‘One Device’ is missing features
‘History of the iPhone’ has plenty of material but is not the whole story
In the past 10 years, the Apple iPhone has changed our lives in more ways than we can imagine.
Remember when we went to restaurants and walked down the street without staring at our smartphones? How we checked our e-mail once or twice a day instead of every minute and had a work-free weekend without touching base with coworkers and bosses?
Thank the iPhone for the always-on culture, for building the app economy that brought ride-hailing cab alternatives, visual dating tools and the constant sharing of upload-from-anywhere travel photos.
With the 10th anniversary of the iPhone marked just last month, there’s a great book in this, and not just the birth of the iPhone, but how it has evolved in the past decade.
The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone (Little, Brown, 380 pp., eegE out of four) by Brian Merchant, an editor at Motherboard, isn’t it, unfortunately.
In a nutshell, Merchant’s book dwells on Apple’s penchant for secrecy (old news — don’t we all know this?) and expands beyond the basic story of the device’s birth with long passages on the history of the touch screen, gyroscopes and other features.
The iPhone wasn’t just Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ idea. Credit goes to an overworked and underappreciated team of engineers who did the grunt work and came up with many of the features. When Merchant focuses on the basic history, he’s in good territory. It’s a great story — with Jobs changing his mind on several key details at the last minute, and the iPhone not being finished and looking as if it wouldn’t make the planned reveal at the Macworld conference on Jan. 9, 2007. (It went on sale six months later.)
Merchant connected with many of the key engineers from the iPhone team, which isn’t an easy thing to do; Apple frowns on current and former employees talking in an uncontrolled environment.
He expands the story by spending time in China, where more than 200 million iPhones are mass-produced every year, at the Foxconn plants.
He somehow manages to sneak in to the ultra-secretive facility, where many workers have responded to the crushing hours and mind-numbing work by committing suicide from the top of the building.
But I missed the parts of the story Merchant left out.
He decided not to focus on the birth and growth of Google’s Android operating system, which now has an 85% market share, or the rise of Apple’s chief rival, Samsung, and the Galaxy S line of smartphones.
He skips how Tim Cook, who took over as CEO of Apple after Jobs’ death in 2011, has been skimpy on innovation but has built the iPhone into an even bigger business that now represents two-thirds of Apple’s revenue.
Nary a word is said about the iPad, the Apple Watch or what Apple will do when the inevitable happens and the life cycle for the iPhone comes to an end.
Well, the material is there. Perhaps it’s time to get to work on the sequel.
The day everything changed: Steve Jobs’ big reveal on Jan. 9, 2007.
Author Brian Merchant