New video shows iPhone prototypes going head-to-head

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early-iPhone-prototype-UIs
Apple's earliest iOS prototypes.
Photo: Sonny Dickson

Apple calls iOS “the world’s most advanced mobile operating system,” but it was almost the world’s worst.

Before deciding on the icon-based user interface we know and love today, Apple designed an awful prototype UI that was based on the iPod’s software and controlled with a virtual click-wheel. Check it out in the video below.

Given that the iPod was an incredible success for Apple, and that the iPhone was designed to be a much more capable alternative, it probably made sense to design it with an iPod-style UI that millions of fans were already familiar with. But in practice, it was a terrible idea.

In the video below, Sonny Dickson provides us with a glimpse at two early iPhone prototypes — one of which (P1) is running that iPod-style UI we got a peak at last week, and another (P2) that’s running a more modern icon-based UI.

It’s believed the former was designed by Tony Fadell, “Godfather” of the iPod, while P2 was designed by Scott Forstall, former senior vice president of iOS software. When seeing them run side-by-side, it’s easy to see why Forstall’s more simplistic approach was preferred.

P1 did have one big advantage that you may have noticed in the clip above. Its streamlined design meant that it booted up significantly faster than P2, which is “actually a real OS,” rather than a modified version of the iPod’s lightweight software.

According to Dickson, these “P series” devices are “the first step of any product.” They’re unfinished and manufactured from cheap materials, like plastic displays, raw bezels, and plain home buttons. They rarely make it outside of Apple’s walls.

“These P unit prototypes are so early in the development process that they rely on a custom process to be turned off, and can only be powered down during a certain step of the boot process,” Dickson writes.

In 2005, two years before the iPhone was announced, these particular prototypes reportedly faced off against each before Steve Jobs settled on a final UI. Obviously the icon-based option was preferred, but it underwent a significant overhaul before it became iPhone OS.

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  • I don’t get how you call that P2 “icon-based”. It looks like html based or text based to me. There wasn’t any image based gui..?

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