Apple worked on curved-glass iPhone, but production was prohibitively expensive

By , Aug 2, 2012

This Apple vs. Samsung litigation may be the patent trial of the century, but to fans it’s also a treasure trove of valuable information concerning the company’s industrial design and craftsmanship, something Apple never detailed voluntarily.

One of the more interesting nuggets from yesterday’s deposition by Apple’s designer Christopher Stringer highlighted two interesting prototypes that Apple eventually passed on: one sporting a shaped glass and the other featuring all-aluminum enclosure akin to the iPod…

Yoni Heisler lays it all out in a NetworkWorld article.

So, why did Apple ditch a curved-glass iPhone?

Simple, it cost “a lot” to cut shaped glass:

The technology at the time had a lot to do with it. The qualities of the glass at the time had a lot to do with it. These are models – I’m trying to remember a time frame – that were before gorilla glass and before a lot of the other factors.

The technology in shaping the glass, the cost relative to shaping the glass at the time, and some of the design features of this specific shape were not liked.

Perhaps it looked something like this?

It’s interesting that Nokia found a way to cut shaped glass and still make a profit as its Lumia handsets have the curved glass front.

Apple also passed on this interesting iPhone prototype featuring all-aluminum rounded enclosure, as seen in the image below.

This particular prototype introduced more issues than it solved problems, Stringer recollected:

My recollection of it was that to get the extruded aluminum design that was applied to the iPod to work for the iPhone, there were too many added features to allow it to be comfortable and to work properly.

What kinds of added features?

If you put an iPod up to your ear, the sharp edges, because of the processes, aren’t comfortable, and you can’t get antennas to work properly in a fully enclosed metal jacket. So each one of those things needed to apply other features that started.

Stringer also responded to a question by Samsung’s attorney who asked whether the iPhone’s design changed as a result of drop tests:

I can tell you quite plainly that this shape is not determined as a result of drop tests. […] It changed as a result of those fine-tuning the design. From a composition point of view, we were trying to decide how much of a border we wanted around the glass, the angles, the dimensions, the corner radii. We excruciatingly put through how we wanted this thing to appear. So yes, it did take various forms along the way.

During the course of this monster trial, we also found out that Apple’s designers gather around a kitchen table to come up with new ideas and perhaps during one of those session conceived a strange-looking octagonal iPhone prototype.

You’ve also heard about a Sony-inspired iPhone and a 2005 ‘Purple’ prototype that eventually led to the final design of the original iPhone.

As for the curved-glass iPhone, the notoriously unreliable DigiTimes reported last year that Apple bought expensive glass-cutting machines.

It’s also worth pointing out that Nick Bilton wrote last December in a New York Times article  that Apple was working on “a curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist”.

Do you think a curved-glass iPhone would make sense?

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  • Kok Hean

    Just take away the glass from the back. It’s really fragile.

    • Impeach Obama

      ill take glass over that two tone crap. i prefer glass since it doesn’t scratch easily. aluminum scratches so easily you must use a case. my 4S has no scratches. i never drop it and don’t put it in my pocket with metal items so the bezel is mint and the glass is too.

      • http://twitter.com/Pitchy Pitchy

        No kidding. Try looking at the old 5th gen iPods. When they went to the shiny aluminum back, it would even scratch by putting it in the little pouch that was included. They even got sued over that with the Nano which was worse than the iPod back.

        I had an iPhone 4 and now my wife and I both have 4Ss and we prefer the glass to 3GS which would even scratch easily without a case. I think I have only dropped my 4S once since I got it on release day back in October. Perhaps clumsy people should buy Nokias… because those things are indestructible :p

      • http://twitter.com/nAcolz Acolz

        I have my 3GS for 3 years now and almost no scratches on the back just a few minor ones

      • http://twitter.com/Pitchy Pitchy

        case or no case?

  • http://twitter.com/Stickhandling_ Stick

    Glass is too fragile. Careless people are forced to use a case, were as the 3G/S didn’t… when you drop the 4/4S in the right spot, it’s done.

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

      glass is fine i have never ever broken an iphone..

      • http://twitter.com/Stickhandling_ Stick

        That’s why I said careless people are forced to use a case. If you took care of it, or course glass would be fine. You’d never drop it.

    • Impeach Obama

      to be fair, any phone dropped in the right spot is done. but careless people know they are careless and usually get cases. i dont like when careless people drop their iphone and then complain the glass broke on concrete.(obviously i’m talking about someone)

      Glass is more fragile than plastic for breaks that need repair. my 3GS had very small little cracks near the speaker/mic holes. while my more fragile glass backed 4S has no cracks :) and my 4S scratches far less. so if you are careful and dont want scratches then go for glass if you want the nude look. if you aren’t careful get a case.

  • Bob Jonson

    A curved glass iPhone would deffinitly make the iPhone more comfortable to hold in you hand.

  • http://twitter.com/LucasO177 Lucas

    Is the two tone new iPhone material the same as the iPod touch back ?

  • http://twitter.com/intelxtreme Khan

    iphone 3gs glass is a little curvier than 4

  • http://www.facebook.com/DavidDee2010 Tuan Dinh

    man, just look at the phone industry before 2007 iPhone annoucement, most the phones were copied from BB design with QWERTY keyboard. After 2007, Touchscreen phone became popular. Who the heck was the copycat here then? Samsung or Apple?