Photos: Apple initially wanted an iPhone with shaped glass, deposition reveals

The Apple-Samsung trial has provided us with an absolute treasure trove of information regarding Apple's iPhone prototypes. Below is why Apple initially shied away from shaped glass and why an iPhone prototype resembling the iPod Mini never passed initial muster.

The Apple-Samsung trial has provided us with an absolute treasure trove of information regarding Apple's iPhone and iPad prototypes. From an 8-sided iPhone prototype to an iPhone that resembles an iPod Mini of yore, poring through many of Apple's prototypes that never made it to market has been rather fascinating.

On Wednesday, Apple's first witness took the stand - veteran designer Christopher Stringer. Stringer discussed many of the early iPhone and iPad designs and noted to the jury that Apple's industrial design group is comprised of 16 'maniacal' individuals who share one singular purpose - to "imagine products that don't exist and guide them to life."

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Naturally, Stringer said that Apple had been "ripped off" and that it's "a huge leap in imagination to come up with something new. That's what we did."

Now, again, the slew of iPhone prototypes that have hit the web over the past few days have provided a rare and exciting glimpse into the design process at one of the world's most successful and secretive companies. But with so many iPhone prototypes floating around now, it's hard to say which designs Apple gave serious consideration to and which ones it didn't.

That said, I went back and looked through some of the older court filings from the case and stumbled upon portions of Douglas Satzger's deposition. Satzger worked at Apple from 1996 through 2008 as an "Industrial Design Creative Lead" and helped work on the original iPhone, the iPhone 3G, and the iPhone 3GS. He is currently the VP of Industrial Design at Intel.

In any event, I found a few tidbits of information from Satzger's deposition that are worth sharing.

First, Satzger at one point is questioned by Samsung's attorney about the design of the original iPhone and acknowledges that there was a strong interest from within Apple's industrial design team to develop a phone with shaped glass.

And so why didn't Apple follow through on developing an iPhone with shaped glass? In a word, cost.

Satzger explains:

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.

When asked explicitly about the cost of shaping the glass, Satzger bluntly said it was "a lot."

Expanding on that, he added:

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.

Satzger also touched on why the iPhone prototype below (originally discovered by The Verge), which is reminiscent of an old-school iPod Mini, never made the cut. The prototype in question is the one on the left with the extruded metal design and is referenced as one of the "earlier iterations" of the iPhone.

So what was the problem with said iPhone prototype?

Satzger explains:  

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...
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.

Satzger then agrees with Samsung's lawyer's assessment that constructing a phone with the aforementioned aluminum design would  be more complicated to manufacture and, from a design point of view, "a lot more challenging."

And speaking of testing, lest you think that Apple's industrial designers work in a vaccum, they actually work quite closely with technical liasons who give detailed reports back to Apple's designers about things such as drop-test results for various designs.

So not terribly surprising, but it does speak to the close collaborative process that goes into the design of Apple's hardware. And to that end, I also found this interesting exchange in the deposition of the aforementioned Christopher Stringer.

Samsung's lawyer then asks for clarification regarding whether or not the iPhone design was changed in a significant way as a result of the drop testing. Stringer responds:

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.

Samsung's attorney fired back, "The reason why the iPhone designs took various forms along the way was in response to drop test results, among other things; right?

Stringer answers back:

I can tell you quite plainly that this shape is not determined as a result of drop tests."

And so there you have it. 

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