Apple’s 1980s Knowledge Navigator concept videos foresaw the iPad, multitouch, Internet, Google, speech recognition, e-books

October 22, 2010

Wikipedia (with edits) | The Knowledge Navigator was a concept developed by Apple in the 1980s, based on Alan Kay’s Dynabook, for a hypothetical device that could access a large networked database of hypertext information, and use software agents to assist searching for information.

Apple produced several concept videos showcasing the idea. All of them featured a tablet style computer with numerous advanced capabilities, including an excellent text-to-speech system with no hint of “computerese,” a gesture based interface resembling the multitouch interface later used on the iPhone and an equally powerful speech understanding system, allowing the user to converse with the system via an animated “butler” as the software agent.

1. In one vignette a university professor returns home and turns on his computer, in the form of a tablet the size of a large-format book. The agent is a bow-tie wearing butler who appears on the screen and informs him that he has several calls waiting. The professor uses the system to compile data for a talk on deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. While he is doing this, the computer informs him that a colleague is calling, and they then exchange data through their machines while holding a video-based conversation.

2. In another such video, a young student uses a smaller handheld version of the system to prompt him while he gives a class presentation on volcanoes, eventually sending a movie of an exploding volcano to the video “blackboard”.

3. In a final installment a reading-challenged adult scans in a newspaper by placing it on the tablet computer’s screen, which converts the text through OCR and then helps him learn to read by listening to him read the scanned results while following along with highlighting and prompting when he pauses.

4. Apple also produced a similar video called “Future Shock.”

The videos were written and conceived by Hugh Dubberly and Doris Mitsch of Apple Creative Services, and produced by The Kenwood Group in San Francisco. The videos were directed by Randy Field, and the director of photography was Bill Zarchy. The product industrial design was created by Gavin Ivester and Adam Grosser of Apple design.

Also see: Apple’s Knowledge Navigator revisited by Jon Udell, reprinted from Infoworld, 2003.

Video Source: Apple Inc.