Lots to learn about the birth of the Apple Watch from this fascinating Wired piece.
First things first, in case you never made this connection, the person hired to run the skunkworks Apple Watch project at Apple was none other than Kevin Lynch, the Adobe Flash boss, the man who publicly took on Steve Jobs over iPhone’s lack of Flash support.
IN EARLY 2013, Kevin Lynch accepted a job offer from Apple. Funny thing about the offer: It didn’t say what he would be doing. So intense is Apple’s secrecy that all Lynch knew was his vague title, vice president of technology, and that he’d be working on something completely new.
It was odd that Apple even offered him a job. During his eight years at Adobe, most recently as chief technology officer, he was best known as the only person dumb enough to publicly fight Steve Jobs over the iPhone’s lack of support for Flash videos. When Lynch announced his move, the reaction was immediate: They want this guy? Apple blogger John Gruber called Lynch “a bozo, a bad hire.”
To be fair to John Gruber, this was a remarkable hire given the almost universal animosity between the iPhone and Flash camps at the time.
It was either hubris or an entirely justifiable expectation. Or both. After all, over the past 15 years, Apple has upended three major categories of consumer electronics and, in the process, become the most valuable company on Earth. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but Apple made you want one. The iPhone transformed the smartphone from business gear into pop culture. The iPad brought tablets in from the fringes, blowing past years of work by the likes of Nokia and Microsoft. For its fourth act, Apple chose a watch. This was to be the next step in a dynasty—the first without the guidance of Steve Jobs. Expectations and scrutiny would be impossibly high; the watch had to be, in the company’s parlance, insanely great.
No pressure, Kevin.
On the first Apple Watch prototype:
THE GOAL WAS to free people from their phones, so it is perhaps ironic that the first working Watch prototype was an iPhone rigged with a Velcro strap. “A very nicely designed Velcro strap,” Lynch is careful to add.
The team built a simulator that displayed a life-size image of an Apple Watch on the screen. Software was moving much more quickly than hardware, and the team needed a way to test how it worked on your wrist. There was even an onscreen digital crown—a facsimile of a watch’s classic knob—that you could swipe to spin, but it hardly replicated the feeling of twisting a real crown. Swiping, after all, is what the knob was supposed to replace. So they made a custom dongle, an actual watch crown that plugged into the bottom of the phone through the cord jack. In a sense the first true Apple Watch prototype was, like 10,000 Kickstarter projects, just a weird iPhone case with a strange accessory sticking out of it.
This was such a fun read. Worth every second.