Tony Fadell Shares New Details on Prototype iPhone Software With Virtual iPod Clickwheel

Earlier this month, Sonny Dickson shared a collection of images and videos featuring an of the iPhone with an early iPod-style operating system called "Acorn OS," based on a clickwheel interface.

The iPod-like software was developed by "iPod Father" Tony Fadell, who shared some new details on its creation with The Verge in an attempt to clarify the backstory behind the software.

Click Wheel-based OS vs. the Icon-based OS that went on to become iOS

According to Fadell, the longstanding story suggesting there were two teams at Apple (one led by Fadell and one led by Scott Forstall) competing with one another to develop the iPhone's OS isn't quite accurate. There were multiple UI possibilities being explored by both the hardware and the software teams, who were working together.

"It was a competing set of ideas, not teams," says Fadell. "And we were all working on it."

He went on to explain that there were two paths in hardware and software UI development going on at Apple "at all times," and that the software shown off in the video is "just what the UI guys were doing, devoid of any hardware." There was never a hardware prototype running the software shown off in Dickson's video, but someone ported it "just for fun." It was only ever a Mac app.

A virtual clickwheel, as shown in the video, was just one path of iPod-style development, as Jobs had the iPhone team explore every possibility. Other iPod-like ideas included an iPod phone with a smaller screen and a click wheel, which was unrealistic, and a hardware-based wheel with buttons, another idea that didn't pan out.

We tried everything. We tried having little buttons on the clickwheel so you could click. There was a Nokia phone where they had a circular pattern for the numbers, in hard buttons, and Steve was like "Go make that work." So we tried that.

And we went, "Steve, give it up, it's going to be too hard. It's not going to work." So we were halfway through, like four weeks or five weeks into it, and we said "This is not working." We pushed this for like another four, five weeks to keep trying, and we're saying, "This is a waste of time." But we had to be ready, because that's what he wanted.

By the time Fadell took over the iPhone division from Jon Rubinstein, Apple was working on a Linux-based OS backed by Rubinstein and a reduced version of OS X, developed by Scott Forstall and Avie Tevanian. the OS X version, codenamed Purple OS, won out, and the Linux version was killed off within a matter of weeks. Purple OS went on to become the iOS software we know today.

Fadell's full interview with The Verge, which goes into more detail about the iPhone's development process, is well worth checking out.

Top Rated Comments

cariacou Avatar
58 months ago
Nokia 3600 / 3650. Can't believe I actually ordered this.

Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Crzyrio Avatar
58 months ago
I'm curious how the iphone division worked up the iPhone 7.

iPhone Team to Tim "Tim ! We made the iphone with wireless charging, longer battery, oLED screen, user preferences on mail-maps-calendar apps, and with a usb 3 port!"

Tim to iphone Team "This is a waste of time. Take the headphone port off, make it thinner, & rebrand the iphone 6 as an iPhone 7."
Apple should have just released the iPhone 7 as the first iPhone. So silly that they held back all this technology from the first iPhone just to generate $ over the past 10 years.


/s
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ThomasJL Avatar
58 months ago
This is precisely why Steve Jobs favored internal competition over feel-good collaboration. Tim Cook smugly prides himself on creating an environment of much-increased collaboration. Cook, in his typical cluelessness, fails to realize that diligent competition creates more innovation than naïve collaboration.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Amacfa Avatar
58 months ago
I'm curious how the iphone division worked up the iPhone 7.

iPhone Team to Tim "Tim ! We made the iphone with wireless charging, longer battery, oLED screen, user preferences on mail-maps-calendar apps, and with a usb 3 port!"

Tim to iphone Team "This is a waste of time. Take the headphone port off, make it thinner, & rebrand the iphone 6 as an iPhone 7."
Or...it wasn't ready and waited this year to release it. Go to Samsung if you want rushed products. iPhone hasn't got thinner in almost 3 years :rolleyes:

Hope you get those likes you're fishing for, though!
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
meaning-matters Avatar
58 months ago
Saddening that these stories feel like from the good old days.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kdarling Avatar
58 months ago
Of course this guy is going to disagree and say it wasn't two competing teams but instead "competing ideas" and that "we all were working on it" because he wants to take credit for success.
Amazing that all this stuff comes out when there's not really anyone to say otherwise anymore. All the ego and macho when the head honcho passes away that came out of the closet has been overwhelming.
You could have a point about everyone wanting to claim credit. Like the way that Jon Ive now claims that it was HE who orchestrated a multi-touch demo (projected on a conference table, IIRC) in order to convince Jobs to go that route... which is a different origin story from Jobs comments about it starting with a glass keyboard demo for a tablet.

There's always a bit of truth in all the stories. But they're piecemeal, like the old tale of blind men describing an elephant.

Past reports showed Apple looking at Sony for inspiration, these news now show Apple looking at Nokia for inspiration. Everyone please remember this when judging poor Samsung :p
Jobs revered Sony. Heck, he originally wanted to call the iMac the MacMan, because of the Sony Walkman.

From the Apple-Samsung trials, we know that even into 2006, they were not thrilled with Ive's proposed extruded case (below right) look for the iPhone. Some much preferred the rounded corner design (below left) derived from an internal guess (by designer Shin Nishibori) at what a Sony smartphone would look like:



Most people don't know these things, because Apple lawyers bent over backwards to make sure such prior art (including the Pideon) was banned from the trial. Not exactly the mark of someone who is confident in their own design uniqueness.

The upshot is that companies all over the world were converging on similar designs. But thank god that Apple didn't go with a clickwheel, because for better or worse, whatever they do often tends to become popular.

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Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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