‘Inventing the iPhone’ talk & Q+A

This is going to be a great event—looking forward to diving deeper into some of the stories and ideas in the book. Get in touch with me directly briancmerchant@gmail.com if you’re interested in attending. Space is very limited.

Inventing the iPhone

Join us for a panel discussion and Q&A with Apple’s former Head of Human Interface Greg Christie, UI designer Bas Ording, input engineer Brian Huppi and author of the One Device, Brian Merchant, for an unprecedented discussion about the earliest days of the iPhone.

Wed, June 28th @ 7PM
150 Forest Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Beer will be provided by SixPoint
RSVP required. Get in touch with me directly briancmerchant@gmail.com if you’re interested in attending. Space is very limited.

Meet three of the most influential designers and engineers who shaped the iPhone from its earliest days and shepherded the project from a stitched-together prototype rig to the most profitable product of all time.

Hear the untold stories of how a brilliant team conceived, created and prototyped the touchscreen-based mobile computer. The conversation will discuss how and why the iPhone was initially conceived, its primary design challenges, and the road to producing a world-changing device inside Apple and out.


Greg Christie – The head of Apple’s Human Interface team, which designed the look and feel of the software that powers the iPhone, Christie had wanted to make a mobile computer since Apple’s failed Newton—the iPhone was his passion project.

Brian Huppi – A self-described jack-of-all-trades hardware engineer, he joined Apple to build the next insanely great thing. He built the first prototype that would become the iPhone and the iPad.

Bas Ording – From the late 90s to the mid 00s, Ording was Apple’s top user interface designer. He was Steve Jobs’ secret weapon for designing software, and is the man behind the game-like, interactive feel of the Mac, iPhone, and iPad’s user interface.

Brian Merchant – Author of the One Device and an editor of Motherboard, VICE’s technology channel, will be moderating.

Sons of the Pre-Apocalypse

It’s been an insane week or so, and I’ve been grappling with some of the heavy stuff.  Converting those thoughts to blog (sometimes) helps me make sense of the chaos. I ended up writing this thing about having a new perfect human in Times Like These, for myself, but then thought maybe I’d share it, in case anyone else is grappling too.


My second son was born last week, right before two historic wildfires hit his new home state and burned whole cities to the ground. One burned about thirty miles west of the hospital he was born in, thickening the air with smoke, turning the sun deep red—we marked his first week anniversary by watching ash fall from the sky into our front yard. The other burned an hour and a half’s drive north of where I grew up, of where my parents live, and reduced a town of thirty thousand people to embers so fast that the highway was left littered with abandoned and charred cars attempting escape, and dozens dead.

Thanks to our justified eschatology fetish, these scenes inevitably get described as “apocalyptic,” present or post-. By that count, my son was born into pre-apocalyptic times, but only just. By plenty other counts, too.

Naturally, my wife and I have been struggling with how to process the highs and lows of a week that began with a beautiful natural childbirth—surrounded by family and friends, elated by the arrival of a pure new human, and wonderful nurses, techs, and doctors, working diligently and thoughtfully to deliver and protect new life—and ended with a total inferno and mass evacuations outside our city, in a place we do afternoon hikes. It was confusing.

As a new father who is also a Californian and on twitter too much, how should I reconcile the swirling images that dominate a week like that?


woolsey fire

fire california

camp fire.jpg


The questions pretty much ask themselves (‘How can we raise kids in a world like this?’, mostly), and it’s hard not to think about that months-old UN climate report that concluded we basically have a decade to act before all this spirals out of control.

No one wants to deliver a child into the onset of an apocalypse, but at least it’s not certain yet whether these days just feel like the beginning of the end, or are. The end of something, anyway. What *is* certain: The fires burn worse every year. The climate is changing—the science has been crystal for so, so long—but you’d have to be worse than a dope to live in California and not just feel it intuitively now. The droughts are longer, the temperatures higher, the snowmelt lessened, the brush drier, the fires likelier, bigger, and better fueled.

To me, and I imagine many Californians, the wildfires used to be something that’d seem to hit once or twice a year, in distant wilderness, or occasionally too near a subdivision, where they might claim some unfortunate houses built in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they are an omnipresent existential threat. The two biggest fires in the state’s history were both in the last two years. Ultra-wealthy Malibu is burning. Rural, retirement community-laden Paradise is burning. Santa Rosa burned. Ventura burned. It’s all burning.

Meanwhile, my newborn took his first nap on my chest, held his head up improbably, and smiled in his sleep.

Isn’t it a common sign of apocalyptic times that the leaders presiding over them are only interested in themselves, and in consolidating power by fanning fast-sprouting resentments, exploiting tragedy? The US president, a denier of climate change, couldn’t bother to even extend his sympathies to our besieged state, babbling some brain leakage about “bad forest management.” And the congressman who was just reelected to represent the CA district home to smoldering Paradise “doesn’t buy” that climate change is real. It all seems so bad.

As if it’s not enough that we’re facing existential threats on multiple fronts, on a nearly incomprehensible scale, it was another reminder that so many of the people with the power to address it still don’t even believe in the catastrophe that is very clearly unfolding before all our eyes. This was always stupid, but when you’re closing the doors to your house so your 5-day-old doesn’t breathe in ash and wildfire smoke in the middle of one of the nation’s biggest cities, it seems criminal. Through it all, the newborn is peaceful, unfussy, and happy spending hours in his little mechanized swing between nursing.

Throughout the week, I thought about the night Trump was elected, when my wife and I sat dumbly awake, wracked into the early hours of the morning. The question came up, as I imagine it did for many, like one of those triangular rubbers to the knee: So do we move or something now? Our first son was months old then, and I joked at the time that no, the rebellion against five-term Emperor Trump was going to need good people.

It wasn’t really funny then, but it’s probably more true now. Climate change-acknowledging Democrats took back the House, but power is still bent on denial. And so much of the country is waving the flag for the deniers.

So it is certain that my kids are going to come of age in a world that is rapidly warming and rapidly changing—that is literally more on fire—but also in a country that in a given year may or may not be governed by politicians in stark denial of those changes. When I started covering climate change ten years ago, the GOP candidate for president had a climate plan—now, the notion that that we all, Democrats and Republicans alike, might unite to inadequately address global warming with market-based solutions seems like a hopeless utopian dream.

But I’m not writing all this because I’m despairing or fuming, though both are part of the mix. I’m writing this for a maybe cheesily optimistic reason, but I will take cheesily optimistic and I will cling to it with a bloody deathgrip right now.

Last night, my firstborn son was sitting in his high chair, the little one was swinging quietly in that chair at our feet, and a Daft Punk song came on the stereo. The two-year-old, who was eating pasta noodles, abruptly started dancing in his chair so excitedly he couldn’t land his fork on the noodles (he was still trying to eat, of course). He looked at me and my wife, expecting us to dance in our chairs, too, because obviously why would anyone not be dancing when Daft Punk comes on when you are eating spaghetti. We did, because you always do what the two-year-old wants in situations like this. We danced, and the baby swung contentedly in his swing. It was one of those perfect moments they say having a family is all about (‘they’ being me, a person who has seen the Steve Martin movie Parenthood).

I had this feeling, this dumb, perfect feeling, that lasted until later in the night, when it occurred to me that the scene might have helped me locate where hope might spring. Nearly everyone has had that moment, whether we remember it or not, and probably lots of them, when we were nothing but conduits of joy and goodness and also wanted nothing more than to share that with someone else. Who fucking cares if we were two, or three, or five or eight. We were human, and we were capable of that. There is a way, lodged somewhere deep down there, beneath our cantilevered structures of long-encrusted ideologies, to relate a base capacity for joy and goodwill.

It made me think of that line Anne Frank wrote that still to this day destroys me if I linger on it too long, about how in spite of everything, she still believes people are basically good at heart. I believe that too, even if I also believe a few of them that hold the most power are too far gone. But many who admire them are not.

My sons are going to live in cities on fire, in nations led by men who don’t care, and they are going to have to learn to help tackle the problem, as we are. If I can in any way help them tap into that capacity that I felt last night, if they can help me, and if others can—and if that relation can help topple power in denial—then maybe we can sustain this pre-apocalypse, whether it takes another blue wave or nine, a political revolution, mass psilocybin hallucinations, or something else. If we can relate that goodness where applicable and confront power whenever possible, my sons may not have to live their adult lives in omnipresent fear of fires.

People are basically good, power corrupts but is not de-corruptible, and there is a lot of work to do.

At least, that’s what gave me hope that week as I watched the world burn, literally and figuratively, but mostly literally, as my beautiful new ward eked out his being amongst the smoke.

The One Device is a national bestseller, WSJ review, and more

So, it’s been an insane couple of weeks, but the reception to the book has been incredible. I want to thank everyone who bought the book, came out to an event, or even just tweeted about the thing. Just a quick update as we conclude our whirlwind media tour of Seattle, LA, NYC, and SF.

The One Device is a USA Today bestseller, squeaking onto the list at #149 in its first week on sale.

It was on the cover of the NYT book review last week, and this week it’s an editor’s choice, and one of the recommended reads of the week.

I helped put together a few stories for Motherboard’s outstanding iPhone week, and joined editor Jason Koebler and crew for a great talk at the Kickstarter HQ in Brooklyn. We recorded a live podcast you can hear here.

A couple outlets have interviewed me about the book, like Fast Company and Entrepreneur, which is fun but also a little embarrassing.

The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal both posted their reviews, and they’re both great. More stuff to come, but I couldn’t be more thrilled about the start this thing’s off to.


Some One Device reviews

The reviews are coming in, which has been fun, and interesting to see—people have very different ideas about this book and what they want out of a history of the iPhone. Silicon Valley watchers tend to want more blow-by-blow Apple drama; international readers appreciate the global scope and holistic approach a bit more.

The New York Times has a good one, from Lev Grossman, TIME’s former tech correspondent (and who wrote the iPhone story for the mag back in the day), though it’s firmly in the former camp.

The Times of London has a great one, too, which nails the themes and primary thrust of the book.

My favorite, though, is this one, from the online magazine of bulk business book seller 800 CEO Reads. They do a killer summary and appreciate the theme and aim of the book.

The Apple blog folks are into it, though, understandably, some wanted even more Apple; here’s a nice Mac Rumors writeup.

I feel like every author is doomed to be reviewed by at least one or two writers who clearly do not in anyway understand what you’re trying to do—behold, the USA Today review, which, in the course of reviewing “The Secret History of the iPhone” complains that I did not write enough about the iPad or Google’s Android phones. Oh well.