Apple has gained a patent for a phone interface, and it's probably not what you were expecting. Of course there's a reason for that, the patent application itself was filed back in 2006. Then it was published in 2007, but only now has Apple acquired the patent.
It describes a rotary dialer:
A method of using a portable communications device includes displaying a first image of a rotary dial in a display of the portable communications device in response to a first contact by a user with a click wheel. The first image of the rotary dial includes a plurality of icons arranged proximate to a periphery of the rotary dial. The plurality of icons include numbers.
A look at the image above shows you that whatever planning stage they were at when developing the iPhone may have actually been based on what is now known as the iPod Classic. It's also possible that they were just acquiring a patent to ensure that they had this idea tied down and the competition can't get to it first. Or perhaps they applied for the patent and used the image above to keep from revealing the actual idea for the design of their device.