Apple's Failed Camera Cost $750 and Could Only Take 8 Pictures
The story of the Apple QuickTake 100, a primitive early digital camera that had Apple’s name on the front but another company’s technology buried inside.
"Woman photographing Golden Gate Bridge using Apple's QuickTake 100 camera that uses Kodak sensor instead of film to make electronic images for instant viewing on MacIntosh computers," from 1994. Image: John Harding/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Re-Exposure is an occasional Motherboard feature where we look back on delightful old tech photos from wire service archives.
These days, Apple is pretty well known for the high quality of the cameras on its iPhones and iPads.
But there was a time when the digital photography revolution didn't come quite so easy for the team in Cupertino. And that time came in June 1994, when the firm released the QuickTake, which TIME Magazine called the "first consumer digital camera." (The first digital camera, it's said, was created by Fuji in 1989.)
But the first version of the QuickTake, shown above taking a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, highlighted some of the more questionable faults of the device at the time.
For one thing, it was not high resolution: It could only shoot photos at a maximum resolution of 0.3 megapixels, or 640x480. For another, there was little in the way of space on this thing: At the maximum 640x480, it could only store eight photos. At the smaller 320x240 (roughly the same resolution as a Sega Genesis, but with the ability to capture more colors), it could store 32.
And finally, it was not cheap: PC Magazine put its initial starting price at $749. You weren't going to get analog quality from a digital camera—at least not at this juncture. Pro photographers were understandably skeptical.
Apple released a handful of upgrades that got past some of the initial camera's flaws, but the sales weren't there and Apple's heart wasn't in it. Steve Jobs eventually killed the project, along with a whole lot of other pet projects, in 1997.
Of course, the hidden tale behind this device is that it really only has Apple's branding on it—the company didn't build the device. Instead, as Mashable explains, Kodak did all the heavy lifting on the QuickTake 100, but was wary of releasing the device under its own name, for fear of damaging its film business.
This turned out to be a fatal mistake for Kodak, as other companies—neither named Kodak or Apple—would soon come out with their own variations on the QuickTake that improved on the technology in every way.
Apple itself ditched Kodak for Fuji for the QuickTake 200, Cult of Mac notes. The change gave the cameras compatibility with the primitive SmartMedia flash memory cards, as well as a design that matched the film cameras of the era. But the upgrade wasn't enough to change the fortunes of the QuickTake brand. The technology was quickly superseded, by the way: As Mac enthusiast Andy Baird notes on his website, these cameras are basically useless in the modern day.
Apple was fine, of course—they were really only dipping their toes into this sector. But Kodak wasn't.