Apple introduced the first iPhone 15 years ago and a lot has changed since then. We’re now talking about rumors of the next iPhone with 8K video and a new screen, but it’s hard to believe that the iPhone once didn’t even have copy and paste options. Now former Apple software engineer and designer Ken Kocienda has revealed details about why the first iPhone didn’t have such features.
Kocienda, who joined Apple in 2001, was one of the key engineers behind the iPhone. Before working on the iPhone, Kocienda was on the team that created Apple’s Safari web browser – which ensured him a key role in the development of Apple’s first smartphone.
With the iPhone approaching its 15th anniversary in the market, the former Apple engineer decided to share some interesting stories about how Apple made the first iPhone. One of them details why the company decided to ship its first smartphone without copy and paste options.
There was no time for that.
Kocienda’s short and funny explanation is that Apple engineers didn’t have time to implement copy and paste on the first iPhone. But of course the story goes further than that.
According to him, the team was already working on creating the iPhone’s virtual keyboard and autocorrect system. After the iPhone launched, Kocienda and his team finally decided to work on copy and paste options, but it took a while for the feature to be ready for users.
The engineer explains that he came up with the idea of ”magnifying text loupe” to let users know exactly where they were pointing the text cursor, which was crucial for copying and pasting. But even with that classic virtual magnifying glass, the cursor eventually moved between characters after the user took their finger off the screen due to natural flickering.
Kocienda had to develop a “touch history log” just for text editing. In this way, after removing the finger from the screen, milliseconds after the last touch, the system automatically detected the position of the user’s finger, so that the cursor remained where the user really wanted it.
Another interesting detail about the text entry system on the iPhone is that, according to the former Apple engineer, all formatted text was originally based on WebKit. This means that every time an app used a custom font, it basically showed a small web page to display the text. When the text fields weren’t in edit mode, they showed a static view of their contents — presumably to save CPU, RAM, and battery.
Copy and paste options were introduced in 2009 as part of iPhone OS 3.0, which came preinstalled on the iPhone 3GS. Apple even made a TV ad at the time highlighting the new feature.
More facts about the first iPhone
Kocienda also shared some other tidbits about the development of the first iPhone. For example, the iPhone lacked true multitasking, not only because of the low RAM, but also because of the lack of virtual memory. Engineers had to create a system known as “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 weren’t particularly popular and lacked tactile feedback, the iPhone team implemented a virtual area larger than the buttons on the interface. As such, the iPhone recognizes touches even when the user doesn’t exactly touch the button on the screen.
This system was also important to the keyboard’s autocorrect function, as it identifies the letters around the word the user tapped to replace the misspelled word with the correct word.
Kocienda also explains that the users’ perception of where they are touching with their fingers is different from where the finger is actually touching, and the system had to be prepared for this.
Those who want to learn more about the iPhone development process should definitely read Kocienda’s book,”Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During Steve Jobs’ Golden Age†
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