An interesting new book by former Apple software engineer Ken Kocienda, titled “Creative Selection,” is now available to order through Apple’s Books Store, offering an inside account of Apple’s design and creative process during the Golden Age of Steve Jobs.
For over fifteen years as an Apple engineer, Ken Kocienda experimented with novel user interface concepts. He is crediting with writing various software for iPhone, iPad and Safari.
In “Creative Selection,” he describes demos to Steve Jobs, what it was like to work at the company during its golden years and the evolutionary design model that helped Apple become the first trillion dollar company.
Here’s the official blurb:
Hundreds of millions of people use Apple products every day; several thousand work on Apple’s campus in Cupertino, California; but only a handful sit at the drawing board. ‘Creative Selection’ recounts the life of one of the few who worked behind the scenes, a highly-respected software engineer who worked in the final years of the Steve Jobs era―the Golden Age of Apple.
Ken Kocienda offers an inside look at Apple’s creative process. For fifteen years, he was on the ground floor of the company as a specialist, directly responsible for experimenting with novel user interface concepts and writing powerful, easy-to-use software for products including the iPhone, the iPad and the Safari web browser.
His stories explain the symbiotic relationship between software and product development for those who have never dreamed of programming a computer, and reveal what it was like to work on the cutting edge of technology at one of the world’s most admired companies.
Kocienda shares moments of struggle and success, crisis and collaboration, illuminating each with lessons learned over his Apple career. He introduces the essential elements of innovation―inspiration, collaboration, craft, diligence, decisiveness, taste, and empathy―and uses these as a lens through which to understand productive work culture.
An insider’s tale of creativity and innovation at Apple, “Creative Selection” shows readers how a small group of people developed an evolutionary design model, and how they used this methodology to make groundbreaking and intuitive software which countless millions use every day.
Here’s an excerpt in which the author reminiscences on the early days of iPhone development back in 2005 when Apple asked engineers to come up with various software keyboards.
Kocienda’s design grouped together keys in twos and threes, but marketing head Phil Schiller and former Apple engineer and the iPod “Godfather” Tony Fadell hated it.
Here’s the full excerpt:
Within a week of picking my keyboard, Scott scheduled a private demo with Phil Schiller, Apple’s top marketing executive, the man who, after Steve, was most responsible for communicating to prospective customers exactly why we thought our products were great and why they should go out and buy one.
Scott didn’t clue me in on the politics in play between him and Phil or why he had scheduled the demo. I imagined that Scott was eager to show off the results of the keyboard derby, which must have been a topic for discussion up at the executive level. In any case, my job was to prepare my demo so it worked as it did for the demo derby, so that’s what I did.
When Scott brought Phil to the conference room, I was waiting. This was the first time I ever met Phil, and I was nervous. I set everything up as I had a few days earlier, but I had already made a couple of changes to the keyboard user interface. Scott introduced me. Phil greeted me with a quick courtesy that showed he wanted to get right down to business.
He picked up the Wallaby and tapped a few times. I didn’t see what he typed. Phil asked me why I’d put more than one letter on every key. He was pleasant but direct. He seemed to think that my keyboard looked odd, that it required an explanation.
I tried to give him one. I told him about our decisions to make big keys that were easy to target and couple them with suggestions from a dictionary.
Phil wasn’t satisfied, and he said so. Then that was it. I was surprised we were done so fast. The demo was over in about two minutes.
It was sobering to hear Phil’s point of view. Obviously, he had none of the emotional connection I had to my keyboard. While I had been working hard on it, for Phil it was brand new, and he was indifferent to it. He expected the software to win him over, and apparently, it didn’t. This mattered for two reasons. First, as I said, Phil would be playing a pivotal role in pitching the Purple phone to people in the outside world once we were done developing it. Second, and perhaps more important, his reaction was just like a prospective customer evaluating a product from scratch. My keyboard would be a part of the overall impression, and Phil was confused rather than convinced.
A couple days later, Scott and I repeated the private demo performance for Tony Fadell, the executive in charge of the iPod division. I had never met Tony before either, but I didn’t have to know him to see how preoccupied he was. When he walked over to the conference room table with my demo on it, he barely glanced at my keyboard. He didn’t ask any questions. Then he tried my software, but he couldn’t have typed more than a word or two. The demo with him was even shorter than the one for Phil, and within a minute, he and Scott went off together for a private meeting, leaving me alone in the conference room to clean up the Mac, the Wallaby, and the wires connecting them.
Two demos with less-than-positive responses.
Add that to my fellow derby entrants’ lack of excitement, and I could tell we didn’t yet have exactly the right solution. I didn’t get to demo the software for Steve. Maybe Scott concluded that we weren’t ready for the big time, but he never said anything specific to me about these executive demos, good or bad.
I didn’t feel like I had let Scott down.
My code was the same as it was on derby day. There were no bad bugs during these executive demos. As I tried to interpret the feedback and decide what to do next, I thought back to the Black Slab Encounter with Safari. That breakthrough didn’t represent an end; it signaled a beginning. As exciting as it was to see our web browser render the first sliver of a web page, we realized what the milestone meant. I began to look at my derby-winning design in a similar way, as if it were a successful audition rather than a sold-out performance.
I started to think about improvements, and to help me keep my keyboard goal literally in sight as I sat in my office, I measured and cut out a small piece of paper, about 2 inches wide by 1.3 inches tall, a little smaller than half the size of a credit card turned on end. I pinned up this little slip of paper on the bulletin board next to my desk. I looked at it often. This was all the screen real estate I had available for my keyboard.
This was my touchscreen typing canvas. People would have to tap-tap-tap in that tiny rectangle to type, and I had to figure out how to make that happen. As I pondered that small shape and took stock of my software, I got accustomed to the idea that I might need to rethink some of the decisions that led to the derby-winning design, perhaps all of them.
Kocienda, like many other engineers who were not kept in the loop, knew nothing about the actual iPhone project until he saw it unveiled on stage by Steve Jobs himself during the January 2017 announcement at MacWorld Expo. In fact, his team relied on prototype hardware nick-named ”Wallaby” —basically a bunch of logic boards, wires and other pieces of equipment tethered to a Mac—to test their software works.
Here’s another excerpt:
When Kim Vorrath passed the prototype to me, she asked me to handle it gingerly. I took it from her. The glass display was striking—far brighter and sharper than the Wallaby screen we’d been staring at for more than a year. I turned the device over in my hand. It felt solid, like it was filled to the brim with the latest technology, and it was. In fact, at that moment, it was overflowing a bit.
I paced back and forth a few times to feel the freedom of movement that came with untethering from a Mac. The Wallaby experience had been about feeling tied down to a computer on a desk with cabling spidering out everywhere. Now, for the first time, as I put the phone in my pocket, I got an idea of what it would be like to use a Purple phone.
Naturally, I was most interested in the keyboard. I typed out a few words in the Notes app. The keyboard worked without a hitch. My autocorrection code stepped in to fix all the mistakes I made. I could have spent all day with the device, trying out everything I could think of, but other people were waiting for their turn. As I handed the device over, I had no question in mind.
I wanted one.
The book is a must-read for anyone interested in Apple lore.