Early iPhone mockups show Sony influence

The current iPhone design, it turns out, was in the works since 2006—and was so influenced by Sony that they even put its logo on the mockups. Court filings in the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Samsung reveal an early concept by Apple designer Shin Nishibori which closely resembles the current-gen iPhones, complete with the silver band. [The Verge]

Early generations of production iPhone, however, went for a more organic look with a smoothly-curved back.

For reference, here is one of the many smartphone models that Sony (then in partnership with Ericsson) offered around 2006/7. It's remarkable because it clearly does have the same pedigree in mind, design-wise; it's just made of plastic and isn't very nice.


  1.  Wow, so it really looks like a large part of the devices intent was to be focused on gaming, right?

  2. I don’t see that at all.  I assume the big circle on the left is the button that would eventually morph into the only button on the front of the iPhone.  The other buttons I’m not sure about, but the red one would probably be the picture button. 

    I’m guessing the green raised part on the side was the volume knob? 

    The thing that surprises me is the Camera.  It looks like a serious business camera for a phone, and even comes with a flash.  The original iPhone’s camera was a horrible piece of crap even by the (very low) cameraphone standards of the day.  This suggests that at some point early in the design, Apple realized that the camera was important, then forgot that lesson and had to re-learn it over the next several generations of the iPhone. 

  3. Can anyone tell if the thing where Sony’s jog-wheel is would be an orientation changed wheel to be more like a watch dial, or just a huge-ass button?

  4. Interesting.  I assumed it was a swipe at a game pad of sorts with a directional nub.  It has some delicious retro-ness to the design but is very un-apple like in the complexity of the outer casing.  Pretty neat to see this dug up from the archives.

  5. Wouldn’t it be great if manufacturers would focus less on suing each other and more on great products? Sadly, the one thing that everyone is lining up to copy is the crap feature of the iPhone, the app store. It won’t be long before we can’t buy a product that isn’t locked into a single vendor source for apps and upgrades with quality and selection going down and prices going up. 

  6. I really loved my Sony Ericsson w810. In some ways it was the best phone I’ve ever owned, when taken in the context of its capabilities relative to other phones available at the time. It was elegantly designed, was small and light, had a goodUI, was expandable with memory stick cards, took decent shots, had an LED flash (which took years for the iPhone to get) had a yahoo mail and a gmail app for it, the browser was usable, it had usb 2.0 and bluetooth… It was a great little phone. And it had real buttons. In many ways it was a better device. I’ve always wished Apple would make an iPhone nano, with a similar form factor and physical buttons.

  7. I’m assuming the silver ring around the outside of the Sony is plastic, so that it doesn’t interfere with the antenna.

  8. I’m not sure I understand exactly why the Sony logo was included. I understand that it is supposed to be a Sony-inspired design, but if the designer was working for Apple why wouldn’t they slap an Apple logo on there instead? Of course, I do understand that these were internal documents not meant to be seen by anyone, so I guess the logo could have just been a joke, a jibe at whoever instructed him to make a Sony-like design.

      1. I think the logo was added, because this mockup was some kind of internal joke, a parody of what they wanted the iphone to be, that they later wind up using parts of.  Speculatively.

  9. I don’t get it… what did they copy from Sony aside from sticking their logo on it?  Where’s the Sony original they copied from?  I’m confused about this.

    1. Stuff so old and basic that we don’t really associate it with Sony anymore. Think 1950s TVs and 1970s transistor radios; sleek rectangular pocket gadgets with silver trim on black were distinctively Sony back then. Whereas Braun (the more obvious 21st century Apple touchpoint) was even more minimal, yet warmer and curvier.

          1. Touché! But development of the Newton platform started in 1987, so you could hardly say they copied that Sony thing.

          2. Started in 1987  as far as we know those looked like a Osbornes and in 1991 they saw the Sony and changed designs ;-)

            Apple is claiming rounded corners are theirs when the Newton does not have rounded corners but the Clie does. The Clie also has at couple of models that looks very much like an iPhone4 with brushed aluminum sides, rounded corners and sharp edge where the edges meet the front and back.
            I’m not saying Apple copied Sony. But the pictures certainly show things that could have been copied.

      1. Ahh, fond memories. I had a 2nd gen peg-30 but, I always wanted the UX-50. Also That is what I was thinking when I saw that illustration. That and that judging by the button layout that would have been a SONY Walkman.

  10. This reads like misdirection from the lawyers of Samsung. Why is this relevant to Samsung’s actions?

    1. It’s not misdirection, it’s the entire legal case. 
      Apple is suing Samsung over design patents it holds, and Samsung’s defense has been that Apple’s patents are invalid due to prior existence of the concepts they cover – like the ‘personal computing devices’ in 2001 that bear a resemblance to the iPad. The argument is that Apple used public domain design concepts to build what they hold patents on and are now using those to stifle legitimate competition that also uses those public domain design concepts.

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