All of that gear together made it possible to start experimenting with the software experiences, that I could write some code, run it on this desktop Mac, and and have it show on the handheld device as an external screen.

So it’s not like anyone could’ve easily walked out with one of those early prototypes then…

Ha, no, we didn’t have this problem. In later years, there was a bit of a joke that somebody pinned up near the exit at one of the engineering hallways: We’re in the engineering lockdown and somebody took this big sheet of paper and wrote: “Wallet? Keys? Prototype?”

For a long time I had these hardware prototypes that it would have been the end of my Apple career if I even talked about, never mind walked out of the lockdown area with them. But in these early stages, where you’ve got cabling everywhere, it would’ve been a bit conspicuous to have been some guy with a trench coat and some Quasimodo-like hump on your shoulder in order to make off with it.

But how tough was it, working on a team like that, where you couldn’t talk to anyone about it?

We couldn’t tell friends and family—you just couldn’t. But the thing is that, inside of the secret labs, the lockdown areas, everyone you saw in there was disclosed and so we had a wonderful working environment in there. There was a real sense of small-team cohesion; we felt like we were on a mission together. In there, it was a very open environment where we talked about all the problems that were on our plate at the time.

We even thought about funny little ways of talking about it even in the cafe. You’d say, ”Well, we’ve got a demo later today for ‘the thing,'” because even though we had a code word for the project (purple), you couldn’t say the code word outside of the lockdown area. It’s kind of funny—why did we have a code word if it kind of defeats the point? But the culture was what it was.

But inside the lockdown area, I always felt like if I had an idea and I wanted some feedback and wanted to get a response to it, there was always somebody you could go to their office and show them the latest demo. (Or in those early days call them into your office because you just couldn’t pick the thing up and move around with it so easily.)

Was there anyone you particularly enjoyed working with?

In some ways it’s unfair because there were so many wonderful people on the team, you know people like Bas Ording, who was one of the human interface designers. He’s the person that I worked with most closely on the software keyboard. He’s the one that designed the final look and feel of it, and he’s the one that decided the font sizes.

Bas and I together decided where we put the punctuation—there’s no room for it on that first keyboard—well, you type this little “period, question-mark, one, two, three” key and we decided that was going to be the characters on that key to let you know that there’s punctuation and numbers on this other key plane. We worked together on that the look and feel aspect of it and it was a real pleasure to work with him.

How did you decide what keys to include beyond the QWERTY keys? 

There was some analysis, but you know in some ways, the very first version of the iPhone was easy, in that it was only for sale in the United States. Very soon after that I started working on additional languages—French, German, and Japanese were early on the list of languages to add—and that’s where I came up with the notion of “press and hold” on a key to show the additional characters, like accented characters, or press and holding on the dollar sign to get the euro sign. The signs were tied to the markets that we were going to be releasing the phone in early on. But other than that, we used our taste.

Looking back after a decade to where the iPhone is now and versus what it was when you first started, is there anything you wish you’d known then?

One of the things that has become surprising to me is how much the phone has become this device that people look at so much throughout their day, even to the point where some people think it’s a problem. “I’m addicted to my phone” is not an idea that I personally ever considered. I think that it’s part of a cultural evolution that I think we need to maybe get better at figuring out the right social norms. I think we pretty much know now that if I were to take out my phone right now in the midst of our conversation and look at it, that would be inappropriate.

I think that if we had been able to see how that would go, maybe we would have been able to think of software features. We’re now beginning to see that with Screen Time on iOS and similar features on Android devices that are letting you know how much you’re using your device.

I think that knowledge will help people because, you know, my goal was to make the device useful and meaningful to people. I just didn’t see that the maybe there would be a flip side to that.

Do you still use an iPhone?

Of course. I do. I’ve got an iPhone X, I love it.

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