‘Slide to unlock’ inventor recounts original iPhone development

Douglas Soltys

March 26, 2014 7:00pm

Apple and Samsung are set to begin a new patent infringement case next Monday, only a few weeks after a US judge ordered Samsung to pay $929.8 million to Apple. The stakes for this patent case could be even higher, as it involves more recent devices sold at much higher volumes.

The case involves five specific patents that Apple says Samsung has violated, including one for the now ubiquitous ‘slide to unlock’ feature. Unsurprisingly, the listed inventor on that patent, current Apple engineer Greg Christie was made available to speak with the Wall Street Journal about the innovation which spurred the development of the original iPhone (Mr. Christie has never previously spoken publicly on this matter).

Legal maneuvering aside, the interview is worth reading to clean new insights you might not know about the secret Apple project codenamed ‘purple’. One such interesting tidbid: Apple devised a system to test early iPhone software by tethering a plastic touch-screen device to an outdated Mac G3 to simulate the slower speeds of the original iPhone’s hardware (see photo above).

Mr. Christie also gives an interesting glimpse into the role Steve Jobs played in final design decisions:

In the following six months, before the iPhone went on sale in June 2007, Mr. Christie’s team made other changes. At Mr. Jobs’s urging, they eliminated a split-screen view for email with information about the sender on one side and the message on the other. “Steve thought it was foolish to do a split screen on such a small display,” Mr. Christie said.

Good call, Steve. Let us know if you learned anything new from the article, or if it’s all old hat by now.

Update: a previous version of this post referred to the patented feature as ‘swipe to unlock’.

  • Jonathan Schmitt


    • It’s Me


    • Josh Brown

      You are a Hardcore Fan Boy, aren’t you?

    • It’s Me

      Responding to ignorant posts doesn’t make one a fan boy. It just means doesn’t like to let stupidity stand unanswered.

      Maybe that’s why I respond to so many of your evangelical posts.

    • Josh Brown

      I just don’t often see people get so aggressive when someone has a differing opinion. You can correct people without demeaning them. I am sure you are very intelligent, but you don’t have to prove it by putting other people down.

    • It’s Me

      Who did I put down?

    • Josh Brown

      “It just means doesn’t like to let stupidity stand unanswered.”

      Who were you referring to?

    • It’s Me

      I was referring to a post, not a person. One can make stupid posts and not be stupid. Similarly, one can call a post stupid and not be calling the person stupid.

    • OgtheDim

      Semantics are not your friend.

      Stupidity can be applied to a word, but it is FAR more often applied to the user of the word.

      So, yeah, you called somebody stupid and then whined when somebody said you were putting people down.

      Deal with the fact that there is imperfection in the world.

    • It’s Me

      It’s not semantics. I didn’t call anyone stupid.

      But I’m getting close.

    • Josh Brown

      “But even opinions can be ignorant and misinformed.

      Enjoy French class.”


      Yeah. And so you make the most ignorant post of the week.”

      “Well, there’s little money to be made off of kids living in their parents basement…

      If you’re going to target your app/device to actually make money, you go where the money is. You aren’t that target.”

      “You must have been super high when you walked by in 2013”

      “heh, no mistakes besides your typos?

      Look son, just because your daddy like the D doesn’t mean everyone does.”

      “I think you have mistaken me for your dad again.”

    • It’s Me

      I see. Let’s go back in history. I didn’t claim to have never insulted anyway.

      But in this case you are simply incorrect.

    • Josh Brown

      “I just don’t often see people get so aggressive when someone has a differing opinion. You can correct people without demeaning them. I am sure you are very intelligent, but you don’t have to prove it by putting other people down.”

      I was not just talking about this comment but your history as a commenter on this site.

    • It’s Me

      Umm, no, you were specifically referring to the post in this thread. When asked, you even quoted it as what you were talking about.

      if you have to move the goal posts to make your point, you probably never had a valid point.

    • Josh Brown

      What in my comment says specifically this post. I have had conversations with you in the past that almost always descend into personal insults. Which can be easily seen by your comment history. I quoted the past week of comments you have posted on discus to show you just that.

    • It’s Me

      when you said i was putting someone down, and I specifically asked you who, your specific response was to specifically quote this: “It just means doesn’t like to let stupidity stand unanswered.”Who were you referring to?”

      Now, I guess you’ve changed your mind and that isn’t what you specifically meant, but it is specifically what you quoted when asked specifically.

      Specific enough for you? We’re starting to move into that territory again when it isn’t just your posts 🙂

    • Josh Brown

      I was using it as an example. Like the other 6 posts I quoted from.

    • It’s Me

      And when shown to be a poor example of specifically what you meant, you had to move the goal posts.

      Made an accusation and couldn’t back it up. That you then had to move the goal posts. Like I said, I haven’t denied ever being insulting…but in this case you were simply wrong and my post didn’t insult anyone. A man could admit that.

    • Josh Brown

      “I just don’t often see people get so aggressive when someone has a differing opinion. You can correct people without demeaning them. I am sure you are very intelligent, but you don’t have to prove it by putting other people down.”

      I was referring to your comments in general. Notice I say “people” which is plural. I am pretty sure “Jonathan Schmitt” is not a group of people.

    • It’s Me

      You said it in response to a specific post of mine. When asked to explain, you quoted that same post back. Regardless of your wiggling after the fact, your meaning was clear. It’s too bad you aren’t honest enough to admit that.

    • Josh Brown

      I was speaking in general. Why else would I refer to “People” not a single person. I was using this first post as an example and the referred to other posts as back-up evidence. How do you know what my meaning was? I have had arguments with you before and they often end in personal insults and bullying. I think you need to be called out for your bad internet behaviour.
      We can all have differing opinions but do not need to be jerks about it.

    • It’s Me

      How do I know what you meant? I asked and you answered very specifically…and then came up with a new answer only when it was pointed out that the first one didn’t really make sense. More than a little dishonest.

    • Josh Brown


    • mggOptimusG

      This is useful ? … how ? … your personal vendetta does not need take room in comments I read. Do it once or twice then move on ! … I know I will.

    • Josh Brown

      I am just pointing out that all of his responses to people are demeaning and I think we can all have differing opinions and still be respectful of each other.

    • It’s Me

      Actually, any response of mine that you find demeaning or insulting are almost always a response to the same. Your little search will show that. Rarely do I simply jump in and start insulting people, though I suppose I have at times.

      On the other hand, you seem to take your problems with me into every thread. Instead of contributing, you look for ways, usually without merit, to try to take every comment personally. It’s more than a little sad, really. The attention is nice, but I have a wife and you are starting to become more than a little stalker-ish.

    • Josh Brown

      You are proving my point more and more with every Post.

    • It’s Me

      …and you prove mine.

    • Josh Brown

      Sure I will agree to that.

    • mggOptimusG

      @Jonathan Schmitt … I do not get your post … why “inventor …”.
      As I read the article it states “the listed inventor on that patent” … so I am assuming that is from the Apple patent. Are you questioning the “inventor” portion of it ? … maybe someone else would have “invented” slide to unlock and you want to inform us ? … whatever the objective was it is unclear.

    • Josh Brown

      He is implying that they did not invent it. Which is true. Neonode patented it 2 years before and recorded it being used. But they only patented it in the UK. So did they really invent it?

    • mggOptimusG

      Thanks Josh.
      So Jonathan should have written a post using more than one word … And now you are assuming what Johnathan is implying. Wow ! …

      … I am not a good judge on who invented it, and whatever is done in the UK has no impact in the US from a judicial point of view on patents, that is why companies have to apply for patents all over the place. Then again I do not know the rules.

      At the end of the day I really do not care who invented it as long as that person has exclusivity for a period of time, then it becomes “common knowledge”.

      Apple should have had a single shot at suing Samsung with all patents combined. Unless they discover down the road that they were using other patents under the covers or on known initially.

      Darn, now I am contributing to this Apple-Samsung publicity stunt !

    • Josh Brown

      ‘create or design (something that has not existed before); be the originator of.’

      I was not speaking of the legal aspect, just real world if you build and demonstrate using something before I do, then you invented it. Once that has happened the first time you cant invent it again.

  • Columbo

    Can’t read the article without subscribing. Quote more of it! 😛

    • Kelly Lesperance

      Google the article title (“Apple Engineer Recalls the iPhone’s Birth”), and you can get past the paywall.

      Seems to work for most (ALL?) WSJ articles.

  • pat plante

    apple really needs to stop all this bs. i mean really why do they keep going after one company for absolutely every little tiny thing. i mean really its not like samsung is the only company that has anything copied from anyone. everybody copies from everybody. it doesnt matter if its google, apple, samsung, microsoft,… i really dont need to continue because everybody does it. its starting to be really rediculous that apple thinks that they are the only company that can use one thing. apple really wouldnt exist if it wasnt for microsoft allowing them to use stuff that they had patents for…..so why is apple suing over petty stuff that makes no sense what so ever. are they really that worried about the fact that android is now taking over the mobile device industry and so they keep going after the biggest android device manufacturer to try and get themself back on top….it really is rediculous that they can even get away with it. i know i will get hate over this but it needed to be said

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      It really boils down to patent reform…something needs to be done. For example: they (apple) apparently have a very vaguely worded patent for a rectangular device with rounded corners which every sane person knows is wrong, and microsoft has ‘secret’ (non-public-knowledge) patents that they are using to manipulate and bully the competition into paying ‘Android licensing fees’ for those who use Android (which ms didn’t develop).

    • It’s Me

      Samsung would pay millions to fight against patent reform. No company files more patents than Samsung.

      Android vendors pay licensing fees because to MS because they use their property. If you’d ever created something of value you might have a clue about not wanting others to steal it. On the other hand, if you have little to contribute to the world you probably have no concerns about people copying from you and therefore have nothing against copying in general.

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      I have in fact made my own contributions that I don’t want copied, and I have done what I can to try to protect them. My problem is ‘vaguely worded patents’ like rectangles with rounded corners. Maybe if this patent were to include a specific dimension and size ratio of the rectangle along with the specified corner radius that can be defined as belonging only to apple, that would be acceptable. I can appreciate protecting what is truly yours…but taking a very basic and generic shape that has been around for many many years and claiming it as your own is just wrong. There has to be a culmination of differentiating factors that is unique to your own style and form before any claim of ownership can be established. Yes…samsung did put out a very ugly phone that was very identical to apple’s and I think they were complete i****s for doing that…doing that is what initially started this war between them. Having said that, I doubt anyone bought samsung’s phone mistakingly thinking they were buying an apple product.

      Now while this ‘war’ is going on at least we can say we know which patents are at stake, which brings me to the next thing that bothers me – ms and their ‘secret patents’. They should be making these supposed patents available to the public so they can be properly scrutinized and analyzed for validity…and that way OEM’s can develop their products from the ground up while knowing which patents to avoid or utilize. (And apparently IBM has the most patents)

    • It’s Me

      First, you keep mentioning vaguely worded patents. WTF do you think a design patent is? They are covered and described by drawings and pictures. The wording is almost irrelevant, unlike utility patents which need a lot of descriptive text.

      While in hindsight, you might think no one would confuse a Samsung for an Apple product, the facts are against you. BestBuy in the US reported a substantial number of their Samsungs were returned by customers that thought they were buying iPhones and iPads. Various tech blogs sent secret shoppers into carriers and stores and the sales people often had no qualms about selling Samsungs as “it’s an iPhone”. And finally, Samsung’s own lawyers, when show an iPad and a Galaxy tab with the branding covered were unable to tell which was which at 10 ft away.

      At this point, even Samsung no longer denies some of the design copying. They are now trying to winnow down which devices should count as having been copied.

      And all of that is to ignore the utility patents, many of which which have now been repeatedly validated by multiple courts and patent offices and are not vaguely worded.

      Edit: did some looking around. In terms of shapes have have been around for years, consider the teepee/wigwam shape. Even longer than rectangular buildings, the triangular/conical shape has been around for millennium. Yet there is a design patent for a hotel shaped like a wigwam/teepee, one of the oldest building shapes in human history. In fact, any design patent, being based on shapes, will by definition be made up of shapes and combinations of shapes…unless someone discovers a previously unknown shape.

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      Really? Thanks for the clarification. Guess there are more i****s out there than I originally thought. Now I’m curious to know if the same was true the other way around…how many people bought apple products expecting Android?

    • It’s Me

      Would that be any better? It would still show confusion in the marketplace between brands…something that is sort of exactly why design patents exist.

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      Any better? Not necessarily…but it could provide some fun and interesting fodder if the return rate for being ‘confused on initial purchases’ were considerably higher one way and not the other.

    • Josh Brown

      I have an original Galaxy Tab 10.1 the ratio is not even the same. I pad is square and the Galaxy tab is a rectangle. iPad 9″ X 7.4″ Galaxy Tab 10.1X6.9″

      So the Galaxy tab is a full inch longer and half an inch narrower. If you cant tell that from 10 feet away then you are blind.

    • It’s Me

      a) you’ll notice that in the big case in the US that Apple won, the Tab was not included as infringing on the design patents, so it seems the jury agrees with you.
      b) Blind they may be, but it was Samsung’s lawyers that couldn’t tell the difference. Samsung has never been known to hire the best and the brightest, so maybe that makes sense.

    • mggOptimusG

      IBM does … They could shut down everything ! … at some point they will get into phone business … lol.

    • alphs22

      “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

      The system is broken. Silly for you to single out Apple because just about every large tech companies are always in courtrooms against each other all the time. You just hear Apple vs. Samsung a lot because those 2 are the largest smartphone manufacturers.

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      I need to mention every bogus patent claim to satisfy you??? Silly me? Be reasonable. Venture further up this thread and you will notice my mention of patent reform. (oops…my bad, somehow thought you were replying to me)

    • WatDah

      Right, be reasonable. You just twisted your own logic. You just indirectly admitted that you are aware there’s a lot of lawsuits going on regarding patents. So why are there so many? Because, like alphs22 said, the SYSTEM is broken. EVERYONE tries to take advantage of this broken system. Yes, everyone, and they will continue to do so as they see fit, as long as they own the rights to the patent. Apple and Samsung are big companies, so they obviously get a lot more attention then others. It will help drive up sales/clicks for more revenue. Because, like you, the media is not going to mention every bogus patent claim, just the ones that pretty much guarantees views/clicks/sales. And by the looks of it, they got you pretty good too, since you can’t seem to put it down.

    • It’s Me

      Good luck getting that patent reform. With giants like Samsung willing to spend many millions fighting against you on that, your chances are pretty slim.

  • Poik

    Samsung (and probably Nokia as well as others I’d guess) were already using “Swipe to unlock” gestures on their touch screen phones prior to the original iPhone. It wasn’t patented because it’s about the most logical way to lock a screen.

    Until the patent office gets stuff straight and kills the majority of touchscreen patents that are basically ripped out of movies from Minority Report to iRobot I can’t see how any legal proceedings can proceed. Big screen, little screen, phone, tablet, computer, … it’s all the same. That Mitsubishi of all companies did a tech demonstration of touch control using projectors in the late 80s is also telling.

    • It’s Me

      You just made up your entire post.

      No, Samsung (nor Nokia) did not have slide to unlock. There was a UK company that had something similar, and Samsung used this in a UK court, but Samsung didn’t do it.

    • Josh Brown

      It was not those company’s it was called Neonode and it was the exact same motion and it was filled 2 years before the iPhone

    • It’s Me

      Correct. Thanks for confirming that it was not Samsung nor Nokia.

      Poik was wrong about it being Samsung and was wrong about it not being patented an wrong about why it wasn’t patented. It was patented, it was patented by another company but was only patented in the UK, hence has no bearing on US or most other jurisdictions.

      As I said, Poik made up his entire post. Typical for the haters and missionaries I guess,

  • dbcoyle

    Wait… did you just make a cut at Steve’s design skills at the end of this article? Interesting…. And your opinion is based on 1 missed call about the “split screen” decision, but not the completely new way of communication you hold in your hand. I assume it’s a Samsung, but it’s just amazing as an iPhone, but it is a copy. It’s also likely, the power of the first iPhone just wouldn’t handle all the options they were thinking of at the time. They had to trim off the unnecessary functions and options so it would run smoothly. I like the WSJ, and I like your topics you report on, but please report the news.

  • WatDah

    LOL oops, somehow I was thinking about what pat plante was saying and I replied to you…. XD

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      No worries 🙂

  • Stephen_81

    What I get most from this is that the iPhone first generation was a 2.5yr secret project to build and get off the ground, and in reality it wasn’t a great product until the second generation or 3rd generation depending on the fan base you speak with.

    Shows even the mightly Apple had to take a lot of time even without public scrutiny to build an OS and device from the ground up

  • mggOptimusG

    So is this free publicity for Apple and Samsung ?

    … getting tired of this. Apple has a ton of free time on their hands and lots of happy customers paying more for their devices than anyone else’s. I know I was not happy with the 4s and my wife is overwhelmed … lol.

    Whatever comes of it, it will backfire one day or another.

  • downhilldude

    Apple: A law firm that also dabbles in electronics.