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Apple Prototypes: 5 Products We Never Saw 169

Michael writes "For every Apple product we see on the shelves, there are dozens that never make it to production. Sometimes, these rare gems surface on the web for us to take a look at, and ponder what might have been. Scouring through the interweb, I've compiled this list of 5 Apple products that only the most hardcore of hardcore MacAddicts have ever stumbled across. Surprisingly, some of these products, over 10 years old, are still being speculated about in one form or another to this day. Will we see new products based on these old prototypes? It's far more likely that anything resembling the devices listed below have been rebuilt from the ground up, but still, it's fun to look back on the products that didn't make it to the mass market."
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Apple Prototypes: 5 Products We Never Saw

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  • The Newton Telephone (Score:3, Informative)

    by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @12:32AM (#17044868) Homepage Journal
    When the Newton came out in the mid-90s, a lot of people remarked on how much it "looked" like a telephone without buttons. Even the speaker was in just the right place.

    Who needs buttons when you've got a touch-screen anyways?

    It could even surf the web, with a little help from a nearby Macintosh.
  • by k4_pacific ( 736911 ) < minus caffeine> on Thursday November 30, 2006 @12:50AM (#17045060) Homepage Journal
    In addition to the items in the article, my research has come up with several other items that Apple prototyped but never manufactured. These include:

    The iCorvair - Apple's first and only attempt at making a car. It was similar to the Volkswagen in that it was to appeal to the same market and had it's engine in back. Unofrtunately, a design flaw in the suspension gave it a tendency to flip over going around corners.

    The eLisa - This was an Apple Lisa with a special AI user interface that emulated a psychiatrist. Focus groups found it annoying to be asked probing, personal questions while trying to get things done, so the project was dropped.

    The iPod Cathode - So named for it's use of four EL84 vacuum tubes in the circuit that drives the headphones, this iPod variant had a short battery life and there was no way to dissassemble it to service the tubes.

    The Mac Maxi - The end all and be all Macintosh. This was a fully partitionable powerhouse mainframe computer that was the size of a dishwasher (mechanical, not Mexican) with EMC disk drives, a built-in Caterpillar diesel UPS, and it's own recirculated glycol cooling system. This was to be the conceptual opposite of the Mac Mini, but the project was scrapped after the prototype tipped over and killed someone.

    The Apple 0 - (pronounced Apple-Naught) This precursor to the Apple I featured a 74LS00 chip hammered into a block of wood as the main processor and had two modes of functionality, called "on" and "off". Users could tell when they were in the "on" mode by the glowing of a small grain-of-wheat light bulb.
  • The iBuzz (Score:2, Informative)

    by AslanTheMentat ( 896280 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @01:09AM (#17045232) Homepage
    Perhaps you were thinking of.... this?

    iBuzz Doubles Your iPod Pleasure... []

  • Just 5 of soo many (Score:4, Informative)

    by maggard ( 5579 ) <> on Thursday November 30, 2006 @01:37AM (#17045464) Homepage Journal

    First off, the list of 5 is really a 5- more list, there are numerous others listed by the same author on the same website in other articles.

    And yes, there are many more items, from the workstations developed with Apollo, the clients with Wang, the Pippin game machine, etc.

    Then there's the technologies like Hotsauce, Cyberdog, OpenDoc, and of course Newton, all of which got into demo or even release but never really made it. And of course the first post-Next version of MacOS which was to be interoperable with MS Windows (not the Star Trek Windows-on-Mac but a MS Windows-based MacOS layer).

    It's really remarkable the amount of technology Apple has pumped out, and of that how much have proven remarkably prescient. Whenever folks complain about how much attention Apple gets I always point out it is because they truly do innovate & lead the market (their small market share notwithstanding)

    Oh, want links to all of the nouns above? Try using your search-engine-of-choice with Apple and whichever it is strikes your fancy - lots of nifty stuff.

  • Re:The iBuzz (Score:4, Informative)

    by Mattintosh ( 758112 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @01:40AM (#17045484)
    No, I think he was thinking of the iBrator [].
  • by gsfprez ( 27403 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @01:56AM (#17045588)
    a few of my friends (okay, all of the groomsmen in my wedding) work(ed) at Apple. One of them showed me one of the iMac (with the lamp arm) prototypes.

    It was the basic iMac lamp you know, but it didn't have a shiny Luxo-like arm. What it did have was fully articulated arm... that is, it moved like snake-light, except that it didn't have tension built in. It was totally fluid and you could move the monitor to just about any angle and direction you wanted.

    The trick was, there was a paddle behind the monitor on the right side of the mount - you pulled on it like a flappy-paddle gearshift behind the steering wheel on some new cars. When you did, the arm would go totally limp, with all the weight of the monitor in your hands, and when you released the paddle, the arm went totally stiff - like some kind of magic potion turned the snake-arm into stone.

    I don't know what kind of clutch it used to do that, but it was really eerie. One moment, you could pull and push and pretty much move the monitor however you wanted, and the moment you let go - BAM - the round base and the monitor and the arm were magically a one-piece device - rock solid and totally stable.

    While quite interesting as a design concept - it was rightly rejected. First of all, it totally ruined the lines of the monitor (bah me if you want, but its true) on the back and made it look like some kind of weird bike/computer thing. Secondly - and most importantly - even if you were warned "Look, the weight is going to go from zero to 15 pounds in a microsecond, so be sure to hold on tight" - you'd still end up pulling the handle, it would crash land on the bottom of the monitor frame like a ton of bricks on the keyboard below. I was warned, and i did it. The break point wasn't at the beginning or the end of the pull - which was about and inch and a half of travel. Unlike a car clutch, which has a smooth and vague transition, this went from on to off like a light - and the problem was that the weight of the monitor also went from zero to everything in your hands that fast as well.

    In the end, Apple is the quintessential engineering house.. they start off with the user in mind totally, then they throw out whatever doesn't work, even if it cost a ton of money to develop.. then, they develop and maintain contingencies on the off chance that they'll totally change direction.

    That's why they are kicking ass and why their stuff is worth more than they charge for it and why they can't make their shit fast enough.
  • by SickLittleMonkey ( 135315 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @02:57AM (#17045930)
    ... even to those of us who used the Apple II before the Mac.

    There was the Apple II Ethernet card. (Production ready, Announced, Hyped, Cancelled.)

    There was the Apple IIGS / Mac hybrid, which would have allowed an upgrade path for Apple II software owners (e.g. schools) to keep their investment and slowly migrate to the new Mac platform. (Cancelled.)

    There was the Apple IIGS "Mark Twain", with hard disk, SCSI, SIMMs. (Production ready, Cancelled.)

    There was the "GUS" Apple IIGS software emulator for Mac OS. (Almost complete, Never released.)

    Apple makes great stuff. But every generation of Apple users should expect to be screwed in the wrong hole at least once. Obsoleting your latest purchase by switching CPUs for example ...

  • by solios ( 53048 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @03:10AM (#17045996) Homepage
    Seriously. I have five of them (quadra 605 and 610-based, plus MPEG board) in my basement. Apple put some serious effort into developing a cable/set-top box prototype, but it never went to market.... and I'd have more to say on the matter if I could actually read the contents of the one hard drive that came with the lot.

    The propable functionality has likely been superceded by the tv shows on ITMS, but that isn't the point.
  • by Fred_A ( 10934 ) <fred@fredsh o m> on Thursday November 30, 2006 @04:57AM (#17046460) Homepage
    Many of the products in that article would have been plausible, but incredibly half-assed in terms of practical functionality, given the state of technology at the time.
    It's also because of mistakes in the article. The PowerBop certainly wasn't a prototype (and certainly wasn't for *Internet* access) but was a wireless modem sold in France for the local BeBop wireless phone system that was briefly deployed in cities prior to the availability of GSM cell phones and as an unexpensive alternative to the analog car radio phones. The modem card could be fitted in the Powerbooks sold at the time (can't remember the bandwidth you got with it though, probably around 9kb).

    The BeBop system worked a bit like a cell phone system except that you could only initiate calls, not receive them. Also you couldn't switch cells while connected to the network. On the other hand it wasn't very expensive and you could get a base to hook up to your ground line so you could use your handset at home as a regular phone.

    You could usually spot the areas covered by the BeBop network by the little striped blue and green stickers on the water chutes of the buildings (there are still some leftover). I seem to remember BeBop lasted about 4 or 5 years before it was retired. Despite its numerous limitations it was quite popular at the time. Even the Mac modem sold fairly well with the diehard Mac geeks. AFAIK it was the only wireless modem ever created for that system.
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @05:19AM (#17046570) Homepage Journal
    it never crashed on me, which is a lot to say for a prototype.

    Being a DEC product it probably had something like RSX inside. It will only crash if a device fails. But a good UI is way too much to expect.

  • by vought ( 160908 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @08:18AM (#17047288)
    The best thing about the Newton was Steve Jobs' press conference claiming that there was a "2.5 trillion dollar market" for it

    That's very interesting, as Steve Jobs wasn't at the company when Newton was conceived, and killed the division upon returning to Apple in 1997.

  • by antoinec ( 1033792 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @08:23AM (#17047306)
    I bought a PowerBop around 1994 (don't recall the date exactly) and still own it! It is probably a relatively rare system as Apple made few of them.

    The PowerBop was a high-end PowerBook with a MC68030 and a 68882 FPU (a must have at the time!). The system was running at 33Mhz and had active matrix display.

    The interesting part was the built-in Wireless Modem. Being fairly large, the modem was replacing the floppy drive (an external floppy drive was included in the package). A small antenna was visible on the right of the laptop.

    The PowerBop modem was using a wireless phone network deployed by France Telecom in 1991 called Bi-Bop.

    The Bi-Bop service was based on a rather clever and simple idea. France Telecom installed numerous access points in large cities in France. The access points and mobile phones were nothing more than enhanced digital cordless phones.

    Using this light infrastructure, France Telecom was in position to be one of the first companies to offer a (relatively) low cost mobile phone service.

    The PowerBop was connecting to the service just like a regular Bi-Bop mobile phone. At 14,400 bps, the speed was pretty good especially for a wireless connection.

    All of this made the PowerBop a very innovative system. Picture this: sitting outside of french café checking your emails, surfing on BBS and getting faxes! In early 1990's it was the killer feature!

    Even better, France Telecom also sold private access points to install in your home. Meaning that your Bi-Bop phone was becoming a regular cordless phone when used at home.

    This was also working with the PowerBop. I was surfing at home with a wireless laptop in the early 90s! The ultimate geek toy!

    It is interesting to see that 15 years later, there is no unified service offering phone and wireless networking at home and in the street...

    PS: my first post on Slashdot!
  • by buserror ( 115301 ) * on Thursday November 30, 2006 @08:53AM (#17047532)
    I have a Powerbop (with my stack of "collector" powerbooks). It's a Powerbook 180 with a wireless modem allright, but the data was only 9600 at best (possibly less) and there was no email at the time, unless you had your own private access. There were no fully fledged commercial ISPs in france until some time later. Apple "innovation" had not foreseen the tcp/ip and the internet and at the time, "MacTCP" was pretty lame.
    So with powerbop, you could connect to classic BBSes and do faxes, but mostly all you could do was access the Minitel network, at a premium...
  • Re:PenLite (Score:3, Informative)

    by mondotom ( 703921 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @09:33AM (#17047890) Homepage
    I was the penlite manager... it was indeed a duo with the display flipped, designed to be docked in the duo dock. it also had a "transformer" bag with an integrated keyboard, the bag also worked as a stand and a harness for medical workers (most of the beta testers were with a hospital). It was a wireless pen (a version with eraser and pressure stroke), also had a wireless cdpd module for cellular connectivity, ability to IR link to other penlites, early firewire, powerpc upgrade, a long list... lots of stories about that project.. very fun, fast track, only 9 months to production. oh yes it went into pilot production before executive management killed it, most were shipped to Japan. The first prototype had a pen and finger interface; project scribe. That one you could ink with the pen and flip pages with your finger, demonstrated at an Apple WWDC.
    Some other ATG less known projects; hand held mac (think pre-palm) that ran hypercard, done by apple ATG and sony (project names; handimac, smartifacts, pocket crystal) that became general magic. The digital camera done with toshiba (image of this made it into time mag) then sanyo then kodak (project name; papaya). The mobile media device with cd-rom (also ran hypercard) that became kalieda (project sweetpea). Both general magic and kalieda suffered from the anti mac os license position, as both had to recreate the OS and in doing so delayed by years the release.
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday November 30, 2006 @12:23PM (#17050344) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like BeBop was a CT2 (or earlier) operator. A similar service in the UK was operated by Rabbit [], which in a roundabout way became Orange. The CT2 standard itself ended up being evolved into DECT, which is the primary cordless phone standard in Europe (and has finally just become available in the US.) CT2 phones and base stations are much prized by their owners apparently.

    The major disadvantage, aside from the lack of incoming calls, was the poor range and lack of hand-off. If you wanted to make a call within range of a Rabbit (or presumably BeBop, assuming I'm correct) base station, you had to stay within a few yards of it throughout the duration of the call. Rabbit itself didn't last as long as BeBop, a little over a year, but then it was formed around the time GSM started being rolled out and the UK government had done a lot to open the two UK networks up to the equivalent of MNVOs so Rabbit faced a lot of competition.

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