Apple launched the first iPhone 15 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. We are now discussing the rumors of the next iPhone with 8K video and a new screen, but it’s hard to believe that once the iPhone didn’t even have copy and paste options. Now a former Apple software engineer and designer Ken Kocienda revealed details about why the first iPhone didn’t have such features.
Kocienda, who joined Apple in 2001, was one of the main engineers behind the iPhone. Prior to working on the iPhone, Kocienda was part of the team that created Apple’s Safari web browser, which secured him an important role in the development of Apple’s first smartphone.
Now that the iPhone is approaching its 15th anniversary in the market, the former Apple engineer decided to share some interesting stories about how Apple created the first iPhone. One of them includes details on why the company decided to ship its first smartphone without copy-and-paste options.
There was no time for that.
Kocienda’s short and fun explanation is that Apple engineers didn’t have time to implement copy-and-paste on the first iPhone. But of course, the story goes beyond 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 some time before the feature was ready for users.
The engineer explains that he came up with the idea of the “magnifying text magnifier” to let users know exactly where they were pointing the text cursor, which was crucial for having copy and paste. However, even with this classic virtual magnifier, the cursor ended up moving between characters after the user lifted their finger from the screen due to natural flickering.
Kocienda had to develop a “touch history log” just for text editing. Thus, after removing the finger from the screen, the system automatically detects the position of the user’s finger a few milliseconds after the last touch, so that the cursor remains where the user really wants 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 whenever an application used a custom font, it basically displayed a small webpage to display the text. When text fields were not in edit mode, they displayed a static image of their contents, presumably to save CPU, RAM and battery.
Copy-and-paste options were introduced as part of iPhone OS 3.0 in 2009, which came pre-installed on the iPhone 3GS by default. Apple even created a TV commercial highlighting the new feature at the time.
More details on the first iPhone
Kocienda also shared other information about the development of the first iPhone. For example, the iPhone lacked true multitasking, not only because of low RAM, but also because of the lack of virtual memory. Engineers had to create a system called “jetsam” to force the iPhone to run a single app at a time, automatically terminating other background processes to avoid performance issues.
Since touchscreen devices were not really popular and lacked tactile feedback, the iPhone team implemented a larger virtual area than the buttons displayed on the interface. As such, the iPhone recognizes touches even when the user is not precisely touching the on-screen button.
This system was also important for the keyboard’s autocorrect feature, as it identifies the letters surrounding the one the user pressed to replace the misspelled word with the correct one.
Kocienda also explains that users’ perception of where they touch with their fingers is different from where the finger actually touches, and the system had to 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 the Golden Age of Steve Jobs.”
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