On launch, the iPhone was a brilliant (but flawed) device, but it’s major selling point was a touch interface. Interestingly enough, it inherited its touchscreen from the Mac, which still doesn’t have one.
At an event honoring his accomplishments, former Apple employee (and Nest founder) Tony Fadell discussed how the Mac helped him and his team turn the original iPhone from an iPod with a dialer to the groundbreaking device it was:
We started out by making an iPod phone. It was an iPod with a phone module inside it. It looked like an iPod, but it had a phone, and you would select numbers through the same interface and so on. But if you wanted to dial a number it was like using a rotary dial. It sucked. We knew three months in that it wasn’t going to work. Steve said, “Keep trying!” We tried everything. We tried for seven or eight months to get that thing to work. Couldn’t do it. We added more buttons and it just became this gangly thing.
That was the iPod phone. At the same time, we were trying to build a touchscreen Mac. We were also trying to do better video on an iPod. We had a real screen, but people didn’t like to watch videos on their iPod. So how can we get a really big screen, but not have the click wheel involved? Instantly, we knew we needed a virtual interface on top of a phone. We wanted to make this touch Mac, and we knew the iPod phone wouldn’t work, but we knew we needed to make a phone.
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They were right. Clickwheels suck.