Today in Apple history: Remember the Macintosh Portrait Display?


An early Apple display experiment.
Photo: Computer.popcorn

March7March 7, 1989: Apple introduces the Macintosh Portrait Display, a 15-inch vertical grayscale monitor designed to show full pages on a single screen.

Intended for word processing and desktop publishing, the $1,099 monitor (plus $599 for an additional video card to run it) can be used by any Macintosh. Something of a rarity today, the Macintosh Portrait Display is an early example of the supersized displays Apple would release years later.

Paint a portrait

The need for portrait-oriented vertical displays grew out of Apple’s popularity with creatives. Although Macs generally took a backseat to Windows-running IBM PCs, in the publishing industry they became ubiquitous within a few years of coming on the market.

Macs proved especially good for magazine layouts due to the WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) interface, which let people see what the end result of a document or layout would look like before it got printed. This was in stark contrast to many PC programs at the time. Apple also benefited from programs like early desktop publishing software Aldus PageMaker.

Radius set the precedent with its own vertical monitor.
Photo: Radius

A vertical monitor that, like the iPad today, could present the display equivalent of an A4 sheet of paper — only larger — became an obvious next step for Apple. The first company to develop something like this was Radius, a startup founded by various Macintosh alumni that would become a manufacturer of Mac clones in the mid-1990s.

One of the best Apple displays of its time.
Photo: Apple

The Radius Full Page Display shipped in 1988, a year before the Macintosh Portrait Display. (Radius dropped the price of its monitor to $895 to compete with the official Apple alternative.)

Macintosh Portrait Display specs

The Macintosh Portrait Display offered a resolution of 640 by 870 pixels at a pixel density of 80 dots per inch. It also boasted antiglare technology, and an impressively crisp flatscreen form factor.

It wasn’t perfect, though. The Macintosh Portrait Display could prove temperamental, and Apple’s own troubleshooting manual noted that “environmental influences” could cause the monitor to glitch.

What kind of environmental influences? Try any proximity to metal desks, file cabinets or bookshelves, along with fluorescent lights, other monitors or electronic appliances such as coffee makers and copy machines. “These objects cause dynamic raster distortion — that is, movement or jitter of the image,” Apple noted.

The Macintosh Portrait Display lasted until December 1992. At the time, it was viewed as a quirky experiment from Apple with only limited applications. Today, it appears very clear that an elongated display was an innovation very much worth pursuing — seen most notably through the way we vertically view web pages on our iPhones.

Do you remember the Macintosh Portrait Display? Leave your comments below.

  • The very first foreshadowing of an iPad…

  • CuJo YYC

    “… a startyo founded by various Macintosh alumni …”
    Startup I presume.

    Remember the Radius Pivot? It was even more practical.

  • El Fez

    I didn’t have one but my attorney pal had one and it was the shizzit back in the day. So much easier to read legal papers on.

  • Randall Smith

    I bought a used one in the late 90’s. The monitor was not expensive (at the time), it was the special video cable that set me back!