Apple worked closely with Frogdesign during the eighties, creating Apple’s early design language and charting the visual path of Apple computers from the Apple IIc to the Macintosh. Frogdesign founder Hartmut Esslinger’s fingerprints are all over those early, iconic designs, and in a new book called Design Forward, he reveals some concepts for Apple computers and tablets that never made it to market, but that would seem perfectly at home in evolutionary charts depicting the design history of the iPad, iMac and other modern Apple products.
Esslinger’s designs show off a tablet-type device called the “macphone” from 1984, which boasts a corded handset for calling as well as a stylus-based touchscreen for handwritten text entry and a software keyboard, which in some ways resembles the early Newton Apple tablet. Another, the “tablet mac” from 1982, depicts a more simple slate, which can support a corded keyboard for text entry and an external floppy disk drive that’s actually much bulkier than the device itself. These designs show that Apple was thinking about ways to make the computer a tablet long before it introduced the iPad in 2010.
There are also computers inspired by Sony, a company whose industrial design tastes Steve Jobs famously admired, as well as a concept called the “baby mac” from 1985 that has all the hallmarks of later iMacs in a package with a tilting base and low profile keyboard. Some of these concepts are a little more far out, like a two-screen workstation with a tower in the middle, but overall, it’s clear from these designs that Esslinger and Frogdesign didn’t just define the early Apple aesthetic, but also set the stage for later innovations to come.