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Earliest demos of iPhone tech were clunky and 'huge'

How much work did Apple have to do to shrink a computer to fit in your pocket? A lot, apparently, a former Apple exec tells The New York Times.

The small device known as the iPhone that fits in your pocket wasn't always so tiny.

In fact, one of the early demos was so clunky that its description conjures up images of the first, massive mainframe computers, instead of the slick handset-computers Apple eventually introduced in July 2007.

In a long magazine piece published online Friday in The New York Times, then-Apple executive Tony Fadell recalled Steve Jobs showing him an early example of the phone's eventual touch-screen technology in mid-2005:

"He said: 'Tony, come over here. Here's something we're working on. What do you think? Do you think we could make a phone out of this?' " Fadell says, referring to a demo Jobs was playing with. "It was huge. It filled the room. There was a projector mounted on the ceiling, and it would project the Mac screen onto this surface that was maybe three or four feet square. Then you could touch the Mac screen and move things around and draw on it.
It might not be quite fair to call that projector contraption an early prototype of the actual phone -- it's more of an ancestor, or the primordial goop that would eventually become a prototype of the phone. (The story also says that there were six fully operational prototypes of the iPhone, all with different hardware, software, and design tweaks.) But it does underscore how much ground the company had to cover before getting the device into game-day shape when it was unveiled at San Francisco's Moscone Center two years later.

Fadell, who went on to co-found smart thermostat maker Nest Labs in 2010, also described some of what else had to be done to get the multitouch technology in the right place, like getting LCD vendors who could embed the tech under glass and calibrating new algorithms that would keep the pixel electronics in check. Then there was the harrowing task of coming up with an all-new, mobile-focused operating system: iOS.

Needless to say, it was a slog. According to the story, one senior executive believes the first iPhone cost more than $150 million to create.