Up For Auction: The Prehistory of the iPhone

By  |  Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 12:31 am

Candlestick PhoneThis we know: Apple likes to release products which, in terms of general polish (if not features and reliability) feel as close to perfect as possible. This we can assume: It only gets there after making plenty of imperfect prototypes. And here’s what seems to be a rare glance of the process at work: German site iFun.de is reporting on an eBay auction for two iPhone prototypes from 2006, the year before the phone was announced–one running a primitive version of the iPhone OS.

I’m not expert enough to declare the auction legit rather than an enjoyable hoax, and the seller doesn’t explain the provenance of the phones. But judging from his feedback, he seems to be a solid eBay citizen, and the notion of getting a peek at a piece of Apple software that’s nowhere near ready for public consumption is fascinating. It lacks all of the final product’s visual splendor and contains some entertaining in-jokes (it claims it’s a Newton MessagePad 3000), but is supposedly in good enough shape to make calls and surf the Web.

iPhone Auction

Here’s a video on YouTube of the proto-OS in action:

As I write, the auction is in progress and bidding stands at $940. I suspect that Apple may ask eBay to pull the auction–it did so just a couple of weeks ago when an early iPod prototype went up for auction–but if the sale concludes successfully, someone will have himself or herself quite a conversation piece.

I still wonder, though: How would these rarities get out on the open market? You’d think that if any company on earth would keep careful tabs on its prototypes and get them back from whoever it entrusted them with, it would be Steve Jobs’ company….


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Vulpine Says:

    Ever think maybe they’re counterfeits?

  2. Benj Edwards Says:

    I thought the same thing, Vulpine. Maybe they’re clever fakes — hacked iPhones made to display primitive-looking OS functionality.

    Then again…maybe they’re not.

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    Yeah, as I said, I don’t know enough to know the whole thing isn’t “an enjoyable hoax.” For what it’s worth, the auction is still going strong…I wonder how much they’ll go for?


  4. DTNick Says:

    They pulled it! Boo!

  5. Relyt Says:

    It’s real – Apple forced a take down on the video.

1 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. an-interview-with-the-iphone-prototype-seller | seomcek.com Says:

    […] Posted by admin on May 27, 2010 After reading Harry’s posts about the auctioning of two iPhone prototypes on eBay and auction and accompanying YouTube video being removed at Apple’s request, I decided to dig […]