THE ONE DEVICE by Brian  Merchant


The Secret History of the iPhone
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Wide-ranging history of the iPhone, which might just be “the pinnacle product of all of capitalism to this point.”

Some of Vice science and tech editor Merchant’s account of the development of what Steve Jobs called “the one device,” the life-unifying little computer that one could carry in one’s pocket and incidentally use as a telephone, is a little scattershot. It contributes little to the story to recap the history of “line-of-sight semaphores” and other signaling technologies, for instance. When the author settles in to the facts of the phone itself, though, he delivers a solid if formulaic business history, complete with the trope that a single charismatic leader—Jobs, in this case—seldom acts alone but instead has a team backing the “chief proselytizer.” In the case of the iPhone, that team was made up of hungry engineers and designers who were avid for the project and wanted to make something that would be not just insanely great, but attractive, with a handsome user interface and a lot of power. The dream team included “an MIT-trained sensor savant with an ear for electronica and a feel for touchscreens” and “a decorated and respected designer intent on marrying industrial design to digital interfaces.” Despite the usual stumbling blocks, they succeeded well beyond expectation. Merchant has a good handle on the technology—how, for instance, accelerometers and magnetometers play in the development of truly smart smartphones—and a good feel for the archly competitive, sometimes oddly monastic culture of Apple. He also does not shy away from the darker aspects of the technology, including working conditions at Chinese manufacturing facilities that border on slave labor.

Merchant’s story takes sometimes-unexpected turns, but in the end, he paints a thoughtful portrait of how a piece of reigning technology became ubiquitous in just a decade, for good and ill.

Pub Date: June 20th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-316-54616-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2017


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