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iPhone and iPad prototypes show Apple's roads not taken

It turns out the prototype iPad we saw last week was just the tip of the iceberg in the Apple versus Samsung "patent trial of the century." Newly released photos from the case (courtesy of The Verge) show a wide variety of CAD drawings, mockups, and prototypes of both the iPhone and the iPad. You can check out photos of these prototypes at the Verge, and our sister site Engadget also has galleries of both devices.

Some of these prototypes have a design highly evocative of today's iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, showing that Apple was aspiring to that aesthetic relatively early on. A storm in a teacup controversy has erupted over a "Sony" label on some of these prototypes; this has led Samsung to jump up and down crying "Gotcha!" toward Apple, as though Apple gaining inspiration for its designs from another company somehow exonerates Samsung taking that concept to ridiculous extremes.

A second prototype essentially looks like an iPod classic with a touchscreen. It's thick enough to suggest Apple potentially considered using tiny hard drives like those in older iPods for the iPhone's design -- either that, or Apple had yet to figure out how to properly minaturize the rest of the iPhone's internal components. Another iPhone prototype seems more inspired by the aluminum iPod nano of the era and appears broadly similar to Nokia's current Lumia series. Yet another shows the "teardrop" form factor that many rumormongers expected in 2011. Weirder still is this octagonal iPhone that looks like something people might carry around on Battlestar Galactica.

The last iPhone prototype looks like the elongated 16:9 display iPhone virtually everyone expects this fall, but with a catch: rather than having its front plate dominated by the display, only the top half is a touchscreen. It's unclear what the bottom half was supposed to be on this model. Perhaps at an early stage Apple designers considered a separate touchpad input like today's Multi-Touch trackpads on Macs. Personally, I'm thankful they ditched that idea if they were considering it.

On the iPad side of things, one prototype really does look like the "giant iPod touch" naysayers accused it of being at its launch in 2010, complete with the easily-scratched, glossy chrome backside. A second prototype goes in a decidedly different direction, with a backside that looks like an overturned breakfast tray. A third prototype shows that the concept of the built-in kickstand on Microsoft's Surface tablet has been around the block; at least two of Apple's iPad prototypes feature kickstands. Interestingly enough, this third prototype is labeled "iPod" instead of "iPad" -- rumor has it the iPad's name wasn't finalized until the night before its debut, so this makes a strange kind of sense.

These prototypes offer a fascinating and almost never-seen insight into Apple's design process. While there's the occasional hilarious misstep -- the breakfast tray iPad looks pretty ridiculous -- most of these prototypes look like products Apple could have easily sold by the millions with just a little more refinement. However, one thing these prototypes make clear is that "a little more refinement" isn't in Apple's design vocabulary.



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iPhone iPad

Some of these prototypes have a design highly evocative of today's iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, showing that Apple was aspiring to that aesthetic relatively early on.