It may even be something you could never imagine. And that happens all day, every day. And it’s been going on since Apple was founded in the 1980s.
Of course, not all of the products Apple has come up with over the years have been successful. For every iPhone there’s been a G4 Cube. Or even a Flower Power iMac come to that. But it’s by experimenting with new ideas, coming up with different kinds of products, and learning from each failure that has made Apple the company it is today.
It’s only by delving into its past that we can understand its present and future. As Apple proudly declared ahead of the iPhone’s launch in 2007: the first 30 years were just the beginning.
Here is a selection of some amazing Apple gadgets that time forgot: touch-sensitive tablets that are obvious precursors to the iPad, portable, internet-connected phones and pioneering digital cameras. There’s even a games console lurking in there somewhere… one thing’s for sure – there are plenty of surprises in store.
1. Touch tablets
Name: Apple Newton Bic (codename), Apple Cadillac (codename)
Price: Not applicable
Description: Pen-based portable tablets
Modern equivalent: Apple iPad
We all know that Apple was working on an iPad-style tablet long before the iPhone arrived in 2007, but as far back as 1992-93? Surely not, right? But that’s exactly what Apple was thinking about when it came up with two touchsensitive tablets, codenamed ‘Bic’ and ‘Cadillac’, running the Newton OS.
The Bic was letter-sized and featured two PCMCIA cards, a removable battery and built-in microphone and speaker. The Cadillac (pictured) was similar, but had a smaller display.
According to Jim Abeles, who owns both Bic and Cadillac prototypes, Apple eventually dropped the tablets because it couldn’t find a market for them. How times have changed.
Name: Apple ImageWriter, LaserWriter, StyleWriter
Price: From $675 (£428)
Description: Dot-matrix printer, laser/inkjet printer
Modern equivalent: All-in-one colour printer/copier/scanner
The company that kick-started the desktop publishing revolution in the 1980s also made printers. It’s an idea that only seems surprising in retrospect.
At the time you could barely move for the assorted Apple ImageWriters and LaserWriters, many of which were used to churn out pages from programs like Aldus PageMaker. ImageWriters, using dot-matrix printing technology, arrived first in 1984, with LaserWriter laser printers appearing a year later.
Apple’s first consumer-oriented inkjet, the StyleWriter, arrived in 1993. Like a lot of other products, Apple’s entire printer range fell victim to Steve Jobs’ austerity cuts on his return in 1997.
Name: Apple Scanner, Apple OneScanner
Description: A4 flatbed scanner
Modern equivalent: All-in-one colour printer/copier/scanner
Hand in hand with the desktop publishing revolution and Apple-badged printers were these: desktop scanners that enabled designers, photographers and other creative types to capture images and text and then use them in their PageMaker pages.
The original Apple Scanner made its debut in 1988 – an A4 flatbed model that was capable of capturing 4-bit images in up to 16 shades of grey and took around 20 seconds to complete a full scan. The first colour model, the ColorOneScanner, made its debut four years later. Apple was still selling scanners when Steve Jobs arrived back in 1997, but by then its days were numbered: the last one to roll off the production line was the Color OneScanner 1200/30 in 1996.
Name: Apple AirPort
Price: $199 (£126)
Description: 802.11b Wi-Fi base station
Modern equivalent: Apple AirPort Extreme/Apple Time Capsule
Famous for being the ‘one more thing’ revealed by Steve Jobs during his Macworld Expo keynote in 1999, the AirPort sparked a wireless revolution that continues to go from strength to strength to this day.
Although Wi-Fi technology already existed, it was too expensive and esoteric for most people to get their heads around. That all changed when Apple challenged Wi-Fi co-creator Lucent to come up with a sub-$100 version that could be included as an optional extra in the first-gen iBooks Apple was working on.
PC-friendly versions of the technology eventually arrived a year later, but by then history had already been made.
5. Games consoles
Name: Apple Bandai Pippin Atmark/ Katz Media Pippin
Price: $599 (£379)
Description: Games console / low-cost computer
Modern equivalent: Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360
Cast your mind back to the great console wars of 1995 and what do you think of? Sony Playstation? Certainly. Nintendo 64? Definitely? Sega Saturn? Sure. The, erm, Pippin? Not really…
The charmingly named machine was a desperate attempt to cash in on the gaming boom. It was a PowerPC-based console that Apple built for Bandai in the US/Japan and Katz Media in Europe, but it was horribly hobbled from the off, being vastly underpowered, overpriced and lacking in any sort of credible software.
By the time production stopped in 1997, Bandai had managed to sell a paltry 42,000 units, while Katz had offloaded 5,000.
Name: Apple eMate 300
Price: $800 (£316)
Description: Ultraportable laptop/netbook
Modern equivalent: 11-inch MacBook Air
Designed as a tough, compact ‘computer’ for schools, the 1997 eMate 300 is arguably the ancestor of the netbook PC and MacBook Air, but was got rid of by Steve Jobs just one year into its lifespan. The eMate 300′s big standout feature is its innovative industrial design, which includes a curvy ‘clamshell’ body, carrying handle and the use of translucent plastics.
Although the stock model only came in one colour – aquamarine – several prototypes were also produced in red, orange, red, purple and clear plastic. Often credited to Jonathan Ive, the eMate 300 was actually designed by Thomas Meyerhoffer who was allowed to go ‘hogwild’ by Apple executives (Businessweek, 1997).
However, the eMate’s legacy survived its untimely demise – its design clearly influenced the original iBook, which arrived in 1999.
Name: Apple Newton MessagePad
Description: Pen-based personal digital assistant (PDA)
Modern equivalent: Ink handwriting recognition software, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch
Before the iPad, the iPhone, iPod touch, even before the Palm Pilot there was this: the world’s first touchscreen PDA. First launched by Apple in 1993, the Newton MessagePad was in many ways ahead of its time.
It introduced the idea of using a touch-sensitive screen and stylus to consumer devices and even included handwriting recognition, although it didn’t work that well at first. The original Newton MessagePad didn’t even include a way to sync the device with a Mac or PC.
Luckily things steadily improved with each new iteration, while the Newton operating system included features that are now familiar to us, such as a popup on-screen keyboard. Although it was eventually banished by Steve Jobs in 1998, the Newton MessagePad still has its fans. Smart, tough and beautiful, it arguably inspired the templates for the iOS devices and smartphones that we use today.
8. Portable CD players
Name: Apple PowerCD
Price: $499 (£316)
Description: Portable CD-ROM drive
Modern equivalent: iPod
When Apple dropped the word ‘Computer’ from its name in 2007, it finally fulfilled an ambition it had been working towards for years. It wanted to grow beyond its computing origins and become a consumer electronics company, hence devices like the QuickTake digital camera and this, the PowerCD.
Dreamed up by short-lived Apple design group Mac Like Things, the PowerCD was actually one of Apple’s more successful attempts, remaining in Apple’s line-up from 1993 to 1997. It chiefly served as an external CD-ROM for the optical drive-less PowerBooks of the time, but could also be used as a portable music player by slotting batteries into its base and teaming it with a pair of AppleDesign Powered Speakers.
It was also compatible with Kodak photo CDs, images from which could be viewed on the Mac using the PowerCD’s built-in SCSI connector or on a TV using its video output. Although the PowerCD’s slick design was Apple’s own, the mechanics inside weren’t: Philips, co-creator of CD technology alongside Sony, made them.
9. Digital cameras
Name: Apple QuickTake
Price: $749 (£474)
Description: Digital compact camera
Modern equivalent: Digital camera in iPhone, iPod touch and iPad
We may take digital photos for granted today, but back in the 90s, the technology was a frontier town full of all kinds of exciting possibilities – and Apple was at the very forefront. It became the first company to launch a consumer digital camera in the US in 1994 with the QuickTake 100.
Built by Kodak, the binocular-style camera had a fixed lens and could store up to eight VGA-resolution images at a time on its 1MB of internal memory, with photos transferred to the Mac using a serial cable. The QuickTake 100 was followed by another Kodak-made model – the QuickTake 150 – and then the Fujifilm-made QuickTake 200 (pictured) but none of the cameras sold well, chiefly thanks to Apple’s lack of photography heritage and stiff competition.
Again, Steve Jobs canned the cameras when he returned to Apple in 1997.
10. Portable phones
Name: W.A.L.T. (codename)
Price: Not applicable (prototype)
Description: pen-based portable communication tablet
Modern equivalent: iPhone, iPad
If Apple had launched the iPhone in 1990 instead of 2007, this is what it might have looked like. The W.A.L.T. – or Wizzy Active Lifestyle Telephone – was a portable communications tablet jointly developed by Apple and US phone network BellSouth.
Key features include a touch-sensitive screen with stylus input, handwriting recognition and a built-in address book, message pad and fax machine. Sadly, the W.A.L.T. project was not to be. It mysteriously ground to a halt in 1993.
Name: Paladin (codename)
Price: Not applicable (prototype)
Description: All-in-one computer, scanner, fax machine and phone
Modern equivalent: Unknown
This was another attempt to marry computers with the world of telephone communications. This time the gadget appeared in the shape of an all-in-one Mac, phone, scanner and fax machine aimed at small businesses.
The whole thing was controlled by an application called Complete Office, which enabled easy switching between its various modes.
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