Ahead of second Samsung trial, Apple tosses the press a bone

March 26, 2014, 5:46 PM UTC

A system used to test early versions of the iPhone’s software. Photo: Apple

FORTUNE — Apple’s (AAPL) rules for dealing with reporters are pretty simple: Say absolutely nothing on the record. And if you have to say something, craft a statement that gives nothing away, then repeat it as often as necessary.

So you know something is afoot when the company allows the
Wall Street Journal
— whose reporters cover Apple like a blanket and are not always so warm — to interview Greg Christie, one of the small team of engineers that developed the original iPhone.

What’s afoot, of course, is the second Samsung patent infringement trial, scheduled to begin next Monday in a San Jose, Calif., U.S. District Court. At the end of the first trial, a jury awarded Apple more than a $1 billion in damages, an award that was later whittled down to $930 million. The second trial — over a new set of Samsung devices that sold in even larger quantities — could result in even bigger damages.

Christie’s name appears on U.S. Patent No. 8,046,721 — “slide to unlock” — one of five Apple patents at issue in the new trial. Apple claims Samsung willfully copied a key iPhone innovation; Samsung argues that there was nothing innovative about it.

To counter that argument — and perhaps influence both the Journal‘s coverage and the public’s perception — Apple permitted Christie to talk to the paper about the pressure he was under to get the design right. Daisuke Wakabayashi’s account in the Journal begins with Steve Jobs putting the heat on Christie as only Steve Jobs could do:

In February 2005, Apple’s then chief executive, Steve Jobs, gave senior software engineer Greg Christie an ultimatum.

Mr. Christie’s team had been struggling for months to lay out the software vision for what would become the iPhone as well as how the parts would work together. Now, Mr. Jobs said the team had two weeks or he would assign the project to another group.

“Steve had pretty much had it,” said Mr. Christie, who still heads Apple’s user-interface team. “He wanted bigger ideas and bigger concepts.”

Interviews with key engineers deep in Apple’s trenches are rare indeed. Wakabayashi report is worth a read.

LINK: Apple Engineer Recalls the iPhone’s Birth