Memorable products from a memorable CEO
Apple is more than just Steve Jobs, but that doesn’t change the fact that the company did great things when he was at the helm. Here are a few memorable products that Apple produced during Jobs’s tenure as both co-founder and CEO of Apple.
Introduced in 1977 at the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco, the Apple II was the follow-up to its less successful predecessor. Unlike the Apple I, the Apple II featured a color display, 8-bit processing, expandable memory, game controller ports, and a floppy drive. It was the company’s first mass-produced computer, and was a long-term success—Apple sold the Apple II series for more than 15 years, until it was discontinued in 1993.
While Steve Wozniak engineered the computer, Steve Jobs’s design influence was evident. Jobs wanted the Apple II to be sleek and appeal to everyday consumers. The plastic enclosure did just that, setting the Apple II apart from the sheet-metal look of early PCs.
The first LaserWriter marked Apple’s entry into the laser printer marketplace in 1985. With a resolution of 300 dpi, a printing speed of 8 ppm, and implementation of Adobe’s PostScript language, the LaserWriter sparked the desktop publishing revolution of the late 1980s.
Apple’s graphic design dominance can be attributed to the LaserWriter, which made it possible for designers to quickly and cheaply print out accurate, professional-looking copies of their work. The LaserWriter was also the first networked printer; 30 to 40 Macs could share a single printer. It effectively changed the way publishers and designers worked, making it possible to condense dozens of hours of work into minutes.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, he needed a product that made a statement. That product was the iMac, which debuted in 1998. It set standards for industrial design, as well as triggered a copycat trend in other consumer products. It also introduced the Apple branding trend of the “i” prefix in the names of other products. Its lack of a floppy drive forced users to rely on the Internet, which sent a message that Apple is willing to eschew aging technologies for the cutting edge.
Most importantly, the iMac was the Mac that saved Apple; it not only helped Apple turn a profit for the first time in three years, it also stood as a symbol of Apple’s newfound commitment to consumer-friendly innovation.
Mac OS X
Though Apple’s original Mac OS trumped its contemporaries in ease of use, it became apparent in the 1990s that it was falling behind on technology. Features of competing operating systems, like preemptive multitasking and protected memory, were the envy of many Mac users. Apple began numerous projects to modernize the Mac OS, but those projects were eventually canceled as Apple’s leadership looked to the outside for a successor to the Mac OS.
In 1996, the company purchased Jobs’s Next Computer and used its NextStep operating system as the basis for what would become Mac OS X. Released in March 2001, Mac OS X’s underpinnings were based on the venerable BSD open-source operating system and finally brought those modern features to the Mac. It would go on to become the foundation not only for the Mac OS we all use today, but also, eventually, for the iOS mobile platform that powers Apple’s iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
If you had to pick a single Apple product that jumpstarted the enormous success the company enjoys today, the original iPod is a solid bet. While the reinvention of the Mac line after Jobs’s return started the company on the track to stability, it was the iPod that turned Apple into something quite different.
As with so many of Apple’s products, the iPod didn’t pioneer a field, but it did become the exemplar. With a 5GB internal hard drive (most competitors were using flash memory measured in megabytes), a simple user interface, and integration with iTunes, the iPod was the first “must-have” Apple product coveted by consumers at large. Successive revisions and additional models like the iPod mini, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle only stoked the flames, and it’s a testament to the device’s popularity that only a decade after its release are its sales even beginning to decline.
Something eventually had to unseat the iPod, so why not a product from Apple itself? But the company didn’t simply produce a better media player, it aimed for a whole new market: the smartphone. And in doing so, it redefined the smartphone category to appeal not just to business users but to the average consumer.
With its by-now typical marriage of software and hardware, Apple produced the device that would launch a thousand competitors. Not only did it do media playback, it also handled email with aplomb, sported the best Web browser arguably ever seen on a mobile device, and, eventually, kicked off an app development spree that is still going to this day.
These days, most of us take the purchase of digital goods for granted. But there was a time not so long ago that, when you wanted the latest album from your favorite band you had to go to the record store and see if they had it in stock, or order it from Amazon and wait three days for it to show up. Like so many of Apple’s products, the iTunes Store wasn’t the first online music store, but it did end up being the best. It eventually expanded to include TV shows, movies, books, and iOS apps, and served as the model for the Mac App Store.
Most people accept that compromises need to be made with an ultra lightweight laptop, but with the first 13-inch MacBook Air released in 2008, the compromises were too great, especially performance-wise. However, Apple and Steve Jobs had a vision for the MacBook Air, and with the release of the 11-inch model in 2010 and the Core i5 models released this year, that vision because clear to the general public. It’s the ideal ultra-portable Mac.
Not every product from Apple has been a winner. The G4 Cube is often stated as an example of an overly-designed product. Fortune reported that Steve Jobs gathered the MobileMe team for a severe tongue-lashing after the service went live in 2008. Apple thought a buttonless iPod shuffle was a good idea, but a year after it was released, Jobs admitted that, "people clearly missed the buttons." And the first Apple TV carries the stigma of being called a "hobby" product by Jobs.
Have a thought on Apple's greatest hits and misses under Jobs? Post it in the comments section below.
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