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Alleged photos of early iPad prototype surface

The device, reportedly an early 2000s prototype, looks strikingly similar to the iPad that launched in 2010, though it's thicker and lacks a home button.

Is this an early iPad prototype?
Is this an early iPad prototype?
Network World

Photos purporting to show an early iPad prototype -- potentially dating as far back as 2002 or 2004 -- have surfaced on the Web.

Network World today published photos it claims to have discovered in court documents filed between Apple and Samsung as part of the patent-infringement cases they're waging across the world. According to Yoni Heisler, who discovered the pictures, he started with a deposition Apple senior vice president of industrial design, Jonathan Ive, gave back in December on his recollection of the so-called 035 tablet mockup.

"My recollection of first seeing it is very hazy, but it was, I'm guessing, sometime between 2002 and 2004 some, but it was, I remember seeing this and perhaps models similar to this when we were first exploring tablet designs that ultimately became the iPad," Ive said in the deposition. "I actually don't know which model shop made this, but I recognize this as a model that was produced during our exploration."

After digging through documents filed between Apple and Samsung, Heisler claims he came across the 035 prototype, and said, based on his research, that it appears to date back to early 2004 or late 2005. The first iPad launched in 2010.

Despite about a five-year span between when the iPad launched and the purported 035 prototype was developed, the similarities are striking. The images show a device with a prominent screen and small black bezel. However, the prototype appears to show a device that's much thicker than the original tablet Apple launched, and comes with the familiar Apple logo on the back. The device looks to have Apple's Dock connector, but lacks the home button that sits at the bottom of the device.

The history of Apple's development of the iPad seems to be an important element in the company's battle against Samsung. Apple charges Samsung with violating patents related to its tablet technology, which Samsung denies. Samsung has also fired patent-infringement claims at Apple. It's not clear how the 035 prototype might play a role in those legal struggles.

Still, the images are worth checking out to see what Apple might have been thinking when it first came up with the concept for a touchscreen-based device.