Apple's 1982 iPad prototype is utterly wild

The design of Apple's iPad hasn't changed a huge amount over the years. Sure, the screens have grown, the bezels have shrunk and each generation is a little bit thinner than the last. But an unearthed prototype image from 1982 reveals a very different type of Apple tablet. 

The image (below), shared on Reddit this week, shows a modular concept in which a display, keyboard and disk drive are all placed together on a tray. While it's a far cry from any of today's sleek drawing tablets, the rectangular portrait design certainly echoes the iPad of today.

1982 Apple prototype of a tablet computer designed by Hartmut Esslinger. This was created as part of a project to unify the design language of Apple products, ultimately resulting in the "Snow White" design language used for Macintosh computers. from r/DesignPorn

Curiously, the design wasn't actually created by Apple itself. Early in its history, Apple contracted Frog Design to come up with a design language for its hardware. Frog Design was responsible for the 'Snow White' design of Apple computers in the 1980s, involving an all-white design and curved edges to make devices appear smaller.

This early 'tablet' concept comes from a Frog Design founder Hartmut Esslinger's book, Keep it Simple, which chronicles the company's involvement in the early years of Apple design. Esslinger has shared plenty of prototype images over the years (below), but perhaps none quite as inventive as this tablet/desktop hybrid.

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It's a testament to Apple's innovative approach that the company was experimenting with tablet concepts as early as 1982. That said, we can see why this particular prototype never saw the light of day – today's iPads are impossibly light and thin, while this concept is essentially a desktop computer on a tray. We doubt you'd have found yourself slipping it into a tote bag before hitting the road.

It's also strange to see an Apple prototype so unashamedly colourful. Indeed, in today's world of sleek, silver or grey industrial design, we often find ourselves yearning for the fun of Apple's colourful design past. And it seems we're not alone – you won't believe how much an original Apple rainbow logo LED recently sold for.  

It's always a treat to explore Apple designs that never were, as well as those that could still become a reality – here are 8 Apple patents we wish would come true. But there's no shortage of visionary products available right now, including today's descendants of this early tablet concept. Check out the best iPad deals below, and don't forget to take a look at the best offers available as part of Apple Amazon Prime Day

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Daniel John
Senior News Editor

Daniel John is Senior News Editor at Creative Bloq. He reports on the worlds of art, design, branding and lifestyle tech (which often translates to tech made by Apple). He joined in 2020 after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more.