iPhone Dreams

Renders from 2006 tell us everything about what we used to think a phone could be.

It was only seven years ago when we texted from clamshells and chocolate bar approximations, janky contraptions that got the job done. I picked the slickest device from the T-Mobile online store that came free with a two year commitment, but now I remember that silver Samsung flip about as well as an old microwave. It had a throaty shutter click like a power tool. My hand trembled a little when I pressed a button to take a photo. The images looked like badly compressed maroon fingerpaints on a postage stamp size screen. Maybe I took five pictures ever. Of my face? Of my dinner? Of my pet snake? Can’t remember now. I didn’t save them. The phone was a paperweight. I had to remember to take it out of my bag and send someone a text message. It was a cell phone. It wasn’t my world.

The iPhone came around just as that contract ended. I wanted one, of course, but I wanted it like a shinier paperweight. $600 to send email and place calls and keep papers from blowing off my desk — what? That autumn, I got one as a gift. It has been in my hands ever since.

Render images from iPhone Concept blog (2006) http://appleiphone.blogspot.com/

A few months ago, I stumbled upon an old website that best illustrates the period in between. Here on this humble blogspot page are concept mockups compiled in October of 2006, shortly after the news came out that Apple struck a deal with Cingular (now AT&T.) That G4 lampshade with a phone cord receiver seems to represent this mash-up of what was and what happened next. This was the brand at its peak of wonder, an underdog — remember, people hated Microsoft then— and dazzling. It was the tail end of the transition to DVD from VHS players (flashing 12:00 constantly.) The plastic clamshells were part of that recent past — technology of utility, careless design, with no romantic notions of normcore unpretentiousness.

Back in 2006, it wasn’t clear what to want from a phone. These images reveal the cultural ambivalence. We also see in these renders the behaviors and expectations we brought to the iPhone. It didn’t arrive unboxed in the mold of our desires. We had figure out to how make it fit.

These render images dance around the idea of what an iPhone could have been, but no one predicted apps on a touch screen. Pressing the buttons felt like applying eye makeup, not drilling a hole in the wall. I started to go to bed with it. It became a paperweight for my pillow. The iPhone is now so seamlessly integrated in my daily life, I scarcely think of it. I have to remember to put it down.