Simon’s Backup Weblog

Is the iPhone really an Apple design?

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 30, 2007

Here’s the Onyx, a concept device from industrial designers Pilotfish and Synaptics (who make the touch screen used by Apple for the iPhone).

I do like the idea of a phone that can send a kiss to the screen as an emoticon…

The Onyx concept acts as a remote for your life. And because life is activity based, not application based, the concept illustrates how applications such as phone, GPS, music, teleconference and calendar events can work simultaneously. The Onyx concept does not base its experience on treating applications as separate windows or entities that work in isolation. Rather, the Onyx concept seamlessly integrates functions into activity based experiences.


More intelligent than conventional touch screens, the ClearPad accurately recognizes not only points and taps, but also shapes, complex gestures, and proximity to the user’s finger or cheek. This creates new possibilities such as assigning functions to two-finger taps, closing tasks by swiping an “X” over them, sending messages by swiping them off the screen, or answering a phone by holding it up to your cheek. The prototype phone uses a dynamic UI, where applications are layered and opened simultaneously, allowing a seamless flow of information between applications.

Sound familiar? The concept PDF is rather interesting too…

Now note the date on the press release.

Thanks to for the link.


6 Responses to 'Is the iPhone really an Apple design?'

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  1. bibliofile said,

    I take it that this means the press release actually did a great job for the Onyx concept thing, then…

  2. anonymous said,

    There are still hundreds – if not thousands or millions – of bemused tech-heads out there that just don’t understand why the iPod is successful. It hasn’t got a radio, they snarl. It doesn’t have GPS, they rant. And it doesn’t even have decent headphones, they whimper.
    The public, meanwhile, oblivious to the finer things in life, just keep on buying the little, single-task gadget, as if they had at long last found what they had always been looking for.
    The way pundits, bloggers and critics, not to mention the tech-head forums, have been thrashing around on the subject of the iPhone, this device is just about to pull the same trick all over again. Sure, it only has a 2 mega-pixel camera; it doesn’t allow you to install your own software; it only has EDGE or GPRS; its capacity is not extendable with flash memory cards; it cannot be used control anything else; and it also does not feature GPS. But – and this is the big, big but that almost everybody seems to be just not seeing right now – Apple thinks they really looked at all the stuff that you can do with a gadget like this, identified the most important, most popular things, and put them into a device that is as simple to use as possible.
    You have to ask, if Apple managed to do this once with the iPod, was it just luck? Or can they do it again?
    I subscribe to the theory that most of the mobile industry is, once again, missing the point. Prada phones, and Onyx devices are being bandied around as comparable pieces of hardware.
    Watch this industry as the fun continues…

  3. sbisson said,

    I think you’re the one missing the point here…

    Synaptics – who make the screens for the iPhone – had a proof-of-concept device with all the features and more of the iPhone that they were touting around manufacturers several months before Apple announced the device.

    It’s also interesting to note that the leaked internals of the iPhone indicate that a key component is – shock, horror – codenamed Onyx.

    Most people forget that the iPod came from a little company called Pixo, and iTunes was a third-party jukebox before Apple bought it. There’s nothing new in all this, and certainly nothing that fits in with your thesis.

  4. sbisson said,

    Well, it certainly seems that Apple bought into it – there’s very little difference between Synaptics’ concept and the Apple iPhone being built on top of their ClearPad…

    (It’s interesting to note in last week’s leaked software architecture for the iPhone, a key component is called Onyx!)

  5. anonymous said,

    My thesis, if we’re gonna call it that, is the peculiarity of the wider reporting on the iPhone, of which this is one example, and how reminiscent this is of the iPod debate a few years back.

    Your point is that somebody else invented a part of the technology that Apple has built into the iPhone. Or, to squeeze every possible bit of mileage out of the point, Apple bought a large part of the technology from somebody else, and put their own name on it.

    You are absolutely right that key parts of the iPod were developed by another company, and those ideas and/or components were bought by Apple and became part the iPod. Same for iTunes.

    No argument about these things from my side. However, the importance and implication that you are attempting to attach to the facts are one example of the peculiarity of the wider media reporting on the iPhone. Your particular point centres around the fact that Apple did not invent the whole deal all by themselves. Which, the sub-text implies, means that they stole someone elses idea; they did no work themselves; the inventor of the component has been taken to the cleaners; and Apple deserves absolutely no credit for the iPhone at all.

    This quite neatly paints Apple into a corner: if the device is a flop, it was a really dumb idea and everybody in the industry knew that, but Apple thought they knew better… etc. If the iPhone is a success, then Apple are just coasting on someone elses idea, and do not deserve any credit because the whole concept was “stolen”.

    So, back to my point: there are lots of people who still don’t understand why the iPod is a success. One of the arguments they love to level at the iPod is that the iPod does not do very much in comparison to other gadgets. Other goodies have oodles more functionality, and are thus far more deserving of praise and admiration.

    Another one of the arguments they love to level at the iPod, and at iTunes, now you come to mention it, is also now being levelled at the iPhone: other people were doing this before Apple came on the scene, and other people invented some of the technology – oh, sorry, other people invented a lot of the technology – that Apple are putting into the iPhone. Ergo: iPhone bad.

    I can’t go into all the reasons why the subtext and implications are not accurate, and I didn’t really intend to get onto a soapbox about this, but I have a feeling that I am watching the same film as last time round. I just hope the ending is the same.

    Have a nice blog, and I appreciate your view on the tech world.

  6. sbisson said,

    Interesting points, and while I feel I have no agenda vis a vis Apple per se (a company of which I have remained a happy customer since my first PowerBook 140 way back when), I do have an agenda with regards to the entire tech industry.

    It’s one that’s built on the shoulders of giants, and keeps building on those shoulders, without telling the worl who those giants are.

    I’ve got friends in many small and medium sized design and development companies who see their product designs and concepts taken by larger companies, reworked and put out, with little or no credit to the people who did the initial work (hey, I’ve even been there myself with the work I did with early photo-sharing and web mail services)…

    They’re the folk who produced the back end for Google’s mapping tools, the people who do the design work for Microsoft’s fonts, the Taiwanese ODMs who design most of the laptops we use, the people at WindRiver who write the firmware for the robots on Mars, the ex-Cobalt guys who turned Sun onto x86, the designers who reworked the UIs for Yahoo!, the team at Azul with their Vega processor that runs many major software as service plays: the folk who’re the unsung heros of the industry.

    So one thing I do try to do here, and also in print, is remind people of the little guys who’ve provided the inspiration. Yes, it’s not all the work, possibly not even a large part of the work – but it remains an important – actually, a critical – part of the work.

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