Apple Wanted to Make The iPhone Back in 1983

This is really surprising: it seems Apple’s ambitions of entering the phone market dated back to the early days of Apple.

Hartmut Esslinger, founder of design firm frog design, designed a touchscreen phone prototype for Apple while he was under contract by the company to work on projects like the Apple IIc.

If you’ve read Steve Jobs’ biography, you might remember frog design as the company that won an Apple contest intended to create a “consistent design language” for all Apple products.

From the biography:

He [Esslinger] produced forty models of products to demonstrate the concept, and when Jobs saw them he proclaimed, “Yes, this is it!”


Jobs offered Esslinger a contract on the condition that he move to California. They shook hands and, in Esslinger’s not-so-modest words, “that handshake launched one of the most decisive collaborations in the history of industrial design.”

Apple phone prototype

From what we’ve gathered from the web, the prototype designed by Esslinger:

  • was made in co-operation with AT&T (which later went on to carry the iPhone exclusively more than 20 years later).
  • had a monochrome touch screen.
  • came with electronic check payment.

For reasons not known (maybe Jobs didn’t like the stylus?), this phone remained a prototype and eventually found place in a museum.

Apple phone prototype

[via Flickr user bridgitwithaneyequerged8]

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  • LiKe A sOMeBoOoDee

    I wonder if you could jailbreak it

    • dice

      ….good one.. =..))

  • Axe

    Now i know where was ipad design originated. Lol 🙂

  • OGT

    Mmmmmm! interesting

  • Justsaying

    For the record, back then AT&T was Cingular.

    • Homer


    • Ryu

      um.. no

    • They have been around for over 100 years in some form or another they just keep buying selling themselves and change the name Cingular was just a subsidiary started in 2000.
      I don’t work for AT&T just don’t like misinformation.

    • Thunderbolt294

      In 2003, yes. In 1983, NO.

  • City023

    Nothing like the iPhone. Really Apple wants to say that they was gonna release an iPhone in 1983. iPhone is wireless and thats a land line phone. Next thing you know Apple will say that they actually had a working Delorean.

  • moi

    probably still better than a blackberry

    • moe

      you know it

  • moe

    dont click its a scam!

  • Kiwiholden

    Hmm I think he just knew it wasn’t the right time for such a product.
    The cost probably didn’t match the demand at the time.
    Interesting though

  • J-God

    That would of be a nice invention in those times. Looks great and modernize

  • fas

    If they launched it then, they would not re-invent the phone in 2007

  • I think the internet is abuzz with much ado about nothing with respect to this prototype, which has been no secret to some of us for a while now. We can only speculate how serious Apple was in pursuing a communications device of this form factor at the time. My assumption is this is a forward looking concept, not a serious product goal, driven by Steve Jobs’ fixation on making the personal computer an “appliance”.

    It would be nice to interview Apple or Frog Design employees from the era for some perspective.