My iPhone Backstory

Click to Enlarge. Photo by Mark Serr.

Back in the late 90’s I was working at a small product design consultancy that was hired by Cidco to design a phone with email and web-browsing capabilities. Cidco made caller-ID devices (Caller ID COmpany, get it? They eventually got bought by Earthlink I think.) but wanted to branch out with something more lucrative. Ultimately the webphone group got spun off into a separate company called Infogear. I was part of the team that designed their first product.

The phone itself was a desktop affair with a VGA black and white touch screen, a speedy 56k modem, and a slide-out keyboard (one of its best features, actually, it was a great keyboard). With a regular handset and a very good speakerphone, you could use it for regular calls too. Using the touchscreen with a simple UI, an email app and a proprietary browser (ouch), you could do basic web and email. It was geared toward people who wanted a bit of the experience of this new fangled Internet, but didn’t want to deal with the complexity of a PC. Like quite a few PC/phone/appliance gadgets at the time, it was a good idea but ultimately sunk by the high cost relative to the rapidly falling prices of full-blown PC’s that did a lot more.

Infogear struggled for a while and ultimately bought by Cisco Systems in 2000. With it, Cisco inherited the trademark on the name: iPhone.