Apple originally prototyped an iPhone with a keyboard

Tony Fadell, affectionately referred to as the godfather of the iPod for his part in helping Apple bring their landmark MP3 player to market, says that Apple originally tested three different kinds of iPhone prototypes before ultimately deciding on the multitouch marvel we now all know and love. Fadell, speaking on On the Verge, said a hardware keyboard was a serious considerations. Fadell claims he favored the virtual keyboard approach.

Based on other stories and snippets of stories that have floated around for years, it sounds like Apple was working on a multitouch "Safari-Pad" project while also experimenting with iPod/phone options like the Motorola ROKR. Eventually the tablet got put on hold and, after seeing a demonstration of the "rubber-banding" inertial scrolling on a multitouch screen, Steve Jobs pivoted Apple into what became the iPhone.

Jon Rubentein, who was also pivotal in Apple's iPod success, really wanted a hardware keyboard on the iPhone.

Rubinstein and Jobs could not agree on the iPhone’s strategy wrt the Keyboard. This tells me that Rubinstein has a separate but perhaps also compelling vision on how the keyboard needs to be incorporated into smartphones. I can’t wait to see what that vision entails!

Rubenstein ultimately left Apple and joined Palm, where he brought the multitouch and hardware keyboard packing Palm Pre to market.

Once Apple had the iPhone -- and iPod touch -- on track, they went back to the Safari Pad project and brought out the iPad. (Which, as far as we know, no ever prototyped with a full laptop keyboard...)

Source: The Verge

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Apple originally prototyped an iPhone with a keyboard


What is this keyboard you speak of? Oh ya, we used to use those eons ago...
Seriously, haven't missed it on my iphone or ipad.

I've had work BlackBerrys for about eight years and not once did I ever have a problem with the keyboard. Any professional should have a BB with a physical keyboard; auto correct is embarrassing in business.

Realistically, every one I know who owns an iPhone either has had problems with their home button and had it replaced, or have learned to live with their bad home buttons, some times using the Assistive Touch feature.
It is the single worst feature of the iPhone 4, no other phone I owned had a piece of hardware so badly designed.
Don´t trust us on this, google it or look it up on the Apple suport forum.

I have the iPhone 3G, the 3GS, and the 4S. I also have 3 fully functioning home buttons. My name is Tom, nice to meet you. There, now you can no longer say "everyone I know..."
I will grant you that I've read that the iPhone 4 had some issues with its home button, but the design has since been changed.

Tom, the home button on the iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4S is different from the one in iPhone 4, and yes, those work just fine.
I should have been more specific, I was talking about the iPhone 4 home button.

Everybody has reported this non-story, but at least you got the headline right. Still, it's a non-story. Apple would have been foolish NOT to prototype a phone with a physical keyboard, even if only to prove they didn't need one. Apple probably prototyped hundreds of phones. It's all part of the process.

I seriously doubt that. If you prototype hundreds of phones you´ll spend the rest of your life comparing them and trying to decide wich one is the best.
Steve Jobs was a genius because he could envision which way to go. He did not need hundreds of prototypes, he probably needed only one, and two others just for comparison.

I had a Palm Pre since launch until last fall when Sprint got the iPhone. Rubinstein got it right, of course, with the superior UI and multitasking (not to mention the Touchstone charging!), but, not that I've gotten used to the 4S virtual keyboard, I can say it is definitely superior. I keep getting faster on it the longer I use it etc.
But the iPad keyboard sucks, so I'm getting a Zagg Folio case and keyboard.
Go figure.

i think this looks really nice should've released as an alternative, would up their sales by miles

yea i miss my bb keyboard everyday. maybe you people who like autocorrect and speech to text (completey defeats the purpose of typing) dont miss, it but i know one thing i could blaze thru notes and messages on my bb wihtout even looking. on my iphone i routinely want to smash it becauyse the fuking keyboard is garbage and makes the thing almost impossible to use in a business/school setting where i need to take a quick note. i refuse to be a lazy fool and speak text messages to my phone because if im going to be talking to my phone im just gonna call the person.

You need to look at your iPhone to type? Maybe you should just own a feature phone. Pretty much everyone I know can type just fine without physical keyboard or having to look that much.

I watched the interview and don't recall Tony saying that a hardware keyboard was considered. In fact he flatly denied it.