The story behind a rare first generation iPod touch prototype that is still running OS X. [Gallery]

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You have likely seen several photos and videos of Apple prototype products on the internet, and some of them are very interesting as they reveal features that have been scrapped by the endpoints. The stories behind these prototypes are usually unknown, however 9to5Mac was able to learn more about a specific prototype first generation iPod touch that was built before the iPhone was introduced.

I spoke to Giulio Zompetti, known on Twitter for his huge collection of Apple prototypes, which includes dozens of iPhones, iPods, iPads, Apple Watch, and even a working AirPower unit. However, we’re here to talk about a rare first-generation iPod touch prototype that was officially announced in 2007.

Zompetti says this iPod is one of the prototypes he never wants to sell because he thinks it’s a special device. First, it’s impressive how well this iPod has been preserved. With a product that was built over 14 years ago, I am surprised that it hardly shows any scratches. I own a first generation iPod touch (not a prototype) and its rear end is nowhere near as shiny as this internal model.

From the outside, the iPod prototype looks exactly like the model that Steve Jobs introduced in September 2007. For those who don’t remember, the iPod touch came a few months after the iPhone launch as a cheaper alternative for those who had at least part of the experience of Apple’s smartphone with the built-in multi-touch display, Wi-Fi, Safari web browser and iTunes Store.

An early prototype

However, the Zompetti prototype has its own personality. It was built long before the first iPhone hit stores and runs on April 2007 software. Before I could get into details about the iPod internals, however, I had to wonder how he got this and other prototypes.

Zompetti explained to me that most of these prototypes will be discarded by Apple after testing is complete. Because these devices were made for internal testing purposes only and contain special software, the company tries to destroy the prototypes before sending them off for e-waste disposal. This iPod touch was found with some bad internal connections and no internal battery.

When Zompetti got the prototype, he put in a new battery and repaired those faulty plugs himself. According to him, prototypes that are thrown away while at work are usually restored by people who find them in e-waste disposal. When you plug either of these into a Mac, it will be recognized as a normal device and you can install a standard version of iOS on it. The lack of battery has made this iPod special all along.

The iPod touch prototype comes from the pre-EVT phase, the “Engineering Validation Test” – one of the first phases of product development. At this point, the company checks that the hardware is working as expected with software that can test things like the touchscreen, speakers, antennas, and accelerometers. In other words, this is likely one of the earliest iPod touch devices made by Apple.

Internally, this iPod touch has a red logic board that Apple uses to identify its prototypes.

It’s running OS X.

When it comes to “Switchboard”, a special software that Apple uses in prototypes, it is not exactly a different operating system. In fact, it is just a basic version of the iPhone operating system without the icons and other things that you are familiar with. By using a few special commands on a Mac, it is possible to take a closer look at the internal files stored on the iPod and they will reveal even more interesting things.

Surprisingly, the prototype iPod touch runs OS X! If we go back to January 2007, Steve Jobs said the iPhone was running OS X. Despite being different systems, iOS was built on top of the core of Mac OS X (now macOS), and Apple hadn’t defined a specific name for the iPhone operating system at the time.

After the iPhone launched, Apple changed the name of the operating system to “iPhone OS,” which was also used for the iPod touch, which was introduced later that year. The operating system of the iPod prototype is still called “OS X”, as can be seen from the internal files. Another interesting thing is that this prototype is the only one known to have a dual boot system with two parallel system installations, but the reason is unknown.

The iPod can be started via the Switchboard software and shows a “Bloody Gear” logo when it boots up, which is a rare element even among Apple’s prototypes (usually there is just one normal device with no details).

A few more tidbits

Because Apple always wants to avoid leaks or associations with leaked products, this iPod touch (as well as other extremely early, unreleased, first generation devices) does not have an Apple logo, the iPod brand, or anything to refer to the company. It is now easier to look at this and determine that it is an iPod with Apple internal software. However, it wouldn’t be if one of these iPods leaked at this point.

Another interesting fact about this prototype iPod touch is that the device with its “passport” was discarded. This is a document that states which tests the prototype passed or failed. In the image below, you can see that this iPod device failed a test called “Plum Calibration”.

One of the coolest things Zompetti shared about his prototypes was that he could find out who the engineer at Apple was responsible for one of the units he was given – thanks to some information printed on the prototype’s labels were. They even got in touch and it was confirmed that the iPod device was rejected for failing an internal test.

If you want to learn more about Apple prototypes, be sure to read Giulio Zompetti’s Twitter profile.

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