The iPhone we know and love today could have been very different, and maybe even a total flop, if Steve Jobs had picked a different interface for it.
A new video published by Apple leaker Sonny Dickson shows off an early-stage version of “Acorn OS,” an iPod-based interface for the iPhone that Apple was working on before deciding to go with the now-ubiquitous icon-based interface.
The story goes like this: Apple had two teams working on what would eventually become iOS (née iPhone OS).
One team, under Tony Fadell, the “father of the iPod” was working on an operating system based on the iPod interface and controlled with a click wheel. Meanwhile, another team, under ex-Apple senior vice president of iOS software Scott Forstall, was tasked with creating an icon-based interface.
While a click wheel-based UI may have seemed like a good idea at the time, given the meteoric success of the iPod, it just didn’t translate very well for a phone.
“We were turning it into a rotary phone from the sixties,” Fadell told the BBC. “We were like, ‘This doesn’t work! It’s too hard to use’.”
Jobs, too, eventually decided he wanted the iPhone to have an entirely touchscreen-based interface and threatened to kick Fadell and anyone else off the iPhone project if they disagreed.
In Dickson’s video, we see two prototype iPhones labeled “P1” and “P2”. Dickson says these “P” model iPhones are amongst the hardest prototypes to obtain (they don’t even have finished home buttons).
“P1” shows an iPhone running the iPod-based OS, whereas “P2” runs a proof-of-concept interface showing the feasibility of an interface with tappable, on-screen buttons.
In hindsight, it’s clear Apple made the right decision to not go with the iPod interface. Nonetheless, the video is still an interesting look at what could have been, as the iPhone celebrates its 10th anniversary.