In an alternate timeline, here's what the iPhone could have been

Like an iPod according to this concept prototype shared by Tony Fadell, the "father" of Apple's hit music player.

An iPhone prototype with an iPod-like wheel and number keypad and camera on the back
Tony Fadell (via TechCrunch)

Tony Fadell, aka the “father of the iPod” and the founder behind Nest, which he then sold to Google, is on a book tour for his latest: Build: An Unthordox Guide to Making Things Worth Building.

It sounds like a good read for tech nerds or anyone with even an inkling of curiosity into how companies are built and run. I bought a copy and chewed through the first few chapters over the weekend.

Buy his book or don’t, what interests me (and probably you) today is this image of a concept iPhone that he shared with TechCrunch:

What could have been...Tony Fadell (via TechCrunch)

Unlike the touchscreen iPhone that Steve Jobs famously launched in 2007 as three things — “a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough internet communications device — Fadell’s image depicts an iPod-like candy bar phone with a click wheel on the front, a keypad on the back, and a camera with a cover over the lens.

Fascinating as this prototype looks, it might not have been one that Apple was actually exploring.

“That is a prototype that a third-party manufacturer sent to me, saying, ‘We’re capable. Look at this cool thing we did,’ and ‘I think you should pick us because we can help you with this iPod Phone concept.’ The top and the bottom have a swivel, so you can have either the number pad or click wheel or camera. It was really cool that people were thinking about it. It wasn’t half bad! It doesn’t work for a lot of reasons, but it’s not bad thinking.”

While it was from a third-party company, imagine how different the world would have been had Apple launched this iPhone (or a similar design) instead of the one that has reshaped the world?

Design of the times — This concept design doesn’t surprise me at all. While smartphones were only just beginning to become popular with non-business users (BlackBerrys dominated the business scene), regular phones looked very similar. It brings back memories of Sony Ericsson cellphones (T700 anyone?)

Sony Ericsson T700 Sony Ericsson

Such a design would have been the natural evolution of an iPod, but also the failed Moto ROKR, which Jobs personally hated but reluctantly co-signed as the mobile revolution took off.

The Motorola ROKR E1 was the first cellphone to support iTunes. And Steve Jobs hated it. Consumers, too, because it was so awful to use.The Informr

Though a click wheel (thankfully) never made it onto the final iPhone, Apple did mess around with a dialer that worked like a rotary phone using the click wheel. That much is not a secret and Fadell reiterated those explorations for the original iPhone to TechCrunch. The site’s got a nice collection of images of prototype iPhones modeled after an iPod Classic that you should definitely take a look at if you’re a nerd.

Thank god Apple had a breakthroughn with capacitive touchscreens and Jobs had the acumen to foresee that OS X was the right software foundation for what would become iOS. The app revolution might never have come had we been saddled with dumbphones that just synced to iTunes.

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