Monday, April 22, 2024

The Apple Jonathan

Stephen Hackett (Hacker News):

Those four machines are well known, but there was a fifth possibility in the mix, named the Jonathan. In his book Inventing the Future, John Buck writes about the concept, which was led by Apple engineer Jonathan Fitch starting in the fall of 1984.

This concept envisioned a computer that would expand with the needs of the user, through the use of modular components:

Buck also writes:

It was a consumer model computer that came with pre-installed operations as well as a base-level I/O, and it could be upgraded during/or after purchase to business-centric specifications using a unique set of plug- and-play modules. Customers would be able to add a series of book-sized modules (for software and hardware options) that clicked into a slender docking station sitting under the monitor, that itself looked like a bookshelf. The individual software modules, for the prototype, contained the O/Ss for Apple II, Mac, UNIX, or DOS, while the hardware options were DSP, Ethernet, GenLock (for video), extra RAM, mass storage, or a power supply (for different regions). There were no cables.

Fitch believed that the machine’s literal backbone design could become the backbone of Apple’s future sales strategy. An ever-expandable computer that could cover multiple markets without Apple needing to make multiple devices.

Nicola D’Agostino:

After eight months of development, a Jonathan mockup was finally unveiled to the Apple Executive staff in June 1985.

The Executives’ first reaction was of astonishment. The design’s militaristic look with smooth surfaces, sharp corners, vertical ribs around the base and the use of a dramatic black color with white product graphics was unlike anything done before at Apple.

The Jonathan concept was deemed too advanced and risky. Jean-Louis Gassée, who at the time was Apple’s VP of Product Development, observed that they would have to sell two or three Jonathans to equal the profit of a single Macintosh II.

Both posts have some great photos and renders.

1 Comment RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

So this is absolutely fascinating and the reported reason for killing the product was strange, but I'm not sure how feasible it would be to get it working anyway. The Macs with Apple II or DOS cards certainly weren't very inexpensive once you got everything going. I'm curious how the backbone would work and interface with all the "books", wouldn't you need a fast data bus for all these things to interact?

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