Steve Jobs once said "Good artists copy; great artists steal" and "We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas." So it's not surprising that Apple, now embroiled in a patent war with Samsung over the look of its iPhone and iPad might have borrowed the iPhone's design from another company: Sony.
Apple didn't copy any specific Sony product, so much as it borrowed some philosophy from Sony designer Yujin Morisawa. According to Samsung's latest court filing in its defense against copying Apple, Apple designer Tony Fadell ("father of the iPod and inventor of the Nest thermostat) circulated an 2006 Businessweek interview with Morisawa that detailed a device that would "do away with excessive ornamentation" that would be a square, with a screen and without buttons.
Apple designer Shin Nishibori was then allegedly ordered to create a CAD mockup of a phone based on that concept. You can see Nishibori's designs below, which despite their "Sony" branding is uncannily close to the design of the iPhone 4/4S with its silver stainless steel band wrapped around its sides, a 4:3 display, a camera on a corner on the rear panel and a dock port on its bottom. Even the antenna "cuts" are present.
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Another prototype was also created which you can also see in the gallery below, and it resembled a fatter second-gen iPod Nano. Naturally, Nishibori's design was selected as the better of the two and the iPhone's direction was taken down that road.
Perhaps it's a huge stretch for Samsung to say that Apple stole the iPhone idea from Sony, but Samsung's argument is that the existence of a square with a large screen with little or no buttons is not something original that Apple came up with, but a concept that already existed at other companies.
Regardless, you can take a look at what could have been (but thankfully wasn't) the iPhone that launched in 2007 in our gallery below. Sends chills down your spine, doesn't it?