At a fireside chat Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at the Computer History Museum, former Apple executive Scott Forstall told some compelling stories. He was there to discuss how the iPhone came to be. His charismatic conversation began with the early days of his career in school and at Next. The natural progression to his assignment to work on the first iPhone was both informative and amusing. What really struck me about his commentary, though, had little to do with the design process. Instead, the ways he explained that the iPhone and iPad saved and changed lives made the most impact.
During Mr. Forstall’s discussion with journalist and Museum Historian John Markoff, he described the friendship that built between him and Steve Jobs during their time at Next and, later, Apple. With obviously fond memories, Mr. Forstall talked about Steve paying for his lunch day after day in the Apple cafeteria.
After explaining how Apple’s cafeteria would charge meals against employee paychecks, Mr. Forstall mentioned his embarrassment at having his lunch paid for by the CEO. Mr. Jobs simply smiled and said that the CEO was only being paid a dollar per year, and had no idea who was actually paying for the meals.
Early in Its Development, the iPhone Saved its First Life
More importantly, though, Mr. Forstall described how Steve Jobs saved his life during the early days of iPhone development. Mr. Forstall contracted an extremely rare virus that most adults could easily defeat, but his body could not fight it off. Bitter nausea and vomiting ensued for a couple of weeks, and he lost more than 30 pounds.
Finally, Mr. Forstall was admitted to the hospital, where doctors struggled without success for several months to find a cure or remedy for the virus. This particular virus was lethal in most cases where the adult body could not fight it off, so the prognosis was grim. Meanwhile, Mr. Jobs had been persistent in keeping up with the illness, visiting often and calling daily.
Ultimately, Steve Jobs lost faith in traditional medicine and decided to take matters into his own hands. In the middle of the night, the Apple CEO snuck the best acupuncturist he could find into Mr. Forstall’s hospital room. After several hours of treatment, Mr. Forstall was no longer nauseated and had not thrown up during the majority of the night. Mr. Jobs and the acupuncturist left at sunrise, returning later in the day for another session.
The acupuncture treatment worked, and Scott Forstall didn’t throw up again. Soon, doctors discharged him from the hospital. In record time, the Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC line) that had been inserted into Mr. Forstall’s body to feed him was removed, and he made a complete recovery.
Scott Forstall, clearly, isn’t the only person to have benefited from the care and love that went into developing the early iPhone and, later, iPad. After the release of the first iPad, Mr. Forstall recounted receiving many emails about the devices and how the iPhone and iPad saved and changed lives from their first releases. Two of those emails really stood out to him, he said at the Computer History Museum.
The first email was from the father of a two-year-old. The father purchased an iPad, loaded it up with several apps, and then put it in the hands of his child. Unable to read, the two-year-old was almost immediately able to unlock the device. The simple demonstration of the process depicted on the screen told the child everything she needed to know. After that, she quickly scrolled through the pages of the Home Screen until she located a game. With ease, the two-year-old was able to play that game, changing her life with the device’s simplicity and power.
From the Mouths of Babes to the Hands of the Aged
In another, even more poignant email, Mr. Forstall learned of a woman in her hundredth year of life who had been a voracious reader in her earlier years. She also loved writing limericks, which she typed on a typewriter. As the years took their toll on the woman’s body, however, she lost the ability to do both. Cataracts clouded her vision so that she could no longer read, and arthritis crippled her fingers and prevented her from typing on her typewriter.
Her family bought her the original iPad, loading it up with books and software, including writing apps. For the first time in many years, the elderly woman reconnected with reading and writing. The ability to make the text of her books as bright and large as possible enabled her to see through the cataracts. The virtual keyboard required but the softest of touches, which she could manage even with her arthritis. The woman composed the email to Scott herself, includng within it a limerick she wrote just for him.
The fireside chat at the Computer History Museum lasted for more than two hours. Apple veterans, core members of the team that designed the first iPhone, spoke first. These were Hugo Fiennes, Nitin Ganatra, and Scott Herz. The trio expanded on many of the rumors about the first days and weeks of the iPhone design process. So did Scott Forstall.
Those stories weren’t, to me, the most important of the evening. They were the three stories of how the iPhone and iPad saved and changed lives, even from the very beginning.