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

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?