Steve Jobs was legendary for knowing what he wanted and leaning on his designers until he got it. But according to a new book on the history of the iPhone, he insisted that it should have a back button. After one of his people presented a good argument for the distinctive single home button, he backed down.
The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant has been getting a lot of attention and it sounds like a pretty decent attempt at covering the insider story at a company that’s notoriously difficult to get inside of. Among Merchant’s findings is this little gem:
The touch-based phone, which was originally supposed to be nothing but screen, was going to need at least one button. We all know it well today – the Home button. But Steve Jobs wanted it to have two; he felt they’d need a back button for navigation. Chaudhri argued that it was all about generating trust and predictability. One button that does the same thing every time you press it: it shows you your stuff.
“Again, that came down to a trust issue,” Chaudhri says, “that people could trust the device to do what they wanted it to do. Part of the problem with other phones was the features were buried in menus, they were too complex.” A back button could complicate matters too, he told Jobs.
“I won that argument,” Chaudhri says.”
And thus, history was made. The single home button was decided, plus Steve Jobs doubted his own instincts and listened to someone else.
What’s interesting is that the iPhone sort of set the template for all the subsequent smartphones to come. But Android competitors did throw on a back button. Adding extra stuff is basically the Android way. The simplicity of the iPhone kept it distinctive. At least in that one moment, Chaudhri understood the Apple way better than Steve.
It’s a perfect time for that little story to come to light because it looks like we’re about to see the home button’s demise. Smartphone accessory maker MobileFun has a reputation for accurately leaking iPhone details months in advance. This weekend, the company posted a listing for an iPhone 8 tempered glass screen protector: