Apple WALT – Was This the First iPhone? [Vintage Tech]

WALT

A rare and interesting Apple prototype surfaced on eBay recently, and although the auction has since ended we thought it notable enough to merit mention. A 1993 prototype called a WALT – Wizzy Active Lifestyle Telephone – combined a telephone, fax, personal address book and more with a HyperCard user interface. It never shipped, but this vaporware breakthrough netted the seller a cool $8000 on eBay.

Like the Newton MessagePad, which it resembled, WALT had a touchscreen, a stylus, and handwriting recognition. Unlike the Newton (and the iPhone) it was designed to be a desktop (landline) phone companion, developed in cooperation with Bell South. The seller wrote in the eBay description:

The W.A.LT. is an incredibly rare find and will make your collection the envy of all the Apple fanatics out there. Apple introduced W.A.LT. at 1993′s MacWorld Boston yet never made it available to the public. The revolutionary product’s acronym stands for Wizzy Active Lifestyle Telephone. This device featured a high-resolution touch screen LCD w/ stylus, hand writing recognition, fax, address book, caller ID, online banking, speakerphone, message pad, and personalized ring tones. Clearly a device way ahead of it’s time.

The W.A.LT. ran Mac OS 6.0.8 with Hypercard in place of the Finder. It was co-developed with Bell South. It also has hidden support for external SCSI and VGA out. This rare model (#68) is one of the few prototypes in existence. I even have an printed manual from Apple! Back in 2008 PC World published a list of the “Top 15 Vaporware Products of All Time”. The W.A.L.T. was #1.

WALT rear

In addition to PowerBook style SCSI and video connectors, the rear panel also seems to sport an ADB port and audio out jack. Somewhat of a Mac in Newton’s Clothing. Part phone, part tablet, the WALT is another example of Apple thinking outside the traditional computer form factor box long before the iDevice craze.

But had he been with Apple at that time, the stylus driven interface wouldn’t have passed muster with Steve Jobs!

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  • ErinsDad

    Ahhh, computer people trying to ‘fix’ phones…

    I was at IBM in the 80s when everyone in our office had to use a prototype IBM/Rolm video/audio phone set. They worked so well they were installed for almost a week before the Market VP had them pulled and we could go back to doing business which involved actually talking to clients using telephones as Al Bell (and another Tom Watson) intended.  They were installed on a Sunday night, and by lunch time Monday, every sales representative had hit up the local bank for rolls of quarters so we could fan out across town and call clients on pay phones.  

  • joewaylo

    It doesn’t even look stylish enough. I can see why it didn’t make it onto shelves. I’d buy the Apple Newton over this for portability.

  • warrengonline

    Um..  Wouldn’t the Palm Visor be the first ‘iPhone’?  It did what the iPhone does; back in 2000.  And with the Visa Phone attach meant, it actually turned the unit into a phone.  You downloaded modules (apps) and used them.  With an infrared attachment you could beam signals to devices, such as to your tv as a tv remote.  Just noting.

  • Brian Dieckman

    Actually, the Handspring variety pre-dated the Palm hardware before they were gobbled up. I had one, it was awesome for its time. 

About the author

Adam RosenAdam Rosen is an Apple certified IT consultant specializing in 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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