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Apple's lost future: phone, tablet, and laptop prototypes of the ’80s

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Apple's focus on design has long been one of the key factors that set its computers apart. Some of its earliest and most iconic designs, however, didn't actually come from inside of Apple, but from outside designers at Frog. In particular, credit goes to Frog's founder, Hartmut Esslinger, who was responsible for the "Snow White" design language that had Apple computers of the ’80s colored all white and covered in long stripes and rounded corners meant to make the machines appear smaller.

In fact, Esslinger goes so far as to say in his recent book, Keep it Simple, that he was the one who taught Steve Jobs to put design first. First published late last year, the book recounts Esslinger's famous collaboration with Jobs, and it includes amazing photos of some of the many, many prototypes to come out of it. They're incredibly wide ranging, from familiar-looking computers to bizarre tablets to an early phone and even a watch, of sorts.

This is far from the first time that Esslinger has shared early concepts from Apple, but these show not only a variety of styles for computers but also a variety of forms for them. Some of the mockups still look sleek and stylish today, but few resemble the reality of the tablets, laptops, and phones that Apple would actually come to make two decades later, after Jobs' return. You can see more than a dozen of these early concepts below, and even more are on display in Esslinger's book.

Early Apple prototypes from Frog Design's Hartmut Esslinger


All images reproduced with permission of Arnoldsche Art Publishers.