No, the above image isn’t a shot of the new 8.6in Samsung Galaxy Note 3: It’s one of the earliest Apple iPhone prototypes, dating back to early 2005.
These images, which as we reported earlier were sourced by Ars Technica, come from an Apple employee who worked on a few hardware projects in the early 2000s. It isn’t clear if these photos were taken way back in 2005, or whether the Apple employee has had the prototype stashed in his cupboard for eight years, waiting for the perfect moment to share it. Either way, the images give us a rare glimpse at the hardware design process used by the world’s most successful hardware vendor.
The early prototype is about 2in thick, with a (roughly) 8.6in display (7in x 5in). “Seems large now,” says Ars’ source, “but at the time it was really impressive seeing basically a version of OS X running on it.”
Here he is referring to the fact that iOS is derived from Mac OS X; both share the same Darwin core.
The display (which might be made by a defunct Korean or Japanese company called CyberLab) seems to be a touchscreen; probably of the resistive variety, judging by the film in front of the display.
The iPhone, when it was eventually released in 2007, would be one of the first mainstream devices to use a capacitive touchscreen.
On the bottom of the device we see two USB ports (A and B-type, suggesting that you could connect other non-PC devices to this prototype); a serial port (for debugging); a standard DC power connector; and an Ethernet port (for network access – Wi-Fi was slow back in 2005).
The internals are a little more interesting, for one main reason: There’s a Samsung SoC running the show. The S3C2410A, pictured below with what looks like a Xilinx FPGA and Samsung memory module, is a 266MHz 32-bit ARM9 chip that would’ve been found in many circa-2005 embedded devices.
It was a wimpy CPU, and the prototype probably ran quite slowly, but it’s still fun to think that Apple might’ve already chosen Samsung as the iPhone’s SoC provider that early in the design process. The iPhone would eventually use a Samsung ARM11 chip clocked at 412MHz. Combined with a newer architecture (ARMv6 instead of ARMv4T), and finalised software, the first iPhone would’ve been in the order of five or ten times faster than the prototype.
As a fun aside, it’s interesting to note that the serial port actually survived the prototype stage: Apple’s 30-pin connector had two pins reserved for serial access. This was probably just an ease-of-access thing for Apple, perhaps for accessing low-level functions that aren’t exposed to the public, but these serial pins were also used by jailbreakers to crack iOS on numerous occasions.
Finally, let’s take one last look at that screen. An 8.6in display is a very odd choice for a smartphone prototype. At 7in x 5in, the aspect ratio is almost 4:3 – too wide for a handheld device… but perfect for a tablet.
Now, one possibility is that the engineering department simply reached into the spare parts cupboard and pulled out the first display they found – or perhaps this isn’t an iPhone prototype at all; maybe it’s an iPad. This ties in with Steve Jobs’ admission (embedded below) that he actually started work on the iPad before the iPhone – but switched to the phone, as it was “more important.” Looking at how the smartphone and tablet markets panned out, I’d say that Jobs made the right call.