Engineering the iPhone

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A software engineer at Apple for over 16 years, Ken Kocienda was deeply involved with the development of the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Safari web browser. From the design of the first software keyboard to the invention of autocorrect, this episode is an insider’s account of the creative decision-making process at the forefront of technological innovation.

In this episode of Create the Future, we delve into the fast-paced world of software engineering, as Ken shares a glimpse into Apple’s secretive creative process and demo-driven culture. We discuss his pioneering work designing novel user interfaces for the iPhone, learn what it was like to pitch for Steve Jobs, and explore how his passion for the humanities continually influences his work.

New episodes of ‘Create the Future: An Engineering Podcast’ every other Tuesday.

About the guest

Between 2001 and 2017, Ken Kocienda worked as a software engineer and designer at Apple, working on the teams that created the Safari web browser, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. He has since held roles at Postmates, Airbnb, and is currently Product Architect at Humane, California.

Graduating with a degree in history from Yale University, Ken since pursued an MFA in fine art photography, worked as a motorcycle mechanic, taught English in Japan, and eventually discovered the internet, making his way through a succession of dot-com-era startups before landing at Apple.

Episode Highlights

  • “I am most proud of my work on the software keyboard for the original iPhone, the notion of autocorrection. The idea that we could put this small software keyboard on this device, and that it would be a means through which people could communicate.”
  • “The secret to the iPhone was the way we integrated the hardware with software, that’s what made the iPhone successful. It was greater than the sum of the parts.”
  • “Software engineering is such a plastic medium, it's not bounded like other engineering fields. I try to lean into that and make products that are truly useful to people.”
  • “I think to do the kind of work that I've done in software engineering and product development, you need to have a thick skin, you really do. It's not enough to present a piece of work and tell people “I worked really hard on this” and expect that to count for anything. The work has to be good on its own merits.”
  • “Steve Jobs was the most focused, intense person, I have ever met. It's not even close. He knew exactly what he wanted. He had this way of looking at the work and utterly absorbing himself into it, putting himself in the perspective of the customer.”
  • “For young people listening, if you're maybe at the earlier stage of your career and you feel that there's so much you don't know, don't worry. So much of the work that I did at Apple is this journey of trying to figure out answers to questions where the answers aren't obvious.”
  • “When you’re in the midst of creating the work, you're wearing the hat of the product developer and software engineer. Then you switch hats and now you're an evaluator and an editor. You switch again and come up with the next iteration. That is the only way I know of how to do good work.”

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

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