Steve Jobs’ on-stage iPad pitch to customers saw him relaxing in a luxury chair. His brief to Apple engineers actually building the iPad? “I want a single piece of glass I can use to read email on the toilet.”

That’s according to Imran Chaudhri, a 21-year Apple veteran, now chairman and president of Humane. Chaudhri was responding to a recent article about the iPad’s origins which appeared in the New York Times.

The article that inspired Chaudhri’s tweet thread was an NYT article on the decade in tech. As part of the article, journalist Brian X. Chen interviewed Apple’s Phil Schiller and former WSJ columnist Walt Mossberg.

In the article, Schiller describes how the iPad’s minimalism was driven by Jobs’ desire to get to a computer with a $499 price tag. This pre-dated the iPhone. It made Apple ditch pricey components, such as keyboards and clamshells. That meant typing directly on the screen, which became multitouch.

Chaudhri picks up the story by talking about how a group of Apple engineers created multitouch demos. “You‘ve got to give me something I can sell,” was Jobs’ message. They reported looked into integrating it into a Mac-based tablet, but this would have been too expensive.

After exploring a few other directions, they wound up creating the iPad concept we have today. As Chaudhri writes, “Steve did get his piece of glass so he could read email on the toilet. We all did.”

Steve Jobs and the iPad

Personally, one of the most intriguing parts of the story is how it underlines Jobs’ change of attitude at Apple. In the early 1980s, Jobs had argued with Macintosh project creator Jef Raskin over the direction of the project. Raskin wanted to start with a low price and build a computer that was as good as possible for this price. Jobs wanted to build something that was as high spec as possible, regardless of the price.

Jobs continued with that approach at NeXT — where the NeXT Computer was meant for the education market, but proved way too expensive.

By the time he came back to Apple in the late 90s, Jobs’ approach had changed. He wanted Apple to make cool tech that was affordable. Without that directive, there’s a very good chance we’d have neither the iPhone or the iPad today.

By Luke Dormehl •