The iPhone launched my career

January 9, 2023
“An iPod, a Phone, and an Internet communicator.” —Steve Jobs

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the announcement of the iPhone. Every year, I re-watch what is arguably on of the best keynote talks of all time that happened. At 9:41 AM on January 9, 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed to the world the iPhone.I get a bit reflective and introspective on the anniversary of the iPhone. It's funny to think at that time as I was torn whether the iPhone would be a legitimate device or if I should go with the Samsung Blackjack

When the iPhone launched, I was an art school graduate working random jobs as I was applying for graduate schools to pursue my MFA in Painting. I was doing random production design jobs and web design.

It seems forgotten today, but when iPhone OS (what it was called before iOS) launched, its features and capabilities were limiting. You couldn't even cut and paste text! Also, there was no App Store—only the first party applications built by Apple. A year later on July 10, 2008, Apple launched the App Store, which launched thousands of new business and sparked careers, including my own. It gave the opportunity for some of us to start fresh. I started at a time when nobody really knew how to design for the iPhone or understood the limitations and possibility of it.

Wavepiloting these uncharted waters gave many of us to be foolish, play around, and see what works. From the fart apps, to the I Am Rich app (the original NFT?), to the early Tapulous apps like Tap Revenge and Twinkle. The App Store was a new place to play and share our work. At the time, I was working at ExactTarget (later acquired by Salesforce) and felt the itch. Though I liked my job and the people I worked with, the space of mobile was too exciting to pass up. When I was done with work I would make time to explore iPhone concepts, simply for the joy of it. Below is a concept I created of the Nikestore (one of our clients at the time) to play around with the possibilities. I believe this is the first mobile design I ever did.

One of the first iPhone mockups I ever did, if not the very first

Playing and exploring got addictive. I ended up leaving ExactTarget February of 2011 to start a company with my friend Adam. We were traveling Europe and working on a variety of projects, spanning from Rails apps, Android, and some iOS. On October 5, 2011, the pioneer for the iPhone, Steve Jobs, passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. I recall sitting at the Uptown Espresso in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. My friend Melissa was the one who told me at the news. I called Adam, still a bit emotional about the news.

Let’s go all in with iPhone

Just build iPhone apps. It’s what we wanted to do. I wanted to design for mobile and Adam loved (and still loves) Objective-C. Let’s do something to honor Steve by shipping our first app. The first app we worked on shipping was Paper’d, an app that Jamie and Nicole had the idea for. This was the first time something we ever did was in the app store. It was so exciting, and it became addicting.

Paper’d app (designs by Jamie Varon)

Shipping became an expectation. We continued to work on many client apps at Xhatch (the company Adam and I co-founded) and took on another project, RentalGuard. This was the first app we did as a full client services project, and we hired two of Adam’s former co-workers, Jake and Jason, who are now my close friends.

As we learned more, we thrived for new challenges.

Shipping for iPad

This opportunity came to us working with a woman named Kami who approached us via email. She wanted to build an app that focused on games and puzzles for Occupational Therapists.

Do this day, Shelby’s Quest was one of my favorite projects because of the subject matter and collaboration with our client. This app was featured by Apple.

Building our own app: Carogram

We created Carogram, a passion project we did in the early days (see skeuomorphic style) to play around with Instagram’s API. Yes, it still bothers me to this day that Instagram does not have a native iPad app!

Black Pixel

After so many years knowing people in the community I respected (such as The Iconmaster), I joined Black Pixel. My first project was working on an iPad app for a luxury travel startup called Inspirato. There I met a young designer named Matilda, a designer living in London. Matilda to this day is one of the most talented designers I've ever worked with. At Black Pixel I was able to work with some of the best Mac and iOS developers in the world. I learned a ton from them and made unbreakable friendships.

Here's a video demo of the app in production. To my knowledge, it was one of the first apps built entirely with Swift in its very early days.

One Medical

After Black Pixel, I spent four amazing years at One Medical, where I started as an individual contributor. One of the first projects I worked on was with the mobile team on One Medical's Virtual Care capabilities (Video Visits and Messaging). I brought my prototyping skills acquired from Black Pixel and that working style to One Medical. I pushed how I thought about prototyping, building concepts in Xcode. Here's a hackathon project of a mobile checkin concept for the front offices. This was built in Swift to prototype the use cases (before Swift UI existed).

I also had the chance to re-unite with Matilda again, who worked with us as a contractor to refresh the interface direction for our product suite.

The iPhone launched my career

I don’t know where my career (or life) would be if it was not for the launch of the iPhone. I often wonder if I would be paying off student loans for my MFA and unsure of what I would be doing as a career. During the iPhone phase of my career odyssey, I shipped over 20 apps for companies, with three featured by Apple. One of them was accepted Jason Calacanis' Launch Festival in 2012. That’s mind-blowing to think about.

Most importantly, I found a community in Seattle Xcoders, a group of humans I consider good friends that helped me grow in my career.

My days looks much differently today as I'm no longer an individual contributor and in a leadership position, focused back on the web. It's been years since I've worked on iOS apps as I'm focused on authoring tools for internet publishing, where we're thinking about how to build an ecosystem in hopes to spark the same type of innovation the App Store did.

Never stop exploring, and be on the lookout for emerging tech. Design is a field that will always be relevant even as the technologies change. Play around with Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, decentralized protocols, etc. There is a good chance one of these will be the paradigm shifts like the iPhone forced the revolution for mobile devices.

For those who worked on it and made it possible, I thank you for the iPhone, and keeping me hungry and foolish.

The launch of the iPhone truly launched my career in so many ways. This is the power of building ecosystems that invites people to build together.



  • I originally posted this on Medium on June 29, 2016. In my effort to own all my content, I'm reposting and "remastering" posts on my website.

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