‘One De­vice’ is miss­ing fea­tures

‘His­tory of the iPhone’ has plenty of ma­te­rial but is not the whole story

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - BOOKS -

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

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