An email has been circulating the Internet as part of the release of documents related to Apple’s App Store based suite brought out by Epic Games. I love this email for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you can extrapolate from it because Apple has remained such a significant force in the industry for the past decade.
The gist of it is that Bertrand Serlet, SVP of software engineering, sent an email in October 2007, just three months after the iPhone was launched. In the email, Simplet outlines essentially every main feature of Apple’s App Store — a business that brought in an estimated $64B in 2020. And more importantly, it allowed countless Titanic Internet startups and businesses to launch and leverage the native. Apps on iPhone.
Forty-five minutes after the email, Steve Jobs replied from his iPhone to Serlet and iPhone chief Scott Forstall, “Sure, as long as we can roll it out on Macworld on January 15, 2008.”
Apple University should have a course dedicated to this email.
Here it is shared on Twitter from an account I prefer, internal technical email. Let me know if you run an account, I’m happy to credit you more here if you’d like:
First, we have the Serlet framework. It’s seven sentences that outline the key principles of the App Store. User security, network security, a proprietary developer platform and a sustainable API approach. It’s a direct question for resources – whatever we need in software engineering – to be shipped ASAP.
Underneath this is also a clear question, ‘Do you agree with these goals?’
Enough detail is included in parentheses to allow a knowledgeable reader to estimate the scope and hours of work. And at no point during this email does one join Serlet ounce of justification for these options. These are clear and necessary frameworks in their mind for iPhone developers to complete the rollout of the SDK.
No comprehensive reasoning is provided for each item, something that is often unnecessary in an informed context and can often serve as mental baggage that telegraphs to one of two things:
- You don’t trust the leader you are designing the project to know what they are talking about.
- You don’t believe it and you’re still trying to explain yourself.
Neither of these is the smartest way to provide the initial scope of the task. There’s plenty of time down the line to argue with people who have less command of the larger context.
If you’re a historian of iPhone software development, you’ll know that developer Nullriver released the installer, a third-party installer that allowed apps to load natively on the iPhone, in the summer of 2007. In early September, I believe. This was eventually followed in 2008 by the more popular Cydia. And there were developers that August and September were already experimenting with this completely unofficial way of getting apps on the store, like Venerable Twitter by Craig Hockenberry and Lights Off by Lucas Newman and Adam Bates.
Although there is plenty of established documentation of Steve being reluctant about allowing third-party apps on the iPhone, this email establishes an official timeline of when the decision was not only made but essentially fully formed. was. And it was long before the apocryphal discussion of when the call was made. This comes just weeks after the first hacky third-party attempts made their way to the iPhone and less than two months after the first iPhone jailbreak toolchain appeared.
There is no need or desire shown here to ‘ensure’ Steve that his touch is felt on this framework. Too often I see leaders who are obsessed with making sure they provide feedback and input at every turn. Why did you hire those people in the first place? Was it to his skill and prowess? His attention to detail? His obsessive desire to fix things?
Then let them do their job.
Serlet’s email is well written and has precise scope, yes. But the feedback is just as important. A timeline much less likely (the App Store was finally announced in March 2008 and shipped in July of that year) sets the bar high – urging all the teams to work together on the project. corresponds to the urgency. This is not a side alley, it is the foundation of a main road. It must be built before anything goes up.
This efficacy is at the core of what makes Apple good when it’s good. It’s not always good, but nothing ever happens 100% of the time and the hit record in a decade of shipped software and hardware is incredibly strong. Crisp, lean communication that doesn’t sound jarring or similar, coupled with a leader who trusts his or her own competence and the competence of the people they’ve hired, means sifting through the process to set a record of participation. There is no need to interrupt.
One can not exist without the other. A clear, well-reasoned RFP or project outline sent to insecure or ineffective management becomes fodder for an endless round of regional games or requests for clarification. And no matter how effective the leadership is and how talented their employees are, if they do not establish an environment in which there is clarity of thought. welcome and rewarded Then they’ll never get the kind of bold, declarative product development they want.
Overall, this exchange is a very important transitory that underscores an explosive growth phase for the entire app ecosystem era and Internet technology. And it’s also an encapsulation of the kind of environment that has made Apple such an effective and brutally efficient company for so many years.
Can it be learned and imitated? Perhaps, but only when all the people involved are ready to create the necessary environment to promote the above essential elements. Nine times out of ten you get moribund management, an environment that discourages taking a blunt position and a muddy route to the exit. For the tenth time, though, you get the spell.
And, hey, maybe we can take this opportunity to make that next meeting an email?