No two Apple products share a closer parallel history than the original iPhone and the original Macintosh computer. Each device was revolutionary for its time. The Macintosh, later known as the Macintosh 128K, was the first mainstream computer to include a graphical user interface similar to the ones we use today. The original Mac OS used movable application windows and included functions such as drag and drop. The 128K also popularized the use of a mouse and was notable for its compact dimensions. The iPhone was the first minicomputer to masquerade as a cellular telephone. It also had an intuitive, exclusively touch-based interface with limited physical buttons and no stylus–a common device for touch-based phones prior to the iPhone.
Both products were also guided by principles of easy-to-use software and cool design aesthetics, and by a willingness to sacrifice functionality (such as multitasking) to boost overall performance.
So how does Apple’s original landmark product, the Mac, compare to the current version of the iPhone? Let’s take a look.
A4 vs. Motorola 68000
At the heart of both the iPhone and the Macintosh are two revolutionary processors. The “insanely great” 128K housed the 8MHz Motorola 68000, considered a fast chip for its time because it could handle 16MB of memory at once. The Motorola 68000 went on to power many other Apple computers including the Macintosh 512K, the Macintosh Plus, and the Macintosh SE.
Today, Apple sees its mobile future in the company-designed 1GHz A4 system-on-a-chip (SoC) first introduced with the iPad. The A4 combines into one chip a low-powered central processing unit and a graphics processing unit that can render 720p video. Previously, both the CPU and the GPU were separate hardware pieces.
Apple has been steadily placing the A4 chip in all of its iOS-based devices including the iPhone 4, the iPad, the fourth-generation iPod Touch, and the newly announced Apple TV.
Logic Board Showdown
Zoom out from the processors and you can take a look at the logic board for each device. The iPhone 4’s logic board houses 512MB of RAM and either 16GB or 32GB of Flash storage (depending on the model), as well as the iPhone 4’s three-axis gyroscope and GPS chip, according to online DIY guide iFixit.
The 128K’s much larger logic board contains just 128KB of RAM, 64KB of read-only memory (ROM), and no internal storage. The Macintosh logic board measures 8.75 inches by 8.75 inches, according to Herb Johnson, a New Jersey-based classic computer reseller. To put that size into perspective, you could fit about 7.37 iPhone 4 units onto the surface area of the Macintosh 128K logic board.
In lieu of a hard drive, the 128K relied on 3.5-inch floppy disks that had a maximum memory of 400KB. A single disk had enough space to house the operating system (216KB), one application (MacPaint occupies 68KB), and some user-generated files.
“The 128K Macintosh without a hard drive was really torturous to use,” Vern Raburn, a former Microsoft executive, told PCWorld in an interview in 2004. “The good news was, at least the floppies were sturdy, because you put them in and out a lot.”
The iPhone 4 features a 3.5-inch-diagonal screen with 960-by-640-pixel resolution at 326 pixels per inch. The original Macintosh had a monochrome 9-inch-diagonal display with a 512-by-384-pixel-resolution bitmapped display. The iPhone 4’s screen is a liquid crystal display (LCD), while the 128K had a cathode-ray tube (CRT) fluorescent screen.
The iPhone 4 is a marvel of compact design, with almost no internal real estate wasted. In this photo, you can see the logic board just to the left of the iPhone 4’s 3.7V 1420 mAh lithium-polymer battery–a battery 19 percent larger than the one previous devices used.
A big selling point for the 128K was its compact size: It measured 13.6 inches high by 9.6 inches wide by 10.9 inches deep and was much smaller than the typically wide desktop computers produced in the 1980s. The IBM PC/XT Model 286 released four years later in 1987 was 19.6 inches wide by 16.1 inches tall, according to InfoWorld. In fact, the original Mac’s small footprint remains competitive by modern computer standards. Apple’s current 21.5-inch all-in-one iMac, for example, measures 17.75 inches high by 20.8 inches wide by 7.4 inches deep.
Inside, the 128K had a lot of extra space set aside to make accommodate the CRT monitor.
Both the iPhone operating system and the 128K OS launched without multitasking. When the 128K came out you could do only one thing at a time on the machine. If you wanted to switch applications you had to insert a 3.5-inch floppy to load the new program. Apple sacrificed a lot of components typical in other computers, including RAM and storage space, to create a machine that was compact and affordable (by Apple standards).
You don’t have to switch out disks on the iPhone, but until recently you could run only one application at a time on it. There were exceptions to that rule–for example, you could run the iPod and browse the Web simultaneously–but until iOS 4 launched in 2010, Apple didn’t permit you to run more than one third-party app at a time. Despite Apple’s recent changes, many observers have criticized the company for not supporting true multitasking on the iPhone.
The Macintosh appeared to sell well at first; Apple reported selling 70,000 units of the 128K in the first 100 days it was on the market, according to The New York Times. But ultimately, sales of the 128K declined due to its high price tag, as well as to the introduction of more-powerful Macintosh models such as the 512k. Despite Apple’s desire to create and sell an affordable computer, the 128K’s $2495 price tag was daunting at a time when the average U.S. worker’s income was $16,135.07 per year.
On a per byte basis, computer prices have dropped remarkably since 1984. Consider that in 2010, for just $4 more than the Mac 128K originally cost, you can buy a Mac Pro desktop computer armed with a 2.8GHz quad-cord Intel Xeon “Nehalem” processor, 3GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive.
Few products in history have inspired lines as long as those seen at Apple Stores worldwide during iPhone launch days. Apple has sold nearly 60 million iPhones since launching the device in 2007, according to company financial statements. In fact, the appetite for the iPhone appears to be increasing. Apple has sold more than 8 million iPhones in every financial quarter of 2010 so far, and it hasn’t sold less than 3 milion iPhones in a quarter since the one that ended in July 2008.