Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

The CIA-style "black op" that led to Apple's Safari

January 4, 2013: 2:30 PM ET

Cupertino's engineers take secrecy way beyond omertà when they're working on something new.

130104063749-safari-web-browser-monster-1FORTUNE -- Don Melton is an engineer who, while at Apple, was responsible for spearheading the development of the company's Safari web browser. Safari was introduced as an all-new, modern navigator in January 2003. Up to then, Cupertino had had a convoluted set of relationships with different browser makers, including a five-year agreement with Microsoft, and had tried to roll its own more than once. (Remember Cyberdog?)

At the time, Jobs pointed to two reasons Apple (AAPL) wanted its own browser: faster browsing and to kickstart innovation. Today, Safari is a major strategic asset for the company. On the desktop, Safari usage lags far behind Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox. (It has just over 7% market share compared to IE and Chrome's combined 66%, according to StatCounter.com.) But, depending on how you count, Safari is either the most popular mobile browser or just behind Google's (GOOG) Chrome for Android. Mobile browsing is exploding and set to keep growing, making Safari one of Apple's most important products.

Now Melton has written a fascinating account of the secrecy that went into developing Safari in the first place. How far Apple will go to keep new products a secret is well documented. (See Fortune's The secrets Apple keeps.) The internal measures it takes to keep information from getting out are one thing. But the technical and managerial hoops engineers sometimes find themselves jumping through are next level. For instance:

Not only was I tasked by Scott Forstall with building a browser and building a team to build that browser, I had to keep the whole damn project a secret. Which, by the way, really complicated the shit out of hiring most of the original team since I couldn't tell them what they were working on until they took the job.

Check out the rest of the story on Don's blog.

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