The Apple Watch has become an iconic smartwatch, but things could’ve turned out very differently. Leaked images of what appears to be an Apple Watch prototype show just how far it has come since its early days in development.
Apple prototypes are extremely rare. These particular images were posted by Twitter user @AppleDemoYT and initially reported on by 9to5 Mac. Apple also has a history of disguising its prototypes—you may recall the iPhone 4 prototype that Gizmodo of yore obtained, which was dressed up to look like an iPhone 3GS. It’s no different with this prototype Apple Watch, which is built into a bulky case that makes it look sort of like a mini iPhone or iPod.
The case has two buttons on the side and something that resembles the old iPhone home button, and the exterior of the case appears to retain the digital crown and button we’re all familiar with. The prototype also appears to be running internal software that pre-dates watchOS, complete with a “Springboard zoom” app that demos the watchOS home screen. Another neat Easter egg is a “Lisa Tester” app, which references Apple’s Lisa computer from the ‘80s and features an adorable Lisa Simpson icon. Another screen clearly states the prototype is not approved by the FCC, and as a result, may not be sold or leased.
The first Apple Watch launched in 2015, so this testing unit likely dates back to at least 2014, or perhaps earlier. Back in 2015, Wired ran an in-depth piece detailing the history of the Apple Watch’s development. In it, there were a few descriptions of the first Apple Watch prototype, which was actually an iPhone attached to a “very nicely designed Velcro strap.” It also supposedly had a custom dongle in the form of “an actual watch crown that plugged into the bottom of the phone through the cord jack.”
It’s always neat to see what features and design elements end up in the final product and which are left on the scrap heap of history. It appears that some aspects of the prototype UI—at least the ones pictured—eventually made it into watchOS. It’s a mystery exactly how this particular prototype exists, especially because Apple is known for destroying test units and for its strong non-disclosure agreements. Recently, photos from 2007 depicting the production line for the very first iPhone also surfaced on Twitter. These leaks show a neat bit of tech history—one that gadget nerds everywhere would like to see more of.