History of the Mac - Part 1

The Macintosh or 'Mac' computer is synonymous today with innovation, sleek design and high end performance, but few modern users can trace today's machine to its earliest predecessors. Apple's long time spearhead and the key man behind it's 21st century resurgence - Steve Jobs - was also the company co-founder on its inception in 1976. During his two spells with the company Jobs would go on to stamp his inimitable personality on the company's product line and public facing activities. And it was the Macintosh personal computer, first released in 1984, that is arguably one of his most revolutionary works.

Jobs spent four years working on a rival Apple Inc. project - the Lisa - but left the development in 1982 in the midst of disagreements. Fate led him to a rival Apple project, initially intended for lower cost retail, the Macintosh we know today, in its first stage of evolution. It was 1984 before the Macintosh hit the market, some one year later than the Lisa (which proved to be a commercial failure due to its relatively high pricing). The Macintosh garnered wide attention for two principal reasons:

  1. It's groundbreaking and highly intuitive user interface, considered the forefather of today's universally adopted desktop computing. Also the subject of bitter legal dispute in subsequent years. It was the wide introduction of a graphical interface that can be credited with the wide appeal of personal computers in years to come. Before this development so-called 'user-friendliness' was practically non-existent before computers increasingly catered toward a broader market.
  2. Complementary products/software followed with the 'LaserWriter' laser printer considered particularly significant. This was one of the first laser printers produced mass market at a viable and affordable price and boosted interest in the Macintosh computer in various marketplaces.

One year after making arguably his greatest contribution to Apple, Jobs was forced out of the company following more internal disagreements. He wouldn't return in any role until 1996, some 11 years later. In the interim period the standing of the Macintosh both within Apple's product line and the wider market faced near ruin.

By 1992/93 it became clear that Microsoft's Windows operating system was comprehensively winning in the battle for sales and take-up. Industry analysts continued to extol the contribution of the Macintosh, with Mac Review commenting later that "everyone in the know agreed that the Macintosh did more, it's just a question of price". It was this 'economic' problem that drove the wild growth of Windows and eventually stalled Apple in their battle for the personal computing market. It was also an observation that would prove to be true of Apple's innovations under Jobs' second tenure with the company. Even today the Macintosh only boasts around 12% of the US personal computer market, but it is known to dominate higher end purchases. By innovating with products including the iPod, iPhone and iPad, however, Apple has stolen an early march in many new markets with its unrivalled technologies and ability to influence consumer preferences.

By 1997, Jobs' career had gone full circle. NeXT (the company launched following his ousting from Apple, was bought out by Gil Amelio, Apple CEO at the time. This paved the way for a dramatic return to the company he co-founded some two decades earlier and in the years to follow he once again revolutionized and built a world-beating product line. Apple made a major realization in accepting the power of bundled software, and began rapidly acquiring consumer software titles such as Final Cut Pro. Altogether dozens of new products became available with the iMac (launched in 1998), including iMovie, iPhoto and GarageBand. Coupled with the iMac's aesthetically pleasing design and impressive performance this formula sent demand through the roof and almost a million units were shifted by the end of the year.

Not one to dwell on his success, Jobs pushed through a number of successful innovations in years to come. By 2006 the Mac product line of today had begun to take shape. Macintosh computers were now powered by Intel whilst the old PowerBook and Power Mac lines were retired in favor of the newer MacBook & MacBook Pro, along with the powerful work station solution, the Mac Pro.

The following years in Apple's growth were less about the Macintosh and more about an expansion into mobile consumer electronics. The iPod continued to be reinvented whilst the iPhone and iPad would change the face of the smartphone and tablet computer markets respectively. Complementary services such as iTunes and the App Store would also bring home the proof of a winning combination: design, performance & the widest range of software.

The humble Macintosh first introduced in '84 is now a pioneer in the desktop and portable computing markets through the iMac and MacBook Pro/Air models. It certainly has been an interesting and tumultuous journey!