iWalks, Real and Fake

The real iWalk beats crutches. The fake iWalk was dumb, but still lives on in my memory.

Back in May, I broke my foot. Massachusetts potholes are no joke, and when I landed in one awkwardly while on a run, it managed to snap my left fifth metatarsal. This was, to put it mildly, not a lot of fun.

During my recovery, I needed to keep off the foot entirely for several weeks. I was initially given crutches, but I knew I would want more mobility. When I got home, I started looking at knee scooters online. You know the type:

A woman using a knee scooterShe seems excessively pleased, given her condition.

I didn’t particularly want one of these, but it seemed likely to be better than crutches. However, while looking at these that I came across something else entirely: The iWalk.

The iWalk crutch
This is not my body.

The iWalk is a different kind of crutch alternative, essentially a high-tech peg leg. With it, you can walk fairly normally, if not as quickly as usual. After reading a stellar review in Wired, I clicked the buy button. Two days later, following a successful surgery, I strapped in.

Your humble author standing with his iWalk
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

Here the iWalk is in action:

[Video courtesy of P. Kafasis]

The contraption is admittedly somewhat comical, but it’s also incredibly effective. Shortly after the initial injury, I had to travel to the Bay Area for work. While there, I walked 34 miles over 7 days, something which would have been impossible with crutches. If you ever find yourself in a position where the iWalk could help you, know that I give it a full nine thumbs up.

However, beyond its effectiveness, the iWalk also appealed to me for a reason some longtime Mac nerds may recall. Now we take an abrupt and sharp turn from assistive medical devices into rather ancient Apple lore. In late 2001, a now-defunct Mac rumor site called SpyMac claimed that Apple was working on a personal digital assistant by this very same name, “iWalk”. Long before the real iPhone was introduced to the world, SpyMac showed off what they claimed was Apple’s new personal digital assistant. It seemed unlikely to be real, but like Fox Mulder, people wanted to believe.

Rather impressively, the site offered both pictures and video of the purported device. I downloaded these files, and since the early days of the George W. Bush administration, they’ve followed me from one hard drive to another. Now, I finally have a use for them. Here’s a sample of the images:

A picture of the supposed iWalk device
An excess of Apple logos

And here’s a compilation of the three videos they posted, which initially lent a lot of weight to the rumor:

Video quality was not high in the early aughts

Of course, the entire thing was a sham. I don’t know if the exact nature of the fake was ever revealed, but it’s clear now that it was nothing but a publicity stunt for SpyMac. While reminiscing about this iWalk of old, I stumbled upon a second Wired article, a 2002-era piece entitled “iWalk Looks More Like iWish”. Re-reading it 16+ years on provided a good laugh about the whole thing. Quickly, however, I was taken aback. As I read, I realized that my 19-year-old self had been quoted in this article, under an ancient username I once used, “PunkXRock”.

In a post entitled “Bullet Points on What’s Wrong,” one Mac fan called PunkXRock took issue with several details of each of the pictures — and although none of his points are damning by themselves, taken together they do cast doubt on SpyMac’s story.

PunkXRock’s conclusion is that the videos are more likely the product of image-editing skills than spying skills. “Why make a hoax?” he asks. “Like I said, this feeds egos. Look, we’re all idiots, talking about their fake Apple product. Maybe they’ll make Slashdot again. In addition, they want ads. Visitors attract advertisers.”

And here I am, talking about this hoax yet again in 2018. The fraudsters at SpyMac may no longer be reaping any monetary rewards at this point, but they can continue to have a good laugh at how well their fake device has spread into the future. At this point, I can only tip my cap to them, and hobble off into the sunset.