The first iPhone was actually dreamed up in 1983. This iPhone was a landline with full, all-white handset and a built-in screen controlled with a stylus.
The phone was designed for Apple by Hartmut Esslinger, an influential designer who helped make the Apple IIc computer (Apple’s first “portable” computer) and later founded Frogdesign. The 1983 iPhone certainly fits in with Esslinger’s other designs for Apple. It also foreshadows the touchscreens of both the iPhone and iPad.
Images of the 1983 iPhone have been circling the web for a while but there has been renewed interest in Apple’s early designs and history thanks to a peak inside Stanford University’s massive trove of Apple documents. The archives are a close-guarded secret but Stanford is starting to grant access to select journalists and organizations. The archives were donated in 1997 after Steve Jobs rejoined the company and document much of the design and personnel changes that took place in the 1980s.
The 1983 iPhone is just one of many prototypes buried in Apple’s past. There’s even a device that looks eerily similar to an iPad. Despite the phone’s age, it actually looks like a cool concept that could easily be updated into a modern consumer product by replacing simple stylus screen with an iPad-like interface.