On January 9, 2007, I took the day off from work to watch Steve Jobs’ keynote. I stayed off iChat, and I told the people who were likely to contact me that day to please refrain from feeding me any info on what Apple announces that morning. I waited for the video feed to become available, which happened later that afternoon. Away from my fabric-cube, Windows-based, business-software job, I ate pizza on the couch of my Florida apartment and had my mind blown by the greatest product introduction ever.
One year later, I was getting ready to quit that job. I spent my evenings working on an iPhone app, living in a house in Portland, OR with my future wife. Everything had changed for me. Everything was better. iPhone wasn’t responsible for all of it, of course, but you have to understand I’m serious when I say it was responsible for well over half. When I waited ten hours in line at Portland’s Apple Store that June? Guess who was right behind me: the folks from Panic Inc. You know what we talked about when they officially interviewed me for my current job, the best job in the world? iPhone apps.
That app I worked on in 2008 was an outlet for a major news organization. We got to go to WWDC 2008 with it. (This is where I met pretty much everyone I know in the Apple community.) The app was considered for a slot in the keynote, which meant my boss had to demo it for Apple execs over and over and over. Eventually they put him in front of Steve Jobs. On entering this tough room, he was greeted by Steve himself with the following words:
“I use your app every day.”
I was told this story later, at the Apple Design Awards. (We won. I believe this made John Gruber exclaim that no one would get a keynote plug and an ADA ever again.) It filled me with a vicious cocktail of feelings. It was great, and it terrified me. My eyes scanned the news app with a Stevefilter now, noticing every lame compromise and rushed button I hadn’t nailed with pixel precision. I was new to UI design, see; I had always wanted to design Mac apps, but it felt like a club I was too old to join. In 2007, though, I figured iPhone was new to everyone, so who was to say I didn’t have the experience?
Steve used my app. It was the best and the worst. Of course you want to hear that someone big and important and smart is watching what you’re doing, but there’s a second meaning to that kind of attention. He was watching my every move. It was highly unlikely that a some crappy bit of UI I made would result in an email from Steve, of course. But what did happen was, I installed a sort of innerSteve, an Angel of Better telling me to make it simpler, try once more, don’t forget to delight, and remember that greatness is possible.
Some time later, I worked on a twitter client with my pal Buzz. A friend of his who worked at Apple told us this little story. One day while riding the elevator at Infinite Loop, he found himself in the freakiest scenario any Apple employee can imagine: alone, with the elevator door opening to let Steve in. Being a well-adjusted individual, Buzz’s friend promptly disappeared into the tap-world of his iPhone, lest he say or do something wrong in Steve’s presence. It was still the early days of iPhone apps, and Steve did something that had apparently become a habit with him. He reached for the iPhone and asked,
“What app is that?”
“Birdfeed”, came the reply.
Steve tapped here and there, flicked the scrollview a bit, then handed the phone back. “The background needs more texture,” he said.
I’ll do better next time, Steve.