The real reason iPhone didn’t inherit iPod’s click-wheel UI


Yep, this is how the iPhone could have looked -- had project P1 taken off.
Photo: Apple

Former Apple VP Tony Fadell has dispelled the popular rumor that Apple had two rival teams working on different user interfaces for the first prototype iPhone.

Video of two prototype operating system builds for the original iPhone surfaced this week as Apple celebrated the iPhone’s 10th anniversary. One of the UIs proposed adopted the iPod’s click wheel interface and, according to Fadell, it actually worked really well.

There was just one problem: It sucked at making calls.

In an interview with The Verge, Fadell shined a light on the design process behind the iPhone, explaining that Apple wanted to create an iPod Phone. Initially the group tried to keep the iPod’s click wheel as the main input for the device because marketing would “blow up” if Apple ditched it.

“What really failed at the end of the day with the iPod Phone was that you couldn’t dial a number,” said Fadell. “Like, 1, 2, 3, like a rotary phone. Everything else was working but the one main thing that didn’t work was dialing a regular number — it was so cumbersome. So we said, ‘This isn’t working either.'”

Designing the original iPhone

Fadell says at one point, Apple decided it wanted to make a better video iPod with a widescreen. To save space on the device, designers decided to remove the physical click wheel and create a virtual one.

Apple never created the virtual click wheel UI to run on iPhone prototypes. Videos from Sonny Dickson earlier this week show two of the prototype UIs that Apple built on the Mac. Fadell told The Verge that someone must have ported the software to the iPhones later.

Exploring ideas for an iPod Phone and widescreen video iPod eventually led Apple to explore a multi-touch interface. When it become obvious that a virtual click wheel would still be too cumbersome, the teams developed the tiled iPhone interface we’re familiar with today.

Steve Jobs was adamant that Apple’s team try to make an iPod Phone with click-wheel buttons, according to Fadell. Despite it being obvious to most of the team early on, Jobs told them to try making a phone like the Nokia 3650.

Check out the full interview with Fadell for more details on the process behind creating the iPhone’s hardware and software.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.