in an easier and more accessible way.

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