On the 10th anniversary of the iPad launching in stores, Agile Partners co-founder Jack Ivers has shared an interesting story about how his company managed to get in Apple's good graces and ultimately gain access to prototype iPads.
The story begins in 2008, when Agile Partners released GuitarToolkit as one of the first iPhone apps on the App Store. The app used the iPhone's microphone to detect musical notes in an incoming audio stream to see the real-time pitch of a guitar string. Apple has long had an interest in music, so the app quickly caught its eye.
In 2009, Apple covertly reached out to Agile Partners about featuring GuitarToolkit in a worldwide advertising campaign:
We began receiving calls that went as follows:
Apple: We need you to internationalize GuitarToolkit for the following languages: Japanese, simplified Chinese, German, French, and Spanish. By next week please.
Agile: Ummm ... why?
Apple: Sign this NDA.
Agile: Here you go. So tell us more.
Apple: We're considering featuring GuitarToolkit in an advertising campaign, but no promises. Will you do the internationalization?
Apple was asking us to jump, and it didn't take too much reflection to respond, "how high?" GuitarToolkit ended up being featured in a series of worldwide print and TV campaigns, including one that appeared on the back cover of many of the most prestigious magazines in the U.S. and around the world.
GuitarToolkit ended up being featured on the back cover of many popular magazines:
Then, in February 2010, just days after Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPad, an Apple executive reached out to Agile Partners requesting a quick conversation about something "important." After signing a very strict NDA, Agile Partners ended up being invited to Apple's headquarters to develop an iPad version of their GuitarToolkit app.
Agile Partners was provided with access to prototype iPads to develop its app and, unsurprisingly, they were located in a "locked, nondescript, unlabeled room on the second or third floor on the building that housed the Infinite Loop cafeteria."
The room had blackout curtains hanging inside the door so that, even when the door was open, you couldn't see inside. The room had three or four sturdy industrial tables, each with an iPad prototype chained to it. Each iPad was completely encased in what appeared to be Kevlar, with just the screen and home button exposed. Almost none of the industrial design was visible – bezels, back, edges, even the iPad's thickness, were all obscured by the bulky case.
Each table also had a Mac with a special Xcode that could build to the iPad. We spent the day tweaking app settings for the new screen dimensions, getting past beta glitches, and finally successfully building TabToolkit on the prototype iPads.
Agile Partners eventually became VIP attendees at WWDC 2010, where its iPad app received an Apple Design Award.