An e-mail inquiry from Apple last month offers a glimpse into the famously secretive company's preparations for Friday's release of the iPhone.
If you want the short version, here it is: Steve Jobs is involved in making even minor decisions about the iPhone's look and feel. Oh, and Apple employees don't get a substantial discount on the Jesus Device.
The story begins on May 4, when an Apple employee I'll call Joan sent me an e-mail message asking about one of my photographs on McCullagh.org. I have a few thousand photographs on my Web site that I make available for editorial and commercial licensing, and Joan wanted to know if my jellyfish photos were available.
"We are currently gathering images to present to Steve Jobs to include in our new product the iPhone," Joan said. "These images, if chosen, would be used as a wallpaper option on the device."
Steve? This is the fellow whose obsession with aesthetic perfection maps to landmarks in computing history, including the original Macintosh, the NeXT cube, and the iPod. Business 2.0's Josh Quittner quips: "His products are almost always the closest thing we mortals can experience when it comes to seeing the Platonic ideal of form and function expressed in a gadget." (Disclaimer: I worked for Steve at NeXT Computer as a low-level flunky circa 1990-1991.)
So I was tickled.
Apple and NeXT have long included unique system beeps and background images. In 1989, the NeXTstep operating system came with stunning-at-the-time TIFF photographs of Yosemite and a human eye. The Macintosh operating system featured the system sound called "sosumi," a legal taunt that's since been immortalized in music. Someone has even collected start-up sounds going back to the days of the Apple IIc and the (sadly underappreciated) Apple IIgs.
It would be an honor, I figured, to be in that kind of company. I wrote back to Joan: "I'd grant you the license you need for that photograph at no cost--in exchange for letting me purchase an iPhone at the usual employee discount and having it arrive at my office on the day it first becomes available to the public."
I also included links to otherphotos on McCullagh.org that I thought might make halfway decent background images for the iPhone's 320x480-pixel screen. (Just between you and me, the jellyfish photos actually aren't all that great. I took them over five years ago and I've learned some lessons since.)
Joan wrote back on May 9: "We are actually only looking for jellyfish images at this time. As for the discount in exchange for the right to your imagery...I don't think you want our discount. It'll be comparable to the tax on the product. No joke." (Update 6/29: There have been reports that longer-serving Apple employees will receive free iPhones.)
Points for honesty. Oh well. I proposed a licensing fee of $250.
I finally heard back from Joan last week with the bad news. Steve, my old boss, had nixed my photographs.
Apple, Joan apologetically informed me, had "decided against any underwater/jellyfish images" for the iPhone.
So there you have it: The crazed hordes already camping in the rain outside of Apple stores hoping for an iPhone won't be enjoying jellyfish photos as default backgrounds. But if any other monomaniacal, design-obsessed CEO wants to buy 'em, you know where to find me.