Gallery of Apple’s First, Misguided Phone Concepts



German site Fudder got a lot of attention today for posting a set of concepts that frog design created for Apple in the early 1980s for the Snow White project, including the above “PhoneMac” concept that incorporated communication into a flat-panel Mac – before the first Mac ever shipped.

To augment the fun over at Fudder I’ve pulled all of Apple’s phone-related concepts from the wonderful coffee table book Apple Design. They’re all after the jump, and some of them are more compelling than others, to put it mildly.


Meet the Apple Workbench, from 1983. This incredible device combines a CPU, a monitor, a printer, and yes, an early ’80s vision of what a phone of the future might look like. Shockingly, this machine that can’t fit on any desk I’ve ever seen never got out of the conceptual stage. This is another concept from Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog.


Meet the Apple Executive Phone, also created for the March 1983 Snow White presentation by frog. I think the reason it’s executive is that it looks hard to use.

Dig, gentlefolks, the Apple Portable Phone. It would work by, um…there’s a headset, and then you wear a watch with a non-standard keyboard… It’s 1983, OK? This was the future!

The 1992 Palladin concept for a Mac with a built in fax, phone, printer and answering machine. Obviously, no one actually wants a computer with all of those features built in, but the design is oddly prescient for the multifunction printer/fax/phone combos we have these days. Still, this thing would make people feel trapped. Can you imagine being unable to upgrade your computer because the printer still works fine? Designed by the Apple Industrial Design Group: Bart Andre, Tim Parsey, John Howard, Julie McDonald, Eric Larkin, Rick Jackson.

Another view. Yep, that doesn’t say computer to me at all. That’s a printer design.

The Marconi communications strategy phone. I know very little about this, but it was developed in tandem with the Powerbook 500. I have a feeling Andy Hargadon probably knows something, so I’m going to try to ask him about it tomorrow… Still, pretty good cell phone design for 1992, huh? Other than the not having a screen thing. It also looks like Apple was interested in wireless networking even back then. This one was designed by Daniele De Iuliis, Lawrence Lam, Bill Burnett, Don DeGrass, John Larkin, Ken Weber, and Dave Northway.


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12 responses to “Gallery of Apple’s First, Misguided Phone Concepts”

  1. MacNewbTube says:

    Very cool stuff! Apple was (and still is) way ahead of the times!

  2. Ken Taylor says:

    That first one looks like an Apple IIc Case. Compare:

  3. spacemonkey says:

    Don’t forget the Newton Notephones!


  4. Adam says:

    This is some really interesting stuff. As an aside, I looked up the Apple Design book you mentioned, out of an interest to purchase it. Good God, not only is it hard to find, but several hundred dollars. Despite my protestations, I’ll probably pick it up in the end anyway. I think that may be how it always goes with Apple products and I. :P

  5. Pete Mortensen says:

    Holy crap! I hadn’t looked it up in awhile. I think it was $40 when it shipped, and I found it on eBay for something like $20 in 2001. It’s definitely worth it, though. It really tells the history of Silicon Valley Design, not just Apple’s design. Remarkable stuff.

  6. Dan says:

    What’s interesting is how much some of these old designs resemble Apple’s current design scheme – particularly the bright white on that “executive phone” and some of the designs on the linked Fudder site – such as the Mac on the bottom row, third from the right. It’s amazing how much that thing resembles the eMac! I also find the portable phone concept quite impressive – it’s a phone with a wireless headset – from 1983! Without a cell phone network, how was that even supposed to work?