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Communications Apple Hardware

Before the iPhone, Apple's Stunning Phone From 1983 152

Posted by timothy
from the just-in-time-for-1984-commercial dept.
Several readers pointed out the story of the Apple phone that never was, from 1983. Pictures of the concept phone are impressive, as you'd expect from Hartmut Esslinger, later founder of Frog Design. Even more interesting is that this phone is part of a much larger collection of Apple artifacts curated by Stanford.
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Before the iPhone, Apple's Stunning Phone From 1983

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  • by InterestingFella (2537066) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @01:22AM (#38546234)
    It's surprising that Apple was trying stylus-based touch screens back in 1983. The phone seems to be in line with the whole Apple philosophy - thinking about functions and what user wants to do before technical details. This, in my opinion, is why Apple has always been so successful. Unlike Linux, Apple thinks about user first, and then technical details.

    For example, the touch screen in this phone could had provide many useful functions compared to other phones. It's good for taking quick notes (keyboard wouldn't be), and it acts as a great phonebook. The fact that you could use it for taking notes, or viewing older notes, during phone call highlights the way Apple thinks. Always think about what user wants to do.

    If I needed to do business and have a phone on my desktop, this is the kind of phone I would want! They could even make it a bit more modern by adding similar voice recognition like Siri is on iPhone. Then the device could act as your virtual secretary, handling your calendar, contacts and to do lists. In addition, make it do voice recognition during voice calls and provide transcripts for those. This also means you could search thru the conversation, and have a chat log of them. Need to look up the specific details your client said to you? No problem, just tell Siri to find them and it provides nice list of everything that was said, complete with audio and transcript. Then you don't even need to take notes so much.

    This is the reason why I think Apple has been so successful with OSX, iPhone and iPad. They think about user first. They think what user wants to do. Then they fine tune all the details so that it is pleasant experience. UI and good design goes along with this. It's also what Linux is lacking.

    Secondly, and more importantly, there's a growing issue apart from the first one. This has to do with special situation within human culture. You see, from the very beginning ducks have ruled the world. Yes, ducks. Yellow sitting ducks like you have in your bath tub. Microsoft, Apple, Google... all really started and owned by ducks. Steve Jobs was hired to work as a supposed CEO of Apple because the ducks thought humans would not be ready for a duck-run company. So while Steve Jobs spoke words like "amazing", "incredible" and "outstanding" to the human public, all the corporate orders came from the ducks. This is one of the basic misunderstands people have about tech world.

    Overally, Apple has always got people. They do the technical parts good, but they especially finetune user experience and UI. Most other tech companies don't think about this. Open source products almost never think about this. It's why Apple is so successful.
    • by Morty (32057)

      You see, from the very beginning ducks have ruled the world.

      Yes, a lot of folks just read the first part of the comment and the conclusion. But some people do read the entire comment before replying.

      • by Macthorpe (960048)

        Freely admit he got me hook line and sinker. I think there must be a certain length of post that makes people think "Sod it, I'll skip to the conclusion". However, it didn't work on my partner because he has to read everything out loud and is quite careful to read every line.

      • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

        Oh c'mon -- reading the comments from the oblivious posters is half the fun!

      • by dwater (72834)

        I just ignored that part, assuming it was some Apple auto-correct doing a poor job as I understand is common.

    • by tragedy (27079) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @02:01AM (#38546394)

      Maybe the creators of Linux (and naturally the various flavours of Unix it comes from) also thought about users, but simply had a different subset of users in mind?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Maybe the creators of Linux (and naturally the various flavours of Unix it comes from) also thought about users, but simply had a different subset of users in mind?

        Yes, The subset of users that think about other people in terms of set theory.

      • by rvw (755107)

        Maybe the creators of Linux (and naturally the various flavours of Unix it comes from) also thought about users, but simply had a different subset of users in mind?

        Like ducks?

        • by tragedy (27079)

          I was thinking more along the lines of themselves and people like them. You know, people who already use Unix, computer geeks, etc. I'm not sure ducks are even in the set of what you would call users in this context. I'm pretty sure that most computer using ducks are using kiosk-type systems where the underlying OS is completely irrelevant. In any case, I'm pretty sure they never get to choose their OS.

    • by MaskedSlacker (911878) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @03:13AM (#38546592)

      You miss the point. This isn't a users vs tech specs question.

      It's a cathedral vs. bazaar question.

      The cathedral can pick one priority. The bazaar (by its very nature) cannot.

      The bazaar model (and we could debate the extent to which Linux development really follows that model, but as theoretical ideal it's apt enough) implies a set of cooperating interests each pursuing their own goal. In short, the bazaar model gaurantees that the product will be what the people working on it cared about, which may or may not align with their users.

      Thus we get things like the kded4 process being permanently unstable because the devs wanted the plug-in modules to work a certain way, and one shitty module brings down all the rest. The user doesn't care about the overhead saved by this model. They just care that their desktop becomes periodically unstable in a way that is nearly impossible to debug. Take your pick of other Linux development problems.

      In the cathedral management picks their priorities, and the developers can go defile themselves if they don't like it. That can create the iPad, and it can also create Windows Bob (and the Paper Clip).

      The question is, and always has been, which is better overall? While citing best and worst examples from both camps can be illuminating, it does not make for proof that one is better than the other.

      • The question is, and always has been, which is better overall? While citing best and worst examples from both camps can be illuminating, it does not make for proof that one is better than the other.

        That's probably because both are valid approaches which solve different problems. The Cathedral produces refined solutions which do one thing. The Bazaar produces a multitude of solutions which the Cathedral will knock off in their own image when the market chooses the most popular one[s].

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The question is, and always has been, which is better overall? While citing best and worst examples from both camps can be illuminating, it does not make for proof that one is better than the other.

          That's probably because both are valid approaches which solve different problems. The Cathedral produces refined solutions which do one thing. The Bazaar produces a multitude of solutions which the Cathedral will knock off in their own image when the market chooses the most popular one[s].

          Wow, you don't think knock offs are being created on both sides of this? Anything that isn't nailed down with IP law gets copied.

    • by pmontra (738736) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @04:15AM (#38546722) Homepage

      I see you've been modded funny but I don't think that it was the aim of your post.

      I think you are comparing apples with oranges. Linux is not a company so it doesn't have the same goals as a company. It started as a geek pet project and it's goal was fun and learning. What it does now is providing a kernel to whoever wants to use it. Anyway, with Linux you probably mean the companies or just the geeks building distributions on the top of the Linux kernel and the GNU software, plus Google with their Linux/Android products. Or you might even mean the desktop environments like Gnome, KDE and many others. But if you compare apples with apples, let's say Apple with Canonical, you see that they are moving more or less in the same way. Canonical is even going through the pain of reinventing the UI because they want to be more user friendly.
      By the way, I installed the Mint desktop on the Ubuntu 11.10 VM I'm experimenting with because I discovered that I can't stand Unity or Gnome Shell. They're both very unfriendly to me but I understand how they could be better suited to some casual users or (in the case of Unity) to devices with a small screen.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I see you've been modded funny but I don't think that it was the aim of your post.

        You might want to read the "world is ruled by ducks"-part.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I think you are comparing apples with oranges.

        Apples and oranges are both fruit which can be peeled, eaten, juiced, or even separated into slices. That's a stupid saying.

        Linux is not a company so it doesn't have the same goals as a company.

        Yes, that is the whole point of this thread.

        • Cars and houses both have doors and windows, both use some form of gas and electricity, both are designed to hold people and protect them from the elements, both have air conditioning, and entertainment features, and even both have carpets. So by your definition or by everybody else's, comparing a car to a house is like comparing apples to oranges.
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            So by your definition or by everybody else's, comparing a car to a house is like comparing apples to oranges.

            If you're making comparisons that don't require discussing mobility, you can make a meaningful comparison between a house and a car. But if you really think that is parallel to what I've said (both fruits is parallel to both vehicles or buildings which is not the case here) then you need a tighter grasp on English, logic, or both.

    • by brillow (917507)

      If they were not concerned with technical details, why was the touchscreen operated by a stylus? Isn't a finger a superior pointing device?

      • by realityimpaired (1668397) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:38AM (#38548248)

        If they were not concerned with technical details, why was the touchscreen operated by a stylus? Isn't a finger a superior pointing device?

        It is now. But even as late as the mid-1990's, capacitive touchscreens were nowhere near as accurate as resistive touch screens, and resistive touch screens were a lot cheaper. That's why the early Palm Pilots, the Apple Newton, and other similar devices all used a stylus instead of a capacitive touch screen. It's really only quite recently that the capacitive touch screen has been accurate and cheap enough to be used in a device like a phone.

        Apple almost certainly thought of their users wanting to use a finger. And finger touch screens did exists (mostly using infra-red), but they either weren't as accurate, or weren't as cheap as resistive screens. :) It's most likely a compromise that's been made to keep costs down.

    • by johnlcallaway (165670) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:44AM (#38547812)
      Yeah .. that's exactly why Apple has grabbed the market share in computers and phones. Because it doesn't matter how much it costs as long as the user likes it.

      Apple is successful if one defines success as making huge markups on specialty items through the control of most of the hardware, software, and media channels that are needed to use the items.

      By that same token, any monopoly can be successful, and that's how Apple operates.

      I'm sure the reason this phone never made it because there was no demand for it. Who wants to spend large sums of money for a dedicated computer attached to a phone that can only be used for phone tasks?? Today's smartphones really took off when games and useful apps could be downloaded to them. The costs at the time would have put the phone above $500, hardly available for just anyone as shown by the lack of mobile phones in cars at the time. And the iDrones weren't around yet, so no one was going to go out and buy it simply because it said 'Apple'.

      There are many 'concept' items out there that show what companies are thinking. And most of them never show up simply because they cost too much to make for the demand that is expected.
    • by swalve (1980968)
      I respect that Apple likes good industrial design. What I don't respect is that they seem to value their own interpretations of what people want versus what actual people want. There is a healthy streak of "our way is better, people will get used to it" in their design choices.
  • Prior art? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Red Herring (47817) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @01:24AM (#38546238)

    I wonder how many iPhone patents this provides prior art against?

    • alternatively (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 31, 2011 @01:36AM (#38546298)

      I wonder how many Nokia/Motorola/HTC/Samsung/Microsoft patents this provides prior art against?

      • Re:alternatively (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Red Herring (47817) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @01:46AM (#38546340)

        I wonder how many Nokia/Motorola/HTC/Samsung/Microsoft patents this provides prior art against?

        I'm OK with that too... the sooner everyone realizes that all cell phone patents are "obvious" derivatives of Maxwell Smart's shoe phone, the sooner the lawyers will join the ranks of the unemployed. Flying cars will follow shortly thereafter, I'm told.

    • I wonder how many iPhone patents this provides prior art against?

      Actually, I see an on-screen keyboard there. The on-screen keyboard landscape is littered with patent landmines. 1983 should be old enough that maybe a few of these could be dispatched - at least enough to have an unencumbered option.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Saturday December 31, 2011 @02:50AM (#38546528) Journal
    I can't be the only one who immediately thought of the Apple 2c case when seeing the phone.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You're right, you're not the only one who thought that. Anyone who actually read the article would think that as well, because it's mentioned in it.
    • by Scoth (879800)

      There's a reason for that. This was in the era where Apple was working on the Snow White [wikipedia.org] design language and it follows it pretty closely.

  • So there you go. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Apple invented the telephone. So piss off, Alexander Bell! APPLE4LYFE

  • Uh....slashdot? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @03:35AM (#38546648)

    Every post here is just random noise about Apple itself, not about the device.

    Was this a working prototype? Did they even have flatpanel displays like that in 1983? What kind of processor would drive the phone? Where the heck would all the internals fit, a 1983 era computer was 10x the volume of this phone "prototype".

    I can't imagine that this device was anything but a non-functional "concept" mockup. I don't think it was feasible to build one of these for at least 10-15 years.

    • by zskelton (1295741)
      Agreed, there are not enough details in the article and it's a prototype. It's just a guess but thinking of the Apple IIC at home, I'm guessing this was not a working model but rather a design idea.
    • Re:Uh....slashdot? (Score:4, Informative)

      by hackertourist (2202674) <hackertouristNO@SPAMxmsnet.nl> on Saturday December 31, 2011 @04:27AM (#38546754)

      Where the heck would all the internals fit, a 1983 era computer was 10x the volume of this phone "prototype".

      The 1981 Sinclair ZX Spectrum would fit inside that phone.

      • by Centurix (249778)

        I expect Apple to announce its new leader to be Sir Clive Sinclair this year. The next product line would be the iC5 followed by white touch screen transistor radios.

    • The display was probably monochrome LCD, like the one the IBM Simon used.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Simon [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Uh....slashdot? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Belial6 (794905) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @06:40AM (#38547034)
      No way. That device doesn't look any larger than a Commodore Plus/4. It was released in 1984, so it would have had prototypes in 1983. The TSR-80 model 100 had an LCD graphics display in 1983. There is no technical reason that the devices couldn't have been made. While the device is interesting from a retro computer prototype point of view, the device is pretty much in line with the kinds of ideas being tried at the time. It isn't some sign that Apple was decades ahead of the competition.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Handheld organizers with touch screens existed back in the 1980s, and you could pick them up at the flea market for ten bucks. Small computers existed. The Newton, which used a fairly fancy processor, was introduced in 1987. It should not be hard to believe that this was a working prototype.

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      Pen based touchscreens did exist. Atari had a pen based touch pad selling product for graphics in 84, and around 85 had a prototype PDA.

      I'm sure Apple could have got the hardware together to make it work.

      Now, how practical? That is another question.

    • by rjames13 (1178191)
      The stylus technology may have come from the Apple Graphics Tablet [edibleapple.com]. The display is a high res (for the period) B/W LCD.
    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      yes they had flat panel displays like that in 1983, though they were not much better than a large calulator lcd with a dot matrix display (think large gameboy screen)

    • by swalve (1980968)
      I'm not sure about the display, but the rest of it was possible. The Apple //c was pretty small, and a big part of its volume was the disk drive and keyboard. Then, eliminate the circuitry for all the unnecessary I/O devices, probably reduce the RAM chip count and I think they could have easily fit it in that package.
  • Can we please stop drooling about office equipment.

    What's the next hype? Printers with built-in book-binders? Talking paperclips that can also listen?

    • This site has a lot of IT types who view and comment.

      IT types are the modern equivalent of file clerks. Office equipment is their forte.

      Why there aren't more fights on this site over red staplers is unclear.

  • It's nice but does the on screen keyboard support Swype?
    (Yes I am being facetious with EXTRA feces).
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:29AM (#38547716) Homepage Journal

    Looks almost like a touch screen version of an Apple][C. Now THAT would have been cool in 1983, perhaps even cooler than the Mac which came out the next year.

    • by v1 (525388)

      Looks almost like a touch screen version of an Apple][C

      I was surprised by the picture, how it's of the exact same style as the //c. Same color, looks like the same injection-molding matte finish, the (cosmetic only?) vent slots under the handset. The size and placement of the big colorful apple logo. It was probably designed to be a matched set.

      There were black and white LCD screens you could buy (for close to the cost of the computer, iirc) that attached onto the case and flipped down flat on the comput

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        Actually i think the LCD cost more than the computer, but i could be wrong. I do think a battery powered version was planned, but never happened. Most likely battery tech just wasn't up to it.

        Handle? It was more of a marketing thing i bet, or just planning ahead for the never to be released battery version. However, with the plus ( no external power transformer ) it was a bit more practical to take to a friends house..

      • by Scoth (879800)

        Apple was working on the Snow White [wikipedia.org] design language at the time and designed lots of their products at the time to conform to it.

  • ... a sleeker version of a Minitel [wikipedia.org].

  • Was invented [wikipedia.org] by Phillipe Kahn. Say what you will but the man was ahead of his time. Borland made great products and was only defeated by skulduggery by Microsoft and an out and out fraudulent lawsuit brought by Lotus.

  • My preferred phone is the Western Electric 2500 set [wikipedia.org], which was the norm back in that era for home and business use.

    In the early to mid 1980s that size of an LCD display was fragile and very sensitive to the temperature of the room it was in. The prototype is obviously a 'concept' device. Anybody who has dealt with vintage Apple gear from that time knows that it would have to be conserved in a museum, i.e. the Stanford location where the only remaining example of this phone is kept.

  • Hey, it's got rounded corners...
  • by sootman (158191) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @01:47PM (#38549856) Homepage Journal

    I would love, love, love to have a regular cordless house phone that's as smart as an iPhone/Android/whatever. I still use my house landline some and I wish it were not so dumb. The best trick my home phone does is match incoming Caller ID to laboriously-entered contacts.

    The base station could double as a wireless access point and it would include a digital voicemail recorder which could be accessed with the handset and operate like the iPhone's visual voicemail. The handset could transmit calls to the base station with 5.8 GHz like a regular cordless (remember that word?) phone or it could be done with WiFi. Since it wouldn't be for carrying out and about, it could be as big as the late Dell Streak 5. [streaksmart.com] You could use it as a regular phone or run Skype or Google Voice or any other VOIP client. Maybe the base station could run Asterisk. [asterisk.org] The possibilities are endless.

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