Sir Jonathan Ive told a crowd at a British Business conference on Monday that Apple came very close to cancelling the iPhone in the years the device was being developed. He said that Apple frequently cancels very compelling products when they get to a point where solving a particular problem simply becomes too great.
Sir Jon, who doubles as Apple’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design when he’s not being a knight, made the comments during a presentation at the British Business conference. The event is being held in London alongside the 2012 Olympics to help promote British business and culture.
“We nearly shelved the phone because we thought there were fundamental problems that we can’t solve. With the early prototypes, I held the phone to my ear and my ear [would] dial the number,” he said, according to UK newspaper The Telegraph. “You have to detect all sorts of ear-shapes and chin shapes, skin color and hairdo. […] That was one of just many examples where we really thought, perhaps this isn’t going to work.”
He said that it simply wasn’t uncommon for a product in development to get the axe when Apple’s designers and engineers start to feel that they are, “pursuing something that we think ‘that’s really incredibly compelling’, but we’re really struggling to solve the problem that it represents.”
He added, “We have been, on a number of occasions, preparing for mass production and in a room and realized we are talking a little too loud about the virtues of something. That to me is always the danger, if I’m trying to talk a little too loud about something and realizing I’m trying to convince myself that something’s good.”
It’s About Design, Stupid
The comments were made at the same presentation covered earlier in the week where Sir Jon said that Apple was focused on making great products, not money. This is a theme touched on again and again by Sir Jon, current Apple CEO Tim Cook, and the late Steve Jobs.
Apple’s stated model is that if a company makes great products and executes them well, the profits will follow. Apple has turned that philosophy into a $120 billion per year business (and growing), and Apple is today the most valuable corporation on the planet.
The Telegraph’s article focused more on the comments about the iPhone, a notion which boggles the mind when looking back on the success of the device since it was released in 2007. The reality, of course, is that Apple was able to solve the technological hurdles it encountered, which is why it didn’t get canned.