The Lost Apple 'MacPhone'

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This thing is basically the centaur of gadgets.

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Hartmut Esslinger via Design Boom

In the early 1980s, Frog Design founder Hartmut Esslinger had the freedom to create a new look and feel for Apple. In a new book excerpted on Designboom, he shows off his prototypes for what would become the defining Apple look in the pre-iPod era.

Among the old prototypes for what would become the Apple IIC and IIE, we find this strange contraption, the "Macphone." Part stylus-operated tablet, part (corded, landline?) telephone, there still isn't a gadget today that looks like it. And there may never be: the MacPhone is probably a dead branch on the technological evolutionary tree, despite its excellent handset shape.

UPDATE! VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE! I take it back. The MacPhone lives. Err. Lived. Mat Buchanan pointed out to me that Verizon marketed something like this thing in 2009 as the Verizon Hub. You can see for yourself what you think of it. 

And reaching deep into my own memory vault, I remembered that a Chinese company at CES 2011 also had something like this on display, though I do not think it ever came to market, at least on this side of the Pacific. 

macphone2.jpg

Hartmut Esslinger via Design Boom

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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