The early iPhone: Secret inspirations and plans

Even as iPhone 5 fever heats up, the Apple-Samsung court case puts the focus on original iPhone, the prototypes of which borrowed heavily from Sony

Court documents show that in early 2006, Apple was considering a range of iPhone designs, one that looks remarkably like the iPhone 4, and others that were inspired by Sony. Check out this slideshow of never-before-seen images of the path-breaking smartphone's early possibilities.

A big part of the Apple-Samsung patent infringement case revolves around allegations that some of Samsung's smartphones and tablet computers are too closely styled like Apple's products. Samsung seems to be saying that Apple, too, looked to other companies for its phone design. [Also see: "Earliest known photos of an Apple iPad prototype"]

Apple's take on the Sony Clie?

Apple's take on the Sony Clie?

Samsung's court submission includes images, produced by an Apple CAD system, of a handset that borrows from Sony design elements of the time: A jog wheel at the top right side, and a combined control wheel and switch, which appeared on Sony's Clie personal digital assistants running Palm OS and having a strong multimedia focus.

Already thinking of iPhone 4

Already thinking of iPhone 4

A different view of this same design shows how strikingly similar it is to the iPhone 4 (image via PC World) and 4S models: the flat, metal-banded sides, even the proportion of screen-size-to-case. The edge of the track wheel is visible at top right. At lower left, there appears to be the home button.

Sony right down to the branding

Sony right down to the branding

This CAD image shows "Sony" marked on this model, apparently a flip-style smartphone, with the hinge emphasized as part of the industrial design. The visible external-facing screen, presumably a touchscreen, raises the question of whether there would be, or could be, another touch display once the phone was fully opened.

An iPhone with more than one front button

An iPhone with more than one front button

The full front and back views of the iPhone 4-like prototype, more clearly showing what must be a home button, the track wheel, and the additional control buttons on the front.

The 'Sony-style chappy'

The 'Sony-style chappy'

These 3D models, also from early 2006, show two designs, one that clearly is very close to what became the original iPhone. But the second, in white with larger bezel areas and rounded edges, is the product of Apple designer Shin Nishibori, referred to as "the sony-style chappy" by senior members of Apple's design team.

What would Sony do?

What would Sony do?

Nishibori's design -- apparently an exercise to answer the question "What would Sony do?" -- clearly shows the centered home button at the bottom of the model. In the other mockup above it, it's unclear what the large "button" at top right is: a home button placement or possibly a front-facing camera?

WIndows Phone vs. iPhone as predicted by Apple's designer

WIndows Phone vs. iPhone as predicted by Apple's designer

This shot of the two models, from the top left angle, shows other differences between the two designs. Interestingly, Nishibori's design at left is echoed strongly by Nokia's Lumia 800- and 900-series Windows Phone handsets. By contrast, the glass face of the "standard" iPhone design to the right is "all about the screen."

Honing the iPhone menu

Honing the iPhone menu

This final shot from the court filings shows a slightly different "standard" iPhone design: This one clearly shows the home button centered at the bottom, with the word "menu" emblazoned (apparently also on the Nishibori design). That word was eliminated in the final iPhone design.