acorn 1

New photos and a video have surfaced online showing an early-stage prototype of the original iPhone with a click wheel interface. Noted tipster Sonny Dickson is behind the leak, who says Apple called the operating system “Acorn OS.”

As you can see in the images, Acorn OS’s interface closely resembled that of the iPod, with a touchscreen click wheel and a small gray menu. You can also see phone functions like Dial and SMS, and features like Contacts and Notes.

acorn 2

Not much else is known about the device, and Dickson says that few units running Acorn OS exist today. He says the majority of them were likely destroyed by Apple, pointing out that the company has a position that oversees such tasks.

It’s well-known lore that during the development stage of the original iPhone, Steve Jobs pitted Scott Forstall and “iPod father” Tony Fadell against each other in a competition to see who could create a more compelling smartphone OS.

Obviously iPhone OS, what we know today as iOS, won out, and rightly so. While it’s cool to see a piece of history like this, it’s clear from the photos and video that the click wheel interface would have been tedious and inefficient.

Source: Sonny Dickson

  • iBanks

    Glad it didn’t look like this.

    • mrgerbik

      To be fair, the final product wouldnt have looked like that. Im sure this was very experimental/alpha build

      But agreed, a touchscreen scrollwheel would’ve been a disaster lol

  • Not sure I believe this. If the original iPhone was to have a clickwheel I imagine it would have featured a hardware one instead of touch as it would have served 0 benefit. Nor can I imagine Steve Jobs being happy with a design like that.

    Furthermore we know that Apple started work on the iPad first and once they saw potential in it and had multitouch working they decided to shelf it and put that tech into a phone. It’s highly unlikely that when they ported over their work from the iPad to iPhone that it included a software click wheel… but who knows? Maybe back in the day Apple thought the ideal iPad would be a huge blue screen with a tiny iPod like window in the center and a giant multitouch click wheel underneath. After all… nothing says multitouch interface like a click wheel 😛

    • Joey_Z

      it looks like an emulator to me, the real product could’ve looked like this

      • But remember, that image was created specifically for the point of a joke. Not only did the whole audience laugh at it (because of how ridiculous it was), but notice that this product is 100% NOT a multitouch device. The only way this works is if Apple lied about their whole history leading up to the production of the iPhone.

      • Timothy

        I think he knows that image is a joke…

      • mrgerbik


      • Rolf Bause

        When he showed that picture of the click wheel iPhone back then, I already thought to myself: I bet they thought about this for quite some while, before they decided that this would actually be a really terrible idea 😀

    • Melvco

      While you’re correct that Apple was working on the iPad first, it’s not like they had any kind of OS worked out. From what I’ve read they essentially had a thick display that could read multitouch gestures. So maybe you could pinch-to-zoom photos or scroll through text. They didn’t go from an iPad with a Home screen to this concept for iPhone.

      I do, however, agree that this is a terrible idea, and it’s hard to believe it made it past the brainstorming stage and into an actual prototype.

      • RandomAwesomeGuy

        The one thing that I do find questionable about this prototype is the “games” folder. The ability for games or any additional apps was not part of the original iPhone OS, even though the multitouch screen has a much higher potential for interactive games than a spinning wheel.

        It seems interesting to me that Apple would include this on this prototype without being know for games. The iPods at the time didn’t even have games other than guess the song, but that was under the Extras folder. It was until the color iPod came out, after the iPhone, that apple added the Games folder for the iPods (with the brick breaker game).

      • But that’s exactly my point. They already said they had multitouch gestures figured out (like pinch to zoom and such). If the whole starting point was miniaturizing that work this would have been the last thing they would have ended up with as it throws away all of the work that inspired it. Not to mention that iOS is built on UNIX and featured large subsets of OS X at launch. It’s far more likely that any initial work would have resembled a cluttered desktop interface that hadn’t been optimized for small screens yet.

        Not to mention I find it suspicious that the lights are off in this. I’d love to see what device this is actually running on… How terribly convenient that all we see is the screen.