The Apple Jonathan: a very 1980s concept computer that never shipped

In the middle of the 1980s, Apple found itself with several options regarding the future of its computing platforms. The Apple II was the company’s bread and butter. The Apple III was pitched as an evolution of that platform, but was clearly doomed due to hardware and software issues. The Lisa was expensive and not selling well, and while the Macintosh aimed to bring Lisa technology to the masses, sales were slow after its initial release.

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.

↫ Stephen Hackett

So apparently, the Jonathan was supposed to be a modular computer, with a backbone you could slot all kinds of upgrades in, from either Apple or third parties. These modules would add the hardware needed to run Mac OS, Apple II, UNIX, and DOS software, all on the same machine. This is an incredibly cool concept, but as we all know, it didn’t pan out.

The reasons are simple: this is incredibly hard to make work, especially when it comes to the software glue that would have to make it all work seamlessly. On top of that, it just doesn’t sound very Apple-like to make a computer designed to run anything that isn’t from Apple itself. Remember, this is still the time of Steve Jobs, before he got kicked out of the company and founded NeXT instead.

According to Stephen Hackett, the project never made it beyond the mockup phase, so we don’t have many details on how it was supposed to work. It does look stunning, though.


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