Exclusive Picture Of Unlaunched Apple Tablet (circa 1990)

Yeah ok it isn’t that Apple Tablet. But this is a picture, taken around 1990, of the Apple Pen Mac, a little known and never launched Apple tablet project. As far as we can tell there is no other image of this device anywhere on the Internet, and very few references to it at all.

The Pen Mac was a fully functional Mac computer (it even played the Mac startup chime) with a pen based touch screen. The screen itself was identical to the Mac Portable, but with the addition of pen touch. And of course the case was a lot smaller than the Mac Portable. The Pen Mac was supposedly not much more than one inch thick. Users could plug in a keyboard and mouse or easier input.

Holding the Pen Mac in the picture is Glam CEO Samir Arora, who told me about the device over dinner a couple of weeks ago. Arora worked at Apple on the project, eventually going to a spinout company, Rae Technology, which was designing applications for the Pen Mac. Rae Technology eventually morphed into NetObjects.

The Pen Mac project was led by Paul Mercer but was eventually axed in favor of the Newton. Then Apple CEO John Sculley wanted a PDA, not a tablet. From a 2006 NY Times article:

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.

And that was the end of the Pen Mac.

There is a picture here of a second generation Pen Mac device called PenLite that Arora tells us was also cancelled. Another picture of PenLite is here. A final picture, also labeled as PenLite, sure does look similar to the tablet that Arora is holding.