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Meet the People Who Create Fake Apple Product Designs

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

Apple is a famously secretive company — and no doubt that’s one reason that breathless rumors about what it’s working on have become a genre unto themselves.

One overlooked byproduct of this rumor mill is the ever-growing collection of computer-generated renderings of Apple creations that don’t yet exist — and often never will.

These depictions range from best-guess approximations based on alleged leaks to completely speculative flights of fancy. As dazzling and convincing as some of the images are, they are nothing more than visual rumors, stoking the fire of Apple speculation. 

So who makes these images? And more to the point: Why?

It turns out there are quite a few visualizers of imagined Apple gear out there, all over the world, and of course their answers vary.

All those that I contacted cited some variation of creative expression. But some have also figured out that these entertaining conjectures can serve as an effective source of publicity — and even revenue. 

“Impossible projects”
By day, Federico Ciccarese works as a boat designer for a company near Milan. “At night,” he told me via email, “begins my life as a researcher and developer of impossible projects.” Lately, that’s even led him to work in earnest on making one of these “impossible” projects real.

But that journey has wound through a number of striking Apple-based speculations. Like many others, he and collaborators dreamed up a vision of Apple’s forever-rumored watch, and he figures that may be his most popular virtual creation to date.

iWatch concept drawing

iWatch, via Federico Ciccarese

Previous imaginings include iSiri, which transports Apple’s voice-command software into a standalone wearable device that syncs to a phone via Bluetooth. And I’m personally fond of his earlier, wildly unlikely suggested version of the iPhone 5, below. (Ciccarese took that as a compliment — but noted that many others found it “creepy.”)

iPhone 5 concept drawing

iPhone 5 new, by Federico Ciccarese

Ciccarese’s primary motivation for these time-consuming projects was always to “express myself and realize my thoughts,” he said.

But over time it has led to a few commissions from tech-related companies and impressed publications. And in March he launched a new project that began with visualizations but that he is now seeking investors to make a reality: Youbionic would be a robotic artificial hand. The project, he said, has “introduced me to people who might be in need of what I’m designing” — for real.

“Pure marketing”
It’s easy enough to understand how a designer like Ciccarese got into Apple conjecture. But why would a fledgling online retailer start offering up visions of i-products?

“Pure marketing,” Jon Fawcett told me via phone from his Ohio office. Fawcett is the founder of Fuse Chicken, a seller and maker of (real) accessories for smartphones.

The company’s roots trace back to a 2012 Kickstarter project, and since then Fawcett has experimented with all sorts of publicity tactics. Deciding to offer his own take on what the latest iPhone upgrade might look like sounds like more of a lark than a strategy. But with the rendering skills and software on hand for the company’s own product designs, it wasn’t too hard to pull off.

The firm made the results available to anyone online willing to give a link back to fusechicken.com. The marketing payoff made an impression. So the renderings kept coming.

In some cases, Fawcett says, these creations take into account news reports and rumors about hotly awaited products “and figure out what we think is plausible.” But some are more imaginative — guesses as to how Apple-style design might manifest itself next. Here’s one of two conjectures inspired by the hype leading up to Apple’s watch announcement earlier this year:

iWatch concept drawing

iWatch by Fuse Chicken

Along the way, Fuse Chicken’s renderings and related videos have gotten more elaborate and time-consuming to create — but they’re not just about business. “We’ve had so much fun doing these,” Fawcett admitted.

And how often can you say that about a publicity effort?

“A lot of effort and hours”
Hypothetical Apple images and videos also make sense as a promotional strategy for an outfit like San Francisco-based creative animation company Aatma.

But Prashanth Shantharam, the firm’s chief business officer, said there’s more to it than that. Aatma has its own YouTube channel with more than 100 million total views, and many of its clips demonstrate the magic of computer-generated imagery with imagined Apple products.

Check out, for instance, its version of the iPad — with “3d holographic display for multiplayer games.”

As a prediction, this is off. But as an entertaining video? Well, with nearly 9 million views, it’s pretty on point.

That video layered computer-animation effects on top of a real iPad; for this iPhone 5 concept video, the entire (nonexistent) object is computer-rendered — the actor was holding a piece of green cardboard. The clip has almost 70 million views.

And I have to mention one more personal favorite. Check out this “Siri Hidden Feature” that Aatma dreamed up: If Siri thinks your phone is stolen, it basically self-destructs!

“It takes a lot of effort and hours to make the videos look believable,” Shantharam told me via email. So is the resulting showcase for Aatma’s skills enough of a payoff? These exercises are also genuine fun for a group of authentic tech enthusiasts, he replied, and can serve as testing grounds for building new skills.

Oh, and one more thing: “We’ve partnered with YouTube and a multi-channel network called Revision3, owned by Discovery,” he pointed out. “And we get paid for the views we generate.”

The silence of Cupertino
There are plenty of other renderers in this game, of course, with many styles and backstories. Vene Studio founder Yrving Doveralba, a designer and self-described “futurist,” has only dabbled in the form, proposing an iWatch variation three years ago, but he positioned it more as an exploration of wearables than a comment on Apple: “I believe there is an unexplored territory in the wearable market and many companies are missing the opportunity.”

Martin Hajek, one of the more famous practitioners of this form, has dreamed up scads of Apple fictions — lots of iPhone and iPad variations (these are most popular, he told me via email) but also more ambitious explorations like this elaborate Apple TV concept, or the iBeats headphones here.

iBeats headphones concept drawing

iBeats headphones, by Martin Hajek

Hajek used to be a 3D modeler by trade, but after switching to another line of work, he now considers his speculative renderings a hobby. “The most fun are the conceptual ideas where the sky is the limit,” he said. And, indeed, some of his work seems more guided by humor than prediction: One of his most recent pieces amusingly comments on the “bendgate” phenomenon with visions of a bendable iPad.

Bent iPad and iPhone

iPad — Will It Bend? by Martin Hajek

Isamu Sanada is another star of this dreamy scene. But I couldn’t get him to answer my email, so we can only speculate about the thinking behind his imagined Apple products — like this nonexistent Mac Mini.

Mac Mini concept drawing

Mac Mini, by Isamu Sanada

There was, in the end, one thing that the Apple hypothesizers I got in touch with all seemed to have in common: None have ever heard from a peep from the people who dream up real Apple products.

But Fuse Chicken’s Fawcett, at least, admits that not only is he not worried about getting a call from Cupertino — he’d be thrilled. The fantasy is that one of his firm’s speculative renderings would, in fact, nail some detail that was really in the works: “How did you find out?” the hypothetical Apple caller would demand.

Sure. It’s fun to dream.

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. RSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.