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When it was first announced, the iPad was derided by some naysayers as nothing more than a giant iPhone. According to Apple apocrypha, that evolution may have occurred in reverse at Cupertino. Legend has it that design chief Jonny Ive presented Steve Jobs with a working touchscreen prototype. Quoth Jobs to Ive, “This is the future, but let’s make a phone out of it first.”

Lots of fanciful rumors surround the genesis of the iPhone, but new photos of a large prototype circa 2005 lend some credence to this version of the story. An engineer who worked at Apple during the early 2000’s sent the photos to Ars Technica editor Jacqui Cheng on the condition of anonymity. While it’s generally accepted that Apple has become a kinder, gentler place to work since Tim Cook took the CEO mantle from the famously vengeful Jobs, the engineer “declined to be named out of concern for retribution from Apple.”

With a 5″x7″ display and nearly 2″ thick, the prototype is quite large compared to the pocketable iPhone Apple ended up releasing in 2007, but the unnamed engineer adds that, “at the time it was really impressive seeing basically a version of OS X running on it.” Interestingly, the prototype also features full sized USB, Ethernet, and even serial ports. While never intended for final release, the ports made for easier testing at Apple.

More closely related to the finished product is the ARM processor inside, a variant of the Samsung S3C2410. This distant relative of the chip used in the first iPhone is older and slower by at least 100Mhz, but proves that Apple was planning to use Samsung’s ARM chips even at this early juncture.

Without Apple’s signature smooth and thin aesthetic, the prototype looks more like a Frankensteined mini-MacBook. Still, it provides a tangible artifact in the history of the last decade’s most famous device.

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