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The Apple team behind the original iPhone recalls its stressful, terrifying development

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Original iPhone 1020
Original iPhone 1020

One day before the anniversary of Steve Jobs' death, The New York Times Magazine has published a captivating recollection of the terrifyingly stressful two-year development of the first iPhone. The piece is an excerpt from journalist Fred Vogelstein's upcoming book, Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution, and it includes insight from Andy Grignon, the senior engineer in charge of the radios in the original iPhone, among other former Apple employees. Grignon told Vogelstein that he was so impacted by his work on the iPhone that he gained 50 pounds and was left emotionally exhausted. "It was very dramatic," Grignon said. "It had been drilled into everyone’s head that this was the next big thing to come out of Apple. So you put all these supersmart people with huge egos into very tight, confined quarters, with that kind of pressure, and crazy stuff starts to happen."

"It was very dramatic."

On the day of the announcement at San Francisco's Moscone Center, Grignon and his colleagues took shots from a flask they had smuggled into the auditorium, hoping their still-buggy software and hardware held strong as Jobs worked through a long, exhaustive demo. The cellular radio, which was still prone to crashing, had been hard-coded to show five bars — full strength — throughout the presentation.

The article reveals that Apple had considered buying Motorola in 2003 — shortly before the two companies collaborated on their ill-fated ROKR phone — but that company executives ultimately concluded that it was "too big" of an acquisition at the time (a laughable notion by 2013 standards, where Apple clocks in over $30 billion in revenue each quarter). Vogelstein also details the prototypes that led up to the production iPhone; legend has it that the project began after Jobs asked for a device that would allow him to read email in the bathroom. An early device resembled an iPod that used its circular clicker to dial, while a later model was crafted entirely of aluminum — a major problem for wireless signals — before engineers and designers settled on the plastic-capped metal model that debuted in 2007. One executive estimates that the effort cost about $150 million in total.

The story also features interviews with former Apple executives Tony Fadell (who went on to start Nest) and Scott Forstall, famously ousted in the wake of iOS 6. It's a must-read for those interested in the history behind the device that redefined the smartphone, and a telling look into the way Steve Jobs ran Apple after his return in the late 1990s.

Chris Ziegler contributed to this report.