For many years, we looked forward to April Fools Day. It was our excuse to write about things we—or our readers—wanted to come true, even when we knew they never would. (Those of you still hoping for the return of Word 5.1 to macOS or running natively on the iPad need to move on.) But our articles often went much deeper than tugging at our readers’ hopes and fears. They also gave us an opportunity to imagine the future. And you know what? We did pretty well.
Alas, the complete disregard for fact and truth in so much of today’s public discourse has rendered April Fools Day jokes uncomfortably quaint. There’s no enjoyment in exploring how you would react to the rug of reality being pulled out from under you one special day per year when so many social media megaphones loudly deny, in essence, that the world is round (it is), along the way toward casting aspersions on numerous other things that are “only” well-supported, if not proven, by eyewitness account, historical fact, or scientific research. In a world where reality can be created through sufficient repetition of bald-faced lies, we could no longer stomach inventing our own mistruths, even those intended as speculative glimpses of possible futures.
To commemorate the amusing and thought-provoking April Fools Days of the past, we’ve put together a series of every April Fools article that we ever published. Skim through, and see which ones speak to you today. Here are some that we’re particularly proud of for their prescience:
- “SentientNET” (1991): Distributed computing is commonplace now, and you get a sense of how long TidBITS has been around from the way this article posited a group of Soviet programmers hailing from Minsk in the USSR.
- “A Whole New Ball Game” (1991): In the earliest days of TidBITS, we paid more attention to companies outside the Mac market, and we called the IBM acquisition of Lotus four years before it actually happened.
- “Remote Backup” (1992): Internet backup was a pipe dream in 1992, but it’s not much of a stretch to go from our cobbled-together BackData solution of Retrospect, AppleTalk Remote Access, and a fast modem to modern-day services like Backblaze.
- “Newt’s Grand Old Party” (1995): This article envisioned a Newton (remember the Newton?) app that used a GPS transceiver and cellular modem to access a commercial online service listing all “recreational gatherings” in Los Angeles. Foursquare on an iPhone, anyone?
- “My First C Compiler” (1996): Perhaps Swift Playgrounds would be better with assistants like Robby Recursion, Doctor Bracket, and Guy CGI.
- “Larger Newton Due This Spring” (1996): Our description of the ARM-based “Newton LetterPad 200” sounds an awful lot like an iPad, with “almost a standard sheet of paper worth of active screen surface” that “can be rotated and used in either a horizontal or vertical orientation” and contains “all of its controls within the active screen area.”
- “Apple Ups the AMTE” (1999): Although speech recognition has been around for a long time, this abstraction of a “data translation matrix” prompted a description of a product that was almost exactly like what Otter does today when transcribing recordings.
- “Segway for Kids Introduced” (2003): It took quite a while to get from our “Segwee” to modern-day hoverboards (er, self-balancing scooters), but now there’s an entire category of such products for sale at Amazon.
- “iPhone Goes International with Iridium” (2008): It took us only a year after the iPhone launch to suggest that Apple could add satellite phone capabilities. It still hasn’t happened, but an analyst’s report last year about chips in the iPhone 13 caused satellite company stocks—including Iridium’s to jump. iPhone 14, maybe?
- “iPhoto’s Faces and Places Designed to Track Terrorists?” (2009): Facial recognition and geolocation of photos were new in 2009, but this article postulated that iPhoto was phoning home to the US Department of Homeland Security. Apple would never do such a thing, of course, unless it involved CSAM detection.
- “What Apple Could Do with $40 Billion” (2010): This article proposing uses for Apple’s cash hoard became increasingly silly as it went on, but the very first suggestion? Design the Mac’s next CPU. How long has Apple been working on the M1, do you suppose?
- “Apple Plans App Store Shakeup with Franchises, Mac Applications” (2010): The suggestion that Apple would let Mac applications into the App Store was only months ahead of its time, with the real announcement coming in October 2010. The idea of App Store franchisees may be forced on Apple soon enough if the company isn’t careful—the European Union is heading in that direction with its Digital Markets Act.
- “Apple to Offer Subscription Service and Subscription-Based Mac” (2011): It’s surprising that Apple hasn’t done this for the Mac yet, given the iPhone Upgrade Program and the Apple One bundle plan. However, Mark Gurman at Bloomberg writes that Apple is working on a hardware subscription service.
- “iCloud for Families Debuts” (2013): Perhaps this was too obvious, since it took Apple only a year before debuting Family Sharing in June 2014.
- “Install and Run OS X 10.9 Mavericks on the iPad Air” (2014): No, you can’t run macOS on an iPad, but this article’s suggestion that Apple was planning to use a future version of the A7 chip for the Mac would come true with the release of the M1 in 2020. And you can now run iPad apps on a Mac!
I hope you enjoyed this look back at a simpler, less cynical, and more amusing past. What were your favorite TidBITS April Fools articles?