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.
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.
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