Icebergs: you only see a tenth of the whole thing, most of which lurks below the surface. Apple’s exactly the same: the products the company actually releases are a tiny proportion of what goes on in its Cupertino HQ.
Want to see the historic concepts buried in the Apple design vault? Come with us on a weird journey through early iPads, projected TV and wrist-bound computers…
The original iPhone
Bring a computer and a phone together and what have you got? Hartmut Esslinger, the man who designed the Apple IIc, dreamt up this prototype hybrid in 1983 – 24 years before the launch of the original iPhone. Like the WALT (below), it was a super-charged home or work phone with the ability to make notes, scour contacts and – impressively – fill out and send cheques.
This beauty turned up on eBay earlier this month. WALT, which stands for the cringingly-bad ‘Wizzy Active Lifestyle Telephone’, was designed in 1993 as a sort of home-based version of the Apple Newton – it also had a touchscreen and stylus with handwriting recognition.
WALT was supposed to play nice with your home phone, letting you look up contacts, send faxes or, apparently, check your bank balance.
Apple PenMac / PenLite
Go back earlier than that and this is what you’re looking at: the PenMac or PenLite. First designed in 1990, then continually punted about through to 1992 but never released, the device was developed during a time when Apple was trying to explore as many mad avenues as it could following its decision to give Steve Jobs the heave ho.
The Pen Mac shows the company’s iPad ambition is nothing new, even if it was sidelined – a deal with Sharp to produce the Newton meant there was no room for anything similar.
The rest of these concepts are from a 1991 edition of Japanese magazine ‘Axis’, which has since been uploaded to Flickr. It’s a fascinating collection of devices, simply because most of them are a world away from desktop computing. Our Japanese is a bit rusty, but there’s no denying what this device bears a striking resemblance to. You think you have problems holding the iPad with one hand? Imagine reading in bed on this monster.
It’s a poorly kept secret that Apple wants in on the mobile payments market, but did you know it had plans for something similar two decades ago? Apple wanted to crack the business market with this little device that scanned money to check exchange rates, though it never saw the light of day.
The launch of the latest iPod Nano saw Apple add different 16 clock faces. The company really, really wants you to wear it as a watch. That urge is nothing new if this ‘Timeband’ concept is anything to go by. A map of the world denotes either a world clock or GPS function (or both), but the most interesting part of this wearable computer is the ‘call’ symbol. Is this the first ever design for a wearable iPhone? Certainly seems that way.
Apple’s bike GPS unit
Apple never launched a standalone GPS navigation product to compete with the likes of TomTom, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t toy with the idea. This chunky orange and black pod seems to resemble a very early version of Google Maps, using images of landmarks to denote your route and end destination.
Early Mac Pro
If you’ve seen this picture you know as much about it as we do, but we wanted to include it because of its similarity to today’s Mac Pro desktop tower. And when we say tower, we mean tower: it looks enormous. The need for such a design in the first place would suggest that, even in 1991, Apple was anticipating the need among its media clinetelle for bigger, more powerful machines than the normal Macintosh. Still, it probably wouldn’t have handled iMovie all too well.
See! All this gossip about Apple’s plans to launch its own range of HD TVs isn’t that much of a leap. The mad, wall-mounted projector on the right is a solution that – probably for technical reasons – we’ve still not seen done. The self-contained unit beams the picture straight upwards from behind the sound grill. The picture on the left, meanwhile, seems like a more conventional display, even if it does predate commercially available flatscreen TVs by a good 10 years.
Apple’s invisible iPad
What if you took a Wacom drawing tablet and mixed in a new iPad, you’d probably end up with this. Not the Apple menu bar along the top? This looks like an attempt to make the Macintosh more tactile and easy to create content on, which, if we’re not mistaken, is exactly what the iPad is. Obviously, if it’s 1991 you can forgive Apple for not seeing past the technical limitations – tethering this experience to a computer rather than having a standalone tablet just wasn’t possible.
Apple Knowledge Navigator (early Siri concept)
This is what Apple wants Siri to be. Released in 1987, this amazing video shows an entirely iPad-like device talking to a college professor about his appointments, helping him manage his Skype calls and emails, look up and save information from the web and more besides.
It’s the kind of thing that, at the time, was madness. Now it’s real. Well, almost. Still, Siri’s only going to get more intelligent, so it’s hardly beyond reach. The point is, much of what’s achievable in this video is doable in the now, in the new iPad.