The ghost of Apple Card past

On March 25th, Tim Cook unveiled Apple Card—”the future of credit cards.”

WTF? Fiasco! Yet another Apple blunder! Has Tim Cook lost it? Steve Jobs would never do this!!

Well … not so fast. The truth is, Steve Jobs actually did do this. At least he tried to.

The proof is likely hidden in a secret vault buried deep inside Apple Park. Fortunately, it’s also right here on my archive drive.

The year was 2004, when Apple was a very different company. It had only recently reinvented the music industry with iPod and iTunes, forever changing the way we buy and discover music.

Steve thought the time was right for Apple to offer its own credit card. He would call it … (drum roll)… Apple Card.

In typical Steve fashion, though, he wanted to do something different. Instead of offering frequent flier points or cash back, the Apple Card would be far cooler. It would offer free music.

Purchases would earn iPoints, which could be redeemed for your favorite music on iTunes.

The upside for Apple was enormous. With its own credit card, Apple would not only make money when customers bought its products, it would make money when customers bought anything. Anywhere.

Alas, the Apple Card never saw the light of day. Steve worked to create a partnership with MasterCard, but apparently he couldn’t get the terms he wanted—so he pulled the plug.

By that time, however, Apple’s internal creative teams had already worked up a campaign to introduce the Apple Card. Here are a few of the many ads they created, featuring bands that had appeal at the time.

So, Tim Cook and team didn’t exactly hatch their new scheme out of thin air. Apple has been there and almost done that.

But wait, there’s more!

Could it be? Is there yet another Apple Card lurking in Apple’s past? Kind of.

In the early days of the Apple Store, Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson cooked up the Apple ProCare Card to show the pro customers some love.

In Apple’s words, the Pro Card was “your passport to a world of benefits and privileges, designed exclusively for the professional Mac user.”

Thanks to Stewart Dixon for contributing this shot—he still has the thing!

Sadly, those benefits were borderline pathetic: Free transfer of your files to a new Power Mac G5; “Pro Day” at the Apple Store with 10% off software and free installation; guaranteed next-day Genius Bar appointments; early notification of upcoming offers.

There is barely a hint of the Apple ProCare Card on the internet today—but my vague memory is that Apple actually charged $99/year for the thing.

So, make that twice that Apple dabbled with the idea of a branded card during Steve’s time. One never launched, the other mysteriously disappeared.

Fortunately for Apple, there are far more compelling pieces in place today. One would be foolish to bet against success this time around.

The Apple Card is dead. Long live the Apple Card!