While it has always been known that Apple considered a variety of ideas when they were deciding to enter the mobile phone market (with ex employees discussing it behind closed doors, as seen in this Cult Of Mac article, not much was known about alternate versions of the iPhone until now.
Much like the first production iPhone, the prototype features many of the same features including an aluminium chassis, multi-touch compatible screen, 2G connectivity and WiFi radios. However, despite carrying a similar design, the phone itself is extremely different from the iPhone we know today.
Instead of the modern touch-driven interface we now call iOS, it featured an operating system dubbed “Acorn OS” (this was an internal code name, and it unclear if it would have kept that name if it had been released), which is derived from the acorn shown on boot. It presents an on-screen click wheel, which took up the bottom portion of the screen, and on the other half of the screen, a UI identical to the one found on the beloved iPod, with options such as “Dial”, “SMS”, “Music”, “Contacts” and “Recents”, however lacking a browser option. The interface is interacted with in the same way an iPod would be operated.
Not much else is known about the device, apart from the fact that it differs heavily from the iPhone we know today, and that very few units running “Acorn OS” exist, with most of them likely being destroyed by Apple, a company in which there is a specific job role in relation to the destruction of prototypes.
While many could attempt to doubt the authenticity of such a device, there is clear proof its existence found in one of Apple’s patents, International Application No:PCT/US2006/008349. Filed in 2006, after the iPod, and before the iPhone, the drawings referenced in the patent, show a “multi touch device”, which features a click wheel in FIG 11.
One could hope that a unit ends up in the hands of a museum one day, as smartphones today and going forward would most likely look very different than such a device.
While Apple clearly made the right choice by choosing to base the iPhone strictly on touch, and turning it into a portable connected device with full web access (arguably one of its biggest and boldest features), it’s nevertheless fascinating to see the many ideas that were considered leading up to the iPhone that we all know today.