In the early 2000s, Apple was already hard at work on the slate that would change the world
The first retail version of the Apple iPad hit stores in April of 2010, and in just over two years, the device has seen a pair of hardware changes and countless software improvements. But Apple didn't think up its top-selling slate overnight -- the company had been working on the design of a consumer-focused tablet computer for many, many years prior. The photos you see here -- which were discovered within the endless pages of legalese of the current Apple/Samsung legal proceedings by Network World -- are the very first known photos of Apple's earliest iPad prototype.
As you can see, the device is mostly unrecognizable from the millions and millions of iPads currently being used all over the world. According to court testimony by lead Apple designer Jonathan Ive, the remarkably bulky tablet — called the "035 mockup" within Apple walls — dates back to between 2002 and 2004. This means the prototype slate was possibly floating around Apple's headquarters as early as 8 years before we ever heard the name "iPad."
The 035 mockup is different from the final product in a number of ways. Most noticeably, the tablet is massively thick, at least two to three times thicker than even the first iPad to hit stores. There are a couple of reasons this design may have been used in this very early prototype, but the most probable is that it was designed to use an actual hard disk drive.
Early iPods also used physical hard drives for storage, making their form factor much thicker. All current iPods — as well as every iPad model — use flash storage, which allows them to be much thinner. In 2002, flash storage would have been a much more expensive prospect than it is currently, and it seems likely that a tablet from this era would have had to rely on a hard disk.
The prototype also features what appears to be a slimmer bezel surrounding the screen, as well as the absence of a home button. The home button was first introduced with the original iPhone, several years after this mockup was built. The actual body of the device appears to be plastic, making it look almost identical to the now-discontinued entry level MacBook. Every retail iPad to date has been fitted with an aluminum unibody enclosure.
A headphone jack and charging port are also visible, which falls in line with current tablet designs, and the recognizable Apple logo is emblazoned on the rear of the slate, just like current iPad models.
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