A top Apple executive said on Tuesday that parts of a recent story in The Verge about the invention of the iPhone were “not true.”
Parts of the excerpt painted Phil Schiller, Apple’s top marketer and one of the most important executives at Apple, in an unflattering light.
The excerpt says that Schiller fought for a BlackBerry-style physical keyboard on the first iPhone until late Apple CEO Steve Jobs had to tell him to get with “the program or get the f–k out.”
What’s notable about the anecdotes about Schiller were that they stemmed from on-the-record quotes from top former Apple employees, including Tony Fadell, who was in charge of the iPod division.
The iPod phone was losing support. The executives debated which project to pursue, but Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing, had an answer: Neither. He wanted a keyboard with hard buttons. The BlackBerry was arguably the first hit smartphone. It had an email client and a tiny hard keyboard. After everyone else, including Fadell, started to agree that multitouch was the way forward, Schiller became the lone holdout.
He “just sat there with his sword out every time, going, ‘No, we’ve got to have a hard keyboard. No. Hard keyboard.’ And he wouldn’t listen to reason as all of us were like, ‘No, this works now, Phil.’ And he’d say, ‘You gotta have a hard keyboard!’ ” Fadell says.
Schiller didn’t have the same technological acumen as many of the other execs. “Phil is not a technology guy,” Brett Bilbrey, the former head of Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, says. “There were days when you had to explain things to him like a grade-school kid.” Jobs liked him, Bilbrey thinks, because he “looked at technology like middle America does, like Grandma and Grandpa did.”
The passage culminates in Schiller shouting “we’re making the wrong decision” and being removed from a meeting and reprimanded by late CEO Steve Jobs, according to Fadell’s recollection in the excerpt.
Schiller denied the physical keyboard anecdote in a tweet:
Not true. Don’t believe everything you read…
— Philip Schiller (@pschiller) June 13, 2017
Fadell said he’s asked Merchant to “correct the record:”
— Tony Fadell (@tfadell) June 14, 2017
Fadell’s tweet makes it unclear whether he actually said the quotes attributed to him or whether he was misquoted. Fadell’s objection comes from the fact that he had quote approval, and he never approved the quotes about Schiller, a person close to Fadell told Business Insider.
In an interview with Business Insider, Merchant said he stands by the story and said that his conversation with Fadell was recorded.
“I conducted dozens of interviews with current and former Apple employees involved in the iPhone project while researching this book, including with Tony Fadell. I had no reason to believe his detailed account of the debate over input technology for the iPhone was untrue,” Merchant said in a statement.
“Parts of this story were corroborated elsewhere,” Merchant said, adding that he had another source with direct knowledge confirm the anecdote. “That’s all I can do in giving an oral history is talk to the people that were there. I asked Apple multiple times for an interview.”
“It’s not an attack on Phil Schiller, I’m just reporting on what people have said,” he said.
Apple declined to comment.
A pattern of pushback
One former Apple employee who reported to Schiller criticized the excerpt. “I can tell you there’s stuff that’s just not true,” Michael Gartenberg tweeted on Tuesday. Gartenberg used to work for Schiller.
“Anyone who says Phil isn’t technologically sophisticated is an idiot,” he told Business Insider on Twitter. “Former employees always have selective memories. Myself included.”
The quick reaction from Apple defenders to Merchant’s unauthorized Apple history is reminiscent of what happened to other recent books in which the subject is Apple.
Walter Isaacson’s seminal and authorized biography of Jobs was criticized by executives including CEO Tim Cook and head of design Jony Ive. Apple executives also denied stories in Yukari Iwatani Kane’s book “Haunted Empire,” with Cook calling the entire work “nonsense.”
Merchant’s book comes out next Tuesday.