Former Apple Senior Vice President Tony Fadell, who is credited with the creation of the original iPod, says Apple originally considered iPhone designs with both a physical keyboard and an alternate "iPod+phone" with a click wheel. The comments were part of an interview for an episode of On The Verge, set to debut on Monday afternoon.
Asked if Apple had considered an iPhone design with a physical keyboard, Fadell said it was "definitely discussed."
"It was a heated topic," he noted. At the time, the iPhone's lack of a physical keyboard was one of its most hotly contested features. And though the iPhone's soft keyboard has been successfully transplanted to other smartphone operating systems, some smartphone users still prefer a physical keyboard.
Fadell went on to explain that Apple had pursued three basic design ideas in depth for the iPhone: an "iPod+phone" concept, a QWERTY keyboard design, and a large touchscreen design. Though Fadell was very familiar with touch technology due to his work on the iPod, he was initially skeptical that a touch-based soft keyboard could work as well as a physical one.
"I wanted it to work, because it made sense that you wanted a full screen," Fadell said. That large screen ended up becoming one of the iPhone's iconic features.
"The biggest problem with the 'iPod+phone' [concept] was we had a little screen and this huge hardware wheel," Fadell explained. When then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in January 2007, he complained that hardware keyboards common on smartphones of the day similarly limited available screen real estate.If having the larger screen seemed the way to go, however, why bother with the other prototypes, such as the click-wheel-based "iPod+phone? "Sometimes you have to try things and then throw it away," Fadell said.