Apple Knowledge Navigator Video from 1987 Predicts Siri, iPad and More

Knowledge Navigator

Back in 1987 during the era of John Sculley, Apple released a “what if” video describing a device called the Knowledge Navigator. This prescient work anticipated a personal digital assistant a la Siri, a touch screen tablet computer like the iPad, videoconferencing (FaceTime) and more.

In this groundbreaking piece – set in then futuristic 2006 2011 – the assistant isn’t a woman’s voice but a male talking head in a white tuxedo. Users interact with the Knowledge Navigator through normal conversation and manipulation of objects on a touchscreen. The device is connected to all the world’s major networks, offers two-way videoconferencing with colleages, and helps manage your personal affairs and appointments. Data can be shared online or via an insertable memory card – something the iPad still lacks!

With Apple’s announcement of Siri, the pending release of iCloud, and the established technologies of the iPad, iPhone and FaceTime, Apple may have finally arrived at this vision from 1987 – and one from a leader (Sculley) derided by many as visionless, to boot. Ideas don’t spring forth from Apple out of nothingness, some have very long gestation periods!

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  • Joel Wolfgang

    What’s funny is that I think its actually set in 2011! The mention of 2006 is an article publish date written in 5 years in the past! Wow, Apple…

  • Adam Rosen

    Yes it’s set in 2011, I missed that at first with the 2006 reference. Just corrected the post.  Even more prescient!

  • Colin D’Angelo

    What happened??  I remember great video’s like this when I was younger, talking about home amazing technology will be in the not too distant future.  Now we have most of the technology, if not more and we don’t seem to have any idea what we are looking for in the future.
    I guess it has to do with technology moving so fast.

  • CharliK

    hmm, this might screw with some of those claims that Apple has just copied from Android etc. 

  • nolavabo

    It’s worth looking up Alan Kay and his Dynabook concept, first proposed in 1968! Kay was crucial in developing OOP, Smalltalk and, of course, the GUI. He worked with many tech companies, including Apple. I see it as no coincidence that the above video was produced within a year of Kay joining Apple’s Advanced Technology Group. Bear in mind just how incredibly forward thinking Kay’s vision of the Dynabook was given that it predates the personal computer.

    Jobs, and by extension Apple, was very heavily influenced by the Dynabook ideal. One can make a very strong argument that with the exception of the iPod, every product that Apple has made was simply getting them one step closer to the Dynabook, from the Apple II to the Mac to the iPhone to the iPad. The latest iteration of the iPad is, in my opinion, the closest realisation of the Dynabook ideal that has ever been achieved so far. Even Kay’s passion for using technology to educate and enable kids seems to have been absorbed into Apple’s corporate culture.

  • nolavabo

    I’m not sure if URLs are allowed in the comments, but here’s a link to a paper by Kay, published in 1972 while he was working at Xerox PARC. Again bear in mind the technology of the time, and note that he is viewing the technology through the lens of educating/enabling children.
    http://www.mprove.de/diplom/gu

  • Audcrane

    See also this post about its creation: http://www.dubberly.com/articl

  • DrPlokta

    That video can’t be from 1987 — it talks about the web (invented 1991) and Yahoo (founded 1994). 1997 seems more like it.

  • Rod

    It  does NOT talk about the web or about Yahoo at all. Maybe you should actually watch it?

  • Uli

    It was presented, if I recall correct, by Steve Jobs at the Seybold Desktop Publishing Conference in San Francisco. Was his first public appearance – started his speech with “I am a bit rusty…” or so. He definitely wasn’t. I really enjoyed this vision and I was there!

  • David Greelish

    The Knowledge Navigator is what the Apple Newton was supposed to be. The Newton slowly lost it’s more tablet-like size and Knowledge Navigator-like features because Apple couldn’t pull it off. Ultimately, the final shipped MessagePad still couldn’t live up to the hype and was greatly panned. It was too big, costly and the original handwriting recognition didn’t work well. Even when they got the handwriting recognition worked out, it was too late for the product in the mainstream. I think it also just wasn’t a practical or really needed “tier” in personal computing until the internet and “real” smartphones like the iPhone (where you could browse the web just like on a true computer). The PDA ended up getting dumbed-down into the organizer market, which people could see and afford as practical. I have researched and talked on this subject. I also have a very good article (if I say so myself) on this development of the third tier of personal computing (previously known as pen computing too). http://classiccomputing.com/CC

    Following the live blog updates of this yesterday made me think immediately of the Knowledge Navigator. I thought of writing an article, but did a search this morning and found a few people already had!

  • AppleFan

    Brilliant post, Adam!  Thank you so much for bring this great piece of nostalgia back. How amazing. It looks like this was the target for Mr. Jobs from the very beginning. What a wonderful world Mr. Kay had envisioned.

  • Jason Putt

    not once do they say, yahoo, or internet, but btw the internet was invented in 1969, originaly called darpernet, a joint venture between berkley and dod, in 1970′s was split intwo two seperate entitys darparnet and defence net in 1980′s darpanet was renamed internet, you must be refering to 1991 when when first web broswer was released, then in 93 the first graphical broswer that would later become netscape. but the web has endured long before, i remember using telnet, bbs, and other methods of conecting to remote networks using texts commands back in early 80′s

  • Diane

    Actually, I *have* a VHS copy of the Knowledge Navigator video. Was consulting at Apple Computer in 1988 and talked someone into giving me one after I first viewed it. Inspiring then… Prescient now. It was definitely released in 1987. Rather suspect it was Steve’s original vision, even though he had moved on, just retooled for Sculley.
    ~ Diane

About the author

Adam RosenAdam Rosen is an IT consultant specializing in Apple Macintosh systems new and old. He lives in Boston with two cats and too many possessions. In addition to membership in the Cult of Mac, Adam has written for Low End Mac and is curator of the Vintage Mac Museum. He also enjoys a good libation.

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