The One Device

The Secret History of the iPhone


By Brian Merchant

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The secret history of the invention that changed everything-and became the most profitable product in the world.

The One Device is a tour de force, with a fast-paced edge and heaps of analytical insight.”-Ashlee Vance, New York Times bestselling author of Elon Musk

“A stunning book. You will never look at your iPhone the same way again.” -Dan Lyons, New York Times bestselling author of Disrupted

Odds are that as you read this, an iPhone is within reach. But before Steve Jobs introduced us to “the one device,” as he called it, a cell phone was merely what you used to make calls on the go.

How did the iPhone transform our world and turn Apple into the most valuable company ever? Veteran technology journalist Brian Merchant reveals the inside story you won’t hear from Cupertino-based on his exclusive interviews with the engineers, inventors, and developers who guided every stage of the iPhone’s creation.

This deep dive takes you from inside One Infinite Loop to 19th century France to WWII America, from the driest place on earth to a Kenyan pit of toxic e-waste, and even deep inside Shenzhen’s notorious “suicide factories.” It’s a firsthand look at how the cutting-edge tech that makes the world work-touch screens, motion trackers, and even AI-made their way into our pockets.

The One Device is a roadmap for design and engineering genius, an anthropology of the modern age, and an unprecedented view into one of the most secretive companies in history. This is the untold account, ten years in the making, of the device that changed everything.



On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs strode onstage at Macworld wearing his trademark black turtleneck, blue jeans, and white sneakers. Twenty minutes into his annual keynote speech, Jobs paused as if to gather his thoughts.

"Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything," he said. "Well, today, we're introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a wide-screen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator…

"Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices; this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.

"Today," he added, "Apple is going to reinvent the phone."

Then it did.

"Where are. You from?"

"California. Loose angels. Holly would. And. You? Where are. You from? Shang hi?"

Nearly ten years after Jobs's promise, I'm barreling down the highway between the Shanghai Pudong airport and the city's commercial district, and the cabdriver keeps passing his device back to me over the plastic partition. We take turns speaking into a translation app.

"No. Not Shang hi. Hang zoo."

Smog softens Shanghai's neon glow. From here, the skyline is a Blade Runner screenshot: brilliant, contorted skyscrapers gracefully recede into a polluted haze.

Our digitally stilted but mostly comprehensible conversation veers from how his night's been (okay) to how long he's been driving a cab (eight years) to the economic conditions of the city (getting worse).

"The pry says keep rising. But. The way jays stay. Flat," a Siri-ish robo-woman's voice intones. When the cabdriver gets fired up, he slows down to crawl, still smack in the middle of the freeway, and cars speed by us as I clutch my seat belt.

"No where. To live." I nod, and he speeds up again.

Interesting, I thought, that my first conversation in Shanghai—where tens of thousands of skilled workers assemble and export the iPhone—was also made possible by the iPhone.

For hours, I'd been dying just to use my iPhone—a two-leg transatlantic flight with no wi-fi left me itchy and anxious; my phone was a simmering black hole in my pocket. You might know the feeling: that burning absence whenever you leave it at home or get stuck without a signal. Today, the phone is a lifeline. I felt like I had to find a connection to FaceTime with my wife and two-month-old son back home. Not to mention to catch up on email, Twitter, the news, everything else.

How did this happen? How did this one device become the new center of gravity, running our daily lives and enabling things that seemed like science fiction a decade ago—like putting a universal language translator in our pocket? How did it become the one device we need above all?

I was in Shanghai as part of yearlong effort to find out.

Radical, civilization-scale transformations aren't usually rapid and seamless. They tend to be one or the other. But smartphones took over the world quietly and completely in a matter of years, and we barely noticed. We went from having a computer in the household or at work to carrying one everywhere, along with internet access, live chat rooms, interactive maps, a solid camera, Google, streaming video, a near-infinite selection of games, Instagram, Uber, Twitter, and Facebook—platforms that reorganized how we communicate, earn, recreate, love, live, and more—in about the time span of two presidential terms. We is the U.S. population, in which smartphone ownership rose from about 10 percent in 2007 to 80 percent in 2016.

That transformation has turned the iPhone into the biggest star of the consumer-electronics world since—scratch that; it's the star of the entire retail world. No, even that undersells it. The iPhone might actually be the pinnacle product of all of capitalism to this point.

In 2016, Horace Dediu, a technology-industry analyst and Apple expert, listed some of the bestselling products in various categories. The top car brand, the Toyota Corolla: 43 million units. The bestselling game console, the Sony PlayStation: 382 million. The number-one book series, Harry Potter: 450 million books. The iPhone: 1 billion. That's nine zeros. "The iPhone is not only the bestselling mobile phone but also the bestselling music player, the bestselling camera, the bestselling video screen and the bestselling computer of all time," he concluded. "It is, quite simply, the bestselling product of all time."

It's in contention for most stared-at, too. According to Nielsen, Americans spend 11 hours a day in front of their screens. One estimate says 4.7 hours of that time is spent on their phones. (Which leaves approximately 5 waking hours for more traditional life-living: eating, exercising, and driving between the places where we look at screens.) Now 85 percent of Americans say that mobile devices are a central part of their everyday life. You may know you use your phone a lot, but according to a study conducted by British psychologists, you probably use it twice as much as you think you do. Which makes sense, given that we rarely let our phones leave our side—an attachment we've had with very few technologies. "It's almost vanishingly rare that we pick a new device that we always have with us," the historian of mobile technology Jon Agar says. "Clothes—a Paleolithic thing? Glasses? And a phone. The list is tiny. In order to make that list, it has to be desirable almost universally."

Meanwhile, that universally desirable device has made Apple one of the most valuable companies on the planet. What the tech press called the "Jesus phone" now accounts for two-thirds of the company's revenue. Profit margins on the iPhone have been reported to be as high as 70 percent, and as "low" as 41 percent. (No wonder Google's Android phones, which are now even more ubiquitous than iPhones, emulate them so closely they kicked off the industry's most vicious patent battle.) In 2014, Wall Street analysts attempted to identify the world's most profitable product, and the iPhone landed in the top slot—right above Marlboro cigarettes. The iPhone is more profitable than a relentlessly marketed drug that physically addicts its customers.

There's a dependency parallel here too. Like so many, I read news on my iPhone. I'm lost without Google Maps at my fingertips. I keep a constant side-eye on the device for notifications. I check Twitter and Facebook and chat on Messages. I write emails, coordinate workflow, scan pictures. As a journalist, I record interviews and snap publication-quality photos.

The iPhone isn't just a tool; it's the foundational instrument of modern life.

So how, and why, did I wind up in Shanghai, looking for the soul of the iPhone? It started months before—when I broke one (again). You know the drill. It slides out of your pocket, and a tiny crack branches into a screen-coating spiderweb.

Instead of buying a new one (again), I decided to take the opportunity to learn how to fix it myself—and find out what's behind the display. I'd been carrying this thing around for years, and I had no idea. So I headed to iFixit HQ, nestled in sleepy San Luis Obispo on the California coast. The company publishes gold-standard gadget-repair guides, and a mellow repair pro named Andrew Goldberg is its lead teardown engineer.

Soon, I was wielding its custom-made tool, the iSclack—picture a pair of pliers whose ends are fixed with suction cups—like a first-year med student. My iPhone 6 and its cracked screen sat between its jaws. I was hesitating: If I popped too hard, I could sever a crucial cable and kill my phone entirely.

"Do it quick," Goldberg said, and pointed to the device, which was beginning to pull apart from the suction. The lights of the workshop studio glared. I was actually sweating. I shuffled my feet, steadied myself, and snap—my trusted personal assistant cracked open safely, like the hood of a car.

"That was easy, right?" Goldberg said. It was.

But the relief was fleeting. Goldberg disconnects that cable and removes the aluminum plating inside. Soon my phone's guts are laid out before me on a stark little gadgetry operating table. And if I'm being honest here—it makes me weirdly uncomfortable, sort of like I'm looking at a corpse in the morgue. My iPhone, my intimately personalized life navigator, now looks like standard-issue e-waste—until you know what you're looking at.

The left side of the unit is filled with a long, flat battery—it takes up half the iPhone's real estate. The logic board, a bracket-shaped nest that houses the chips that bring the iPhone to life, wraps around to the right. A family of cables snake around the top.

"There's four different cables connecting the display assembly to the rest of the phone," Goldberg says. "One is going to be the digitizer that receives your touch input. So that works with a whole array of touch capacitors embedded in the glass. You can't actually see them, but when your finger's there… they can detect where you're touching. So that's its own cable, and the LCD has its own cable, the fingerprint sensor has its own cable. And then the last cable up here is for the front piece and camera."

This book is an attempt to trace those cables—not just inside the phone, but around the world and throughout history. To get a better, more tactile sense of the technologies, people, and scientific breakthroughs that culminated in a device that's become so ubiquitous, we take it for granted. The iPhone intertwines a phenomenal number of prior inventions and insights, some that stretch back into antiquity. It may, in fact, be our most potent symbol of just how deeply interconnected the engines that drive modern technological advancement have become.

However, there's one figure and one figure alone who looms over the invention of the iPhone: Steven P. Jobs, as his name is listed, usually first, on Apple's most important patents for the device. But the truth is that Jobs is only a small part of its saga.

"There was an extraordinary cult of Jobs as seemingly the inventor of this world-transforming gizmo, when he wasn't," the historian David Edgerton says. "There is an irony here—in the age of information and the knowledge society, the oldest of invention myths was propagated." He's referring to the Edison myth, or the myth of the lone inventor—the notion that after countless hours of toiling, one man can conjure up an invention that changes the course of history.

Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb, but his research team found the filament that produced the beautiful, long-lasting glow necessary to turn it into a hit product. Likewise, Steve Jobs did not invent the smartphone, though his team did make it universally desirable. Yet the lone-inventor concept lives on. It's a deeply appealing way to consider the act of innovation. It's simple, compelling, and seems morally right—the hardworking person with brilliant ideas who refused to give up earned his fortune with toil and personal sacrifice. It's also a counterproductive and misleading fiction.

It is very rare that there's a single inventor of a new technology—or even a single responsible group. From the cotton gin to the lightbulb to the telephone, most technologies are invented simultaneously or nearly simultaneously by two or more teams working entirely independently. Ideas really are "in the air," as patent expert Mark Lemley puts it. Innumerable inventive minds are, at any given time, examining the cutting-edge technologies and seeking to advance them. Many are working as hard as our mythic Edisons. But the ones we consider iconic inventors are often those whose version of the end product sold the best in the marketplace, who told the most memorable stories, or who won the most important patent battles.

The iPhone is a deeply, almost incomprehensibly, collective achievement. As the pile of phone guts on the iFixit table attests, the iPhone is what's often called a convergence technology. It's a container ship of inventions, many of which are incompletely understood. Multitouch, for instance, granted the iPhone its interactive magic, enabling swiping, pinching, and zooming. And while Jobs publicly claimed the invention as Apple's own, multitouch was developed decades earlier by a trail of pioneers from places as varied as CERN's particle-accelerator labs to the University of Toronto to a start-up bent on empowering the disabled. Institutions like Bell Labs and CERN incubated research and experimentation; governments poured in hundreds of millions of dollars to support them.

But casting aside the lone-inventor myth and recognizing that thousands of innovators contributed to the device isn't enough to see how we arrived at the iPhone. Ideas require raw materials and hard labor to become inventions. Miners on almost every continent chisel out the hard-to-reach elements that go into manufacturing iPhones, which are assembled by hundreds of thousands of hands in city-size factories across China. Each of those laborers and miners are an essential part of the iPhone's story—it wouldn't be in anyone's pocket today without them.

All of these technological, economic, and cultural trends had to glom together before the iPhone could finally allow us to achieve what J.C.R. Licklider termed man-computer symbiosis: A coexistence with an omnipresent digital reference tool and entertainment source, an augmenter of our thoughts and enabler of our impulses. The better we understand the complexity behind our most popular consumer product and the work, inspiration, and suffering that makes it possible, the better we'll understand the world that's hooked on it.

None of this diminishes the achievements of the designers and engineers at Apple who ultimately brought the iPhone to market. Without their engineering insights, key designs, and software innovations, the immaculately crafted one device may never have become just that. But thanks in part to Apple's notorious secrecy, few even know who they are.

That culture of secrecy extends to the physical product itself. Have you ever tried to pry your own iPhone open to look inside? Apple would rather you didn't. One of the ways it became the most profitable corporation on the planet is by keeping us out of the morgue. Jobs told his biographer that allowing people to tinker with his designs "would just allow people to screw things up." Thus, iPhones are sealed with proprietary screws, called Pentalobes, that make it impossible to open up your own phone without a special tool.

"I've had people say, 'Oh, my phone, it doesn't last as long as it used to,'" iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens says. "And I'm like, 'You know you can swap the battery.' I swear to God I've had people say, 'There's a battery inside my phone?'" With the rise of slick, sealed smartphones, we risk happily swiping along as, to borrow Arthur C. Clarke's famous line, this sufficiently advanced technology becomes indistinguishable from magic.

So let's open the iPhone up, to discover its beginnings and evaluate its impact. To bust the Jobs-Edison myth of the lone inventor. To understand how we got to iPhone.

Toward that end, I traveled to Shanghai and Shenzhen, and snuck into the factory where Chinese workers piece the phones together, where a suicide epidemic exposed the harsh conditions in which iPhones get made. I had a metallurgist pulverize an iPhone to find out exactly which elements lay inside. I climbed into mines where child laborers pry tin and gold from the depths of a collapsing mountain. I watched hackers pwn my iPhone at America's largest cybersecurity conference. I met the father of mobile computing and heard his thoughts about what the iPhone meant for his dream. I traced the origins of multitouch through a field of unacknowledged pioneers. I interviewed the transgender chip designer who made the iPhone's brain possible. I met the unheralded software-design geniuses who shaped the iPhone's look and feel into what it is today.

In fact, I spoke to every iPhone designer, engineer, and executive who was willing to do an interview. My goal is that by the end of this book, you'll glance into the black mirror of your iPhone and see, not the face of Jobs, but a group picture of its myriad creators—and have a more nuanced, true, and, I think, compelling portrait of the one device that pulled us all into its future.

A quick note on Apple: Investigating the iPhone is a paradoxical task. A parade of pundits, anonymous sources, and blog posts offer an endless stream of opinions about everything Apple does. A few flat cryptic words from an Apple press release often provides the "official" record. Apple grants next to no interviews with its staff, and the journalists who do get interviews are typically handpicked for their long-standing or friendly relationships with company. I am not one of those journalists—in fact, I'm not even much of a gadget geek. (While I've been on the science and tech beat for about a decade now, I've spent more time covering oil spills than product demos.) So, while I made Apple officials fully aware of this project from the outset and repeatedly spoke with and met their PR representatives, they declined my many requests to interview executives and employees. Tim Cook never answered my (very thoughtful) emails. To tell this story, I met current and former Apple employees in dank dive bars or spoke with them over encrypted communications, and I had to grant anonymity to some of those I interviewed. Many people from the iPhone team still working at Apple told me they would have loved to participate on the record—they wanted the world to know its incredible story—but declined for fear of violating Apple's strict policy of secrecy. I'm confident that the dozens of interviews I did with iPhone innovators, the talks I had with journalists and historians who've studied it, and the documents I've obtained about the device all helped render a full and accurate portrait.

That portrait will emerge on two tracks. The first puts you inside Apple to show how the iPhone was imagined, prototyped, and created by a host of unsung innovators—those who pioneered new ways of manipulating and interacting with information. These four sections start when you turn the page, and appear throughout the middle and at the end of the book—fitting, I think, as countless people gave rise to the one device, but Apple ultimately made the iPhone.

The second will follow my efforts to uncover the iPhone's raw source material, to meet with the minds and hands that made it possible around the globe. These chapters will start at Chapter 1, and proceed from examining the century-old origins of the idea of a "smartphone" to exploring the powerful technologies gathered under its hood, to investigating how all those parts are assembled in China, to visiting the black markets and e-waste pits where they ultimately wind up.

With that, let's make our first stop—Apple HQ in Cupertino, California, the heart of Silicon Valley.

i: Exploring New Rich Interactions

iPhone in embryo

Apple's user-testing lab at 2 Infinite Loop had been abandoned for years. Down the hall from the famed Industrial Design studio, the space was divided by a one-way mirror so hidden observers could see how ordinary people navigate new technologies. But Apple didn't do user testing, not since Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997. Under Jobs, Apple would show consumers what they wanted, not solicit their feedback.

But that deserted lab would make an ideal hideaway for a small group of Apple's more restless minds, who had quietly embarked on an experimental new project. For months, the team had held unofficial meetings marked by freewheeling brainstorms. Their mission was vague but simple: "Explore new rich interactions." The ENRI group, let's call it, was tiny. It included a few of Apple's young software designers, a key industrial designer, and a handful of adventurous input engineers. They were, essentially, trying to invent new ways of interfacing with machines.

Since its inception, the personal computer had relied on a century-old framework that allowed humans to tell it what to do: A keyboard laid out like a typewriter, the same basic tool a nineteenth-century newspaperman used to write copy. The only major addition to the input arsenal had been the mouse. Throughout the information revolution of the second half of the twentieth century, that was how most people navigated its bounty—with a typewriter and a clicker. Near-infinite digital possibilities, dusty old user interface.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the internet was mainstream and maturing. Online media was complex and interactive. Apple's own iPod was moving digital music into people's pockets, and the personal computer had become a hub for maps, movies, and images. The ENRI group predicted that typing and clicking would soon prove frustratingly cumbersome, and we'd need new ways to interact with all that rich media—especially on Apple's storied computer. "There was a core little secret group," says one member, Joshua Strickon, "with the goal of re-envisioning input on the Mac."

The team was experimenting with every stripe of bleeding-edge hardware—motion sensors, new kinds of mice, a burgeoning technology known as multitouch—in a quest to uncover a more direct way to manipulate information. The meetings were so discreet that not even Jobs knew they were taking place. The gestures, user controls, and design tendencies stitched together here would become the cybernetic vernacular for the new century—because the kernel of this clandestine collaboration would become the iPhone.

Yet its pioneers' achievements have largely been hidden from view, stranded on the other side of that one-way mirror, by an intensely secretive corporation and its late spotlight-commanding CEO. The story of the iPhone starts, in other words, not with Steve Jobs or a grand plan to revolutionize phones, but with a misfit crew of software designers and hardware hackers tinkering with the next evolutionary step in human-computer symbiosis.

Assembling the Team

"User-interface design is still unknown to most people, even now," a member of the original iPhone team tells me. For one thing, the term user interface feels pulled right from a technical manual; the label itself seems uniquely designed to dull the senses. "There's no rock-star UI designer," he says. "There's no Jony Ive of UI." But if there were, they'd be Bas Ording and Imran Chaudhri. "They're the Lennon-McCartney of UI."

Ording and Chaudhri met during some of Apple's darkest days. Ording, a Dutch software designer with a flair for catchy, playful animations, was hired into the Human Interface group in 1998, the year after the company hemorrhaged a billion dollars in lost revenue and Jobs returned to stanch the bleeding. Chaudhri, a sharp British designer as influenced by MTV's icons as Apple's, had arrived a few years before and survived Jobs's slash-and-burn layoffs. "I first met Imran at some point in the parking lot smoking cigarettes," Ording says. "We were like, 'Hey, dude!'" They make for an odd pair; Bas is lanky, easygoing, and almost preternaturally good-natured, while Imran is intense, fashionable, and broadcasts an austere cool. But they hit it off right away. Soon, Ording convinced Chaudhri to come over to the UI group.

There, they joined Greg Christie, a New Yorker who'd come to Apple in 1995 for one reason: "To do Newton"—Apple's personal digital assistant, an early stab at a mobile computer. "My family thought I was nuts moving to Apple," he says, "working for this company that's clearly going out of business." The Newton didn't sell well, so Jobs killed it, and Christie wound up in charge of the Human Interface group.

As Jobs placed renewed focus on Apple's flagship Macs, Bas and Imran cut their teeth updating the look and feel of its age-worn operating system. They worked on pulsating buttons, animated progress bars, and a glossy, transparent look that rejuvenated the appeal of the Mac. Their creative partnership bloomed. They helped prove that user interface design, long derided as dull—the province of grey user settings and drop-down menus; "knobs and dials" as Christie puts it—was ripe for innovation. As Bas and Imran's stars rose inside Apple, they started casting around for new frontiers.

Fortunately, they were about to find one.

While training to be a civil engineer in Massachusetts, Brian Huppi idly picked up Steven Levy's Insanely Great. The book documents how in the early 1980s Steve Jobs separated key Apple players from the rest of the company, flew a pirate flag above their department, and drove them to build the pioneering Macintosh. Huppi couldn't put it down. "I was like, 'Wow, what would it be like to work at a place like Apple?'" At that, he quit his program and went back to school for mechanical engineering. Then he heard Jobs was back at the helm at Apple—serendipity. Huppi landed a job as an input engineer there in 1998.

He was put to work on the iBook laptop, where he got to know the Industrial Design group, whose profile had already begun to rise under its head, Jonathan Ive. Jobs's streamlining of the company had placed a renewed focus on design, and the ID group's head-turning, color-splashed Bondi Blue iMac—a radical departure for the beige desktop-heavy industry—had helped turn Apple's fortunes around at the end of the '90s. The gig turned out to be a little less insane than Huppi might have imagined, though. His work consisted largely of shipping one laptop, then getting to work updating its successor. He hadn't quit civil engineering to iterate laptop hardware; he was after something more in the pirate flag–flying, industry-shaking vein. So he turned to one industrial designer in particular—Duncan Kerr, who'd worked at the famed design firm IDEO before heading to Apple. "Duncan is the least ID guy of all the ID guys," Chaudhri says—someone who was as interested in what was happening on the screen as what the screen was shaped like.

"We'd been discussing how it'd be really cool to sit down and really focus on talking about a very user-centric approach to what we might do with input," Huppi says. They wanted to reimagine how humans interacted with computing devices from the ground up, and to ask, what, exactly, they wanted those interactions to be. So Kerr approached Jony Ive to see if the ID group could support a small team that met regularly to investigate the topic. Ive was all for it, which was good news—if anyone hoped to embark on a wild, transformative project and actually hope to see it come to fruition, ID was the place to go.


  • Shortlisted for the 2017 Financial Times Business Book of the Year Award and the 1-800-CEO-READS Award

    One of the Best Business Books of 2017 - CNBC, Bloomberg, 1-800-CEO-Read, Financial Times, Marginal Revolution. Business Insider

    A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
  • "A remarkable tale... the story it tells is compelling, even addictive--almost as addictive as the iPhone itself."—Wall Street Journal
  • "Like the best historians, Merchant... unpacks the history of the iPhone in a way that makes it seem both inevitable in its outline and surprising in its details."—The Guardian
  • "Apple's culture of secrecy is no match for Brian Merchant in The One Device....Merchant tells a far richer story than I--having covered Apple for years as a journalist--have seen before... The iPhone masquerades as a thing not made by human hands. Merchant's book makes visible that human labor, and in the process dispels some of the fog and reality distortion that surround the iPhone."—Lev Grossman, New York Times Book Review
  • "A fascinating story."—Marketplace
  • "Merchant does the important work of excavating and compiling large numbers of details and anecdotes about the development of the iPhone, many of them previously unrecorded... Merchant tells a far richer story than the outside world has seen before."—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  • "Brian Merchant takes readers on an epic journey."—Parade
  • "Brian Merchant gives us a rare look inside Apple, chronicling the development of the iPhone with details about everything from the selection of raw materials to the product's famous launch event."—Gizmodo
  • "Fascinating... the author writes in the style of a fast-paced novel, with vivid details that help readers really understand how the iPhone was devised and launched."—John Rampton, Entrepreneur
  • "A wild ride."—San Francisco Chronicle
  • "An excellent book."—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
  • "The One Device is a tour de force. Brian Merchant has dug into the iPhone like no other reporter before him, traveling the world to find the untold stories behind the device's creation and uncover the very real human costs that come with making the iPhone. Packed with vivid detail, the book carries the reader from one unexpected revelation to the next with a fast-paced edge and heaps of analytical insight."—Ashlee Vance, New York Times bestselling author of Elon Musk
  • "This is a stunning book-a comprehensive, fascinating, and compulsively engaging account of how the most revolutionary product of our age was invented. Brian Merchant sets off on a journey around the globe, from design studios in California to mines in South America to factories in China, to tell the human stories-the ruined marriages, the lost lives-behind this iconic device. You will never look at your iPhone the same way again."—Dan Lyons, New York Times bestselling author of Disrupted
  • "Brian Merchant has written a fascinating biography of the iPhone, the most important single product ever created. If you've looked at the glowing screen in your hand and wondered where the hell it came from, this book provides rich, unexpected, and unusually sophisticated answers."—Alexis Madrigal, author of Powering the Dream
  • "Compressing decades of competitive invention and behind-the-screen intrigue, Brian Merchant looks deep into the black mirror of the iPhone to tell us the prehistory-and cultural future-of Apple's addictive device. This is the true science fiction of our time: how everyday experience was reinvented by a gadget."—Geoff Manaugh, New York Times bestselling author of A Burglar's Guide to the City
  • "The One Device is a high-stakes adventure all thw ay down the global supply chain, from hush-hush design labs to dusty, desolate South American mines and sweeping Chinese factories the size of cities, passing through nearly every continent on Earth as it reveals the countless hidden lives that touch your iPhone before-and after-it passes through your hands. Think of it as the manual Apple would never give you: required reading for anyone who wants to know how their iPhone really works."—Claire Evans, author and member of YACHT
  • "A thoughtful portrait of how a piece of reigning technology became ubiquitous in just a decade, for good and ill."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Riveting...a globe-trotting history that... lets us hear from some of the innovators who created the elements [of the iPhone]. A fascinating and surprising book."—Library Journal
  • "Brian Merchant is a lovely writer... formidable... fascinating."—The Times of London

On Sale
May 29, 2018
Page Count
416 pages
Back Bay Books

Brian Merchant

About the Author

Brian Merchant is the bestselling author of The One Device. His work has appeared in WIREDThe New York TimesThe Atlantic, Harper'sThe Guardian, and beyond. He is the founder of Terraform, VICE Media's speculative fiction publication, and Automaton, a special project examining AI and automation at Gizmodo. He lives in Los Angeles. 

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