Prior to the Macintosh launch on 24 January 1984, using a computer would have been a very different experience to what we know today. You would have accessed everything via MS-DOS or a command-line interpreter, typing basic commands after a C;_ prompt to get a program to run.
When Apple launched the Macintosh, it was the first time consumers were given a user-friendly means of interacting with a computer.
The Macintosh introduced consumers to the first graphical user interface. The interface was based on representations of familiar objects, a waste paper basket, for example. Users moved ‘files’ and ‘folders’ around a ‘desktop’. These items were dragged and dropped using a mouse.
[Read our History of Apple]
While this graphical user interface was inspired by a development environment at Xerox, Apple was the first company to feature it in a consumer product. Microsoft didn’t adopt a graphical user interface until late in 1985 when it launched Windows.
Thirty years later many of these same metaphors are still in use on both the Mac and on Windows PCs, although the iPad and iPhone use a more simplified interface, which is gradually making its own impact on the Mac. For example, the traditional way of scrolling up and down a screen has been turned on its head as the Mac operating system has adopted the iOS logic of pushing a page up in order to see what’s below.
There was more to the first Macintosh than the graphical user interface though. The 1984 Macintosh was also revolutionary because it bought the kind of performance that would normally have cost more than $10,000 down to a price that a consumer could afford. It was also the first mass-market computer to be networkable.
However, if you compared a Mac from 1984 and a Mac from today the differences would be astounding. The original Mac featured a 9-inch black-and-white display, the only ‘storage’ was a 3.5-in. floppy drive (which could store 400KB of data on each disk), and there was just 128k of RAM. The CPU was a Motorola 68000 processor running at 8MHz. It shipped with MacWrite, a word processing tool, and MacPaint, a drawing tool.
Compare that to the Mac Pro today, which can offer 1TB flash storage, 64GB RAM, and 12 processor cores, with each running at 2.7GHz (or 6 running at 3.5GHz).
Even the original iPhone when it launched in 2007 offered better specs than the original Macintosh, apart from the 3.5-inch display (compared to 9-inch). The original iPhone offered up to 8GB storage, a 412MHz CPU, and 128MB RAM.
The Mac: sparking revolutions
The original 128k Macintosh wasn’t the only Mac to cause a revolution in the world of computing. The iMac when it introduced in 1998 – the all-in-one with the translucent blue plastic shell – caused shockwaves in the industry and became a design icon. It is also credited with saving Apple from its death spiral (although Steve Jobs, who’d returned to the company a year previously also takes much of the credit for that).
When the original iMac shipped in August 1998 it offered a 233HMz PowerPC G3 processor, 32MB RAM, 4GB hard drive, and a 15-inch monitor. The biggest impact was probably the fact that it wasn’t beige, like every other PC of the day; instead the first iMac was made of Bondi blue-coloured translucent plastic.
The second thing the iMac heralded was the internet. As Apple’s first ‘i’ product, the I in iMac stood for internet and back in 1998 the internet was rapidly expanding and the first internet weblogs were beginning to appear. Apple billed the iMac as an easy way to get connected to the internet, in just two steps, according to an advertisement of the time. The iMac also introduced USB to the masses and killed the floppy drive.
Ten years later in 2008 another Mac made an impact. When Apple launched the super-slim MacBook Air in 2008 it was the world’s thinnest laptop. Following the launch the industry turned its attention from building netbooks (small, cheap but lacking power) to following Apple’s lead and building what became known as ‘ultrabook’ style computers. These super-slim laptops made fewer performance sacrifices than their netbook counterparts. Netbooks are long gone now, killed by the introduction of tablets such as the iPad.
What next for the Mac
Nowadays, Apple’s focus is on getting the maximum power from the minimum energy use, and because Apple makes both the hardware and the software it is in a good position to do this. A quick look at the innovations in the latest version of the Mac operating system, Mavericks, demonstrates perfectly the way Apple can take the new technologies offered by the latest Intel processors and maximise the way they are utilised by OS X. In the Windows world the software manufactures aim to utilise features offered by the various PC hardware manufacturers, and vice versa, but they don’t have the benefit of being under one roof, as is the case over at Apple’s campus.
Perhaps this is one reason why Mac sales are still on the increase today, while in the PC world sales are in the decline. This is partly due to the success of the iPhone and the Apple Stores. Many new users are coming to the Mac platform from iOS and as a result various elements of iOS are coming to the Mac operating system. Whether the two eventually merge remains to be seen, the iPad has already replaced the PC for some, but for many the extra power and the necessary applications offered by a Mac are irreplaceable.
One thing is clear. Apple will continue to build beautiful devices, whether Macs, iPads, iPhones, or some new category of device we can’t yet conceive of. We look to the next ten years with anticipation.