The Apple tablet that never was

Thu, Oct 29, 2009

Apple History, News

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has the inside scoop on a little-known Apple project called the Apple Pen Mac, an Apple tablet project whose humble beginnings stretch back all the way to 1990.

The Pen Mac, Arrington writes, “was a fully functional Mac computer with a pen based touch screen.”  It’s described as being smaller than the hefty Mac Portable, with available inputs for a keyboard and mouse.

The Pen Mac project didn’t have a long shelf-life as it was subsequently scrapped in favor of the Newton.  Apple’s CEO at the time, John Scully, reportedly wanted a PDA, not a tablet.  TechCrunch cites to an enlightening 2006 article on the matter from the New York Times.

Then in 1987 and 1988, after Steven Jobs had been ousted from the company by John Sculley, then chief executive, engineers like Mr. Mercer were given wide latitude in exploring new ideas at the company. On his own, Mr. Mercer pursued two projects for hand-held computers, code-named Swatch and Pen Mac.

In the early 1990’s, before a meeting of Apple’s top executives, he showed off the Macintosh software running on a hand-held computer, long before products like the Newton, Palm Pilot or the General Magic communicator had been introduced.

The technology demonstration was impressive, but Mr. Mercer acknowledged that he was naïve about the reception he would receive for his invention.

Instead of being welcomed with open arms, he received a call from Mr. Sculley noting that Apple had just signed an agreement to work with Sharp Electronics on the Newton technology and that there was no room at the company for competing hand-held computing projects.

Pictures of a second-gen Pen Mac prototype can be seen here and here.



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