Over the last couple of days, early prototypes of iPhones have surfaced, with the most recent batch showing what a virtual clickwheel would have looked like on a touchscreen device.
With the prototypes getting quite a bit of attention, The Verge reached out to Tony Fadell, the “iPod Father,” to get a bit more of the backstory on how all of that came into fruition way back when. As Fadell puts it, “Sometimes stupid things only seem stupid at first,” as he digs back to shed some light on how it all worked out, including pointing out that there weren’t several different teams, but just several different ideas that they were all working on towards the ultimate goal:
“There was tons and tons of different UI development, between both software and hardware development. It was a competing set of ideas, not teams, and we were all working on it.
Sometimes stupid things only seem stupid at first, but if you break through, it actually becomes smart. Like, “Oh, everyone would want to type on a hardware keyboard, no one wants to type on glass.” Those kinds of things. You had to keep pushing people so that their first knee-jerk reaction isn’t the answer. There were probably 16, 17 different concepts.”
Of course, as is par for the course when it comes to Apple, there were a lot of ideas and prototypes. Those started with making the iPod Video with a bigger screen — not just a bigger device, but getting rid of the physical clickwheel and making it software-based, so that users could simply have a bigger screen to watch things on. But that eventually led to different ideas, including keeping the physical clickwheel on the iPhone, which ultimately became too cumbersome to turn into the final product:
“Let’s back up a little bit. The first thing was, we wanted to make an iPod Video product work better. So let’s put a big screen on an iPod, remove the wheel, and make the wheel virtual, so you can look at widescreen videos and pictures. Because the clickwheel was getting in the way, and we wanted to not make the device bigger, but we wanted to just add a bigger screen, we wanted to try to figure out. So that’s the virtual wheel, that was another offshoot that we tried.
Then there was the iPod phone, which would keep the screen small — a lot like that Nokia small screen design. Then we’d just use the wheel as the interface because that’s so iconic. Let’s not lose the wheel — all the marketing people’s minds will blow up. So let’s try that one. But what really failed at the end of the day with the iPod Phone was that you couldn’t dial a number. 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.”
The full interview is certainly worth reading through, especially if you’re interested in the backstory of Apple’s most important device.
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