Apple introduced the first iPhone 15 years ago, and much has changed since then. We’re discussing rumors about the next iPhone with 8K video and a new screen, but it’s hard to believe that when the iPhone did not even have copy and paste options. Now former Apple software engineer and designer Ken Kocienda has revealed details of why the first iPhone did not have such features.
Kocienda, which joined Apple back in 2001, was one of the key engineers behind the iPhone. Before working with the iPhone, Kocienda was part of the team that created Apple’s browser Safari – which guaranteed him an important role in the development of Apple’s first smartphone.
Now, as the iPhone approaches its 15th anniversary on the market, the former Apple engineer decided to share some interesting stories about how Apple created the first iPhone. One of them contains information about why the company decided to send its first smartphone without copy and paste options.
There was no time for that.
Kocienda’s short and funny explanation is that Apple engineers had time to implement copy and paste on the first iPhone. But of course the story goes further than that.
According to him, the team was already busy creating the iPhone’s virtual keyboard and its auto-correction system. After the launch of the iPhone, Kocienda and his team finally decided to work on copy and paste options, but it still took a while before the feature was ready for users.
The engineer explains that he came up with the idea of ”magnifying text magnifier” to let users know exactly where they pointed to the text cursor, which was crucial to be able to copy and paste. But even with the classic virtual magnifier, the cursor stopped moving between characters after the user lifted their finger from the screen due to natural flicker.
Kocienda had to develop a “touch history log” just for text editing. In this way, after removing the finger from the screen, the system automatically detected the position of the user’s finger milliseconds after the last touch, so that the cursor stayed where the user really wanted it.
Another interesting detail about the text input system on the iPhone is that, according to the former Apple engineer, all styled text was originally based on WebKit. This means that each time an app used a custom font, it basically displayed a small web page to render the text. When the text fields were not in edit mode, they showed a static image of the contents – probably to save CPU, RAM and battery.
Copy and paste options were introduced as part of iPhone OS 3.0 2009, which came pre-installed as standard on the iPhone 3GS. Apple even created a TV commercial that highlighted the new feature at the time.
More goodies on the first iPhone
Kocienda also shared some other tips on developing the first iPhone. For example, the iPhone lacked real multitasking not only due to low RAM but also due to the lack of virtual memory. Engineers had to create a system known as “jetsam” to force the iPhone to run a single app at a time, and automatically shut down other background processes to avoid performance issues.
Because touchscreen devices were not exactly popular and lacked tactile feedback, the iPhone team implemented a virtual area larger than the buttons displayed on the interface. As such, the iPhone recognizes touches even when the user is not exactly touching the button on the screen.
This system was also important for the auto-correction function on the keyboard, as it identifies the letters surrounding the one that the user pressed to replace the misspelled word correctly.
Kocienda also explains that users’ perceptions of where they touch their fingers differ from where the finger actually touches, and the system must be prepared for this.
Those interested in learning more about the iPhone development process should definitely read Kocienda’s book, “Creative selection: Inside Apple’s design process during Steve Jobs’ golden age. ”
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