Cassie Prototype Keyboard

Cassie keyboard - front view

"Steve said that we were all too busy doing ordinary things to think about doing anything great," recalls Ken Campbell, "But that was going to change... Steve not only wanted our design to be the best in the computer industry; he also wanted Apple to in the 1980s what Olivetti had been in the 1970s, an undisputed leader in industrial design." From AppleDesign, by Paul Kunkel.

And thus the SnowWhite Project, a contest to choose a design team that would work with Apple's to produce the company's new industrial design was born. There were two candidates for the job: BIB Design, and frogdesign headed by Hartmut Esslinger.

In November, 1982, Jerry Manock, Apple's Industrial Design Manager, met with the frogdesign team to review their desktop concepts. While there, he and the frogdesign team designed a thin, lightweight keyboard that didn't even have a frame around the keys. Code named "Cassie", the keyboard became one of Frogdesign's signature concepts when they presented their work to Apple for review.

In the end, frogdesign was chosen to design Apple's future products. A keyboard based on the Cassie design was planned for use with the Apple IIgs, however, it was found that customers would not accept a keyboard that was so thin and lightweight. The keyboard that shipped with the IIgs was given a small frame and a power key to make it seem more substantial.


Prototypes can be divided into two categories: those of products that shipped, and those of products that didn't. Prototypes of shipping products are only mildly interesting, especially if they're of the product in a late stage of design. A prototype Powerbook G3 is, for example, little more than a Powerbook G3 without the bugs worked out. Things get a lot more exciting when the prototyped product never ships.We are given a look at what could have been.

Cassie is pure SnowWhite. What computers would it look good with? Perhaps a Mac SE or Apple IIgs, but even those strike me as a little too sharp-edged and hard. A computer to go with Cassie would have to be soft, like Esslinger's other designs of the period (see pages 96 to 100 of AppleDesign). The perfect accompaniment for Cassie would have been Babymac:

Baby Mac

Strikingly reminiscent of the Apple Monitor IIc, Babymac, like Cassie, is a pure SnowWhite design and the two go perfectly together, giving us an image of what Apple's industrial design might have been like if they had gone "pure SnowWhite."

Michael R. Clark provides more details:

"I joined Apple in May 1984 and Cassie was my second or third project, probably around '85 or '86. I was an electrical engineer in the Development Engineering group at APD (Apple Peripherals Division) when Cassie was developed. I designed the internal electronics and the interface box for the Cassie! In the close up of the insides of the interface box, I can even make out my writing on the label on the chip! The chip is the 8748, the EPROM version of 8048 microcontroller. The Cassie protocol was completely different than both the 128K Mac and ADB. It was very complex and ADB actually simplified it.

"There was a mechanical prototype of the mouse, but I don't think we ever made a functional one. There is no way to make it work through the 128K keyboard protocol. BTW, the model was to my knowledge the first and only mouse with an 'asshole' instead of a tail!

"The thing that I recall kept Cassie from shipping was the investment in tooling required to bring it into production.

"I went on to design the MacPlus Keyboard, and Apple Desktop Bus. My first and the first implementation of ADB was the keyboard and mouse for the Mac II, Mac SE and Apple IIgs. I also did a transceiver chip on the mother board of the Macs.

"The first prototypes of ADB did use stereo jacks, but we could not get a manufacture to guarantee that the resistance of the plug would not go up when things just stayed connected. This happens all the time with your walkman. But when you hear all that static, you pull the plug out, put it back in and therefore clean it up. You could not "hear" this happening in a keyboard.

"So the decision was made to use the MiniDin 4. We could have gotten away with a MiniDin 3, but AppleTalk was already using it. (You know that power on key on your Macintosh Keyboard? It shorts the fourth pin to ground triggering a circuit inside the Mac to turn it on!)"

After leaving the Development Engineering group at APD, Michael ended up in the Apple Research Group, ATG, and was laid off when the group was dismantled a few years ago. He currently does consulting and is getting involved in a couple of potential start ups.

Mike - Your email bounces. If you're still around, email me. - Tom

For further information on the SnowWhite project, prototypes, and Apple history in general, I would strongly advise reading AppleDesign.

Note: I also have another keyboard identical to this one, but serial #1032, and Michael has one as well, making three known Cassie keyboards.