Skip to main content

Apple design chief: We nearly scrapped iPhone

Apple design chief Jonathan Ive chats with Kate Middleton at a business event in London on July 30.
Apple design chief Jonathan Ive chats with Kate Middleton at a business event in London on July 30.
  • Designer Sir Jonathan Ive said Apple almost gave up on iPhone "multiple times"
  • Over 200 million iPhones have been sold since 2007
  • There are an estimated 170 million iPhone users across the world
  • Ive said scrapping products during production stage is not uncommon

London (CNN) -- It is the device, arguably, that led the smartphone revolution.

But according to Apple's head of design, the iPhone was very nearly scrapped before it ever made it to the shelves.

In a speech this week at a business-themed event here, British-born designer Sir Jonathan Ive caused a stir when he said that Apple almost gave up on the iPhone "multiple times" before its launch in 2007.

Ive said problems with early models of the phone seemed so fundamental that even Apple's brightest minds struggled to solve them.

2007: First iPhone announcement
Siri 'crushes it' with comedy routine
iBusted You!

iPad's Smart Cover might get its own flexible display

"With the early prototypes, I held the phone to my ear and my ear would dial the number," he said. "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.'"

The designer, who once claimed the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was his "best friend," spoke at an Olympics-themed business event. Among the guests in attendance was Kate Middleton, the glamorous Duchess of Cambridge.

It seems almost inconceivable now that Apple might have given up on its massively popular iPhone before it was born. More than 200 million iPhones have been sold since Apple first launched the device five years ago, and there are an estimated 170 million iPhone users across the world.

But Ive said it was not uncommon for Apple to scrap "incredibly compelling" devices at the production stage if they were not considered game changing, or the design problems were considered deep-seated.

"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," he said. "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."

Far along in the development process, Steve Jobs famously ordered Ive's designers to change the look of the iPhone, scrapping its aluminum case for a stainless steel bezel that made the touchscreen display more prominent, according to Walter Isaacson's recent biography of the mercurial Apple CEO.

"You have that horrible, horrible feeling deep down in your tummy and you know that it's OK but it's not great," Ive said Monday. "And I think some of the bravest things we've ever done are really at that point when you say, 'That's good and it's competent, but it's not great.'"

Turn any surface into a touchscreen

Meanwhile, photos have emerged on the Web purporting to show parts of the next iPhone, informally dubbed iPhone 5, which is expected to launch in September. The new device is expected to have a bigger screen, a smaller charging dock and a case made from an alloy called LiquidMetal.

As usual, Apple has refused to confirm the rumored September 12 launch date or any details about the look or features of the new device.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.