Apple is celebrating the day 30 years ago that the first Macintosh said hello to the world.
“It was approachable and friendly, starting with the smiley face that greeted you,” Apple wrote on its site, to celebrate the anniversary. “There were folders that looked like file folders and a trash can for throwing things away. And with the click of a mouse, you could suddenly do the unimaginable. You could move things around on the screen, change the way they looked, combine words with images and sounds, and create like never before.”
The Macintosh put the innovations of Apple’s Lisa personal computer—which had a mouse and was the first personal computer with a graphical user interface (GUI), or more plainly, a screen that showed icons and images and not just text—and put them into a smaller box than most desktop computers of the day with a price tag of $2,495.
“Macintosh has four-voice sound and speech built-in,” Steve Jobs, dressed in a black suit and green bow tie, slowly told his audience at the launch event, so the reality of those details might fully sink in.
“It communicates with you on a high-definition, super-crisp, bit-map, 9-inch black and white screen,” Jobs continued, “which has over twice the number of dots on its screen of any current-generation personal computer. You have to see this display to believe it. It’s incredible.”
When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, a line was drawn in the sand that day between everything that came before and after it. Was the same true of the Macintosh’s introduction?
“Was it innovative? Absolutely. Did the market take notice? Absolutely. But it took some time for the technology to make its way into users’ lives,” said Van Baker, a research vice president with Gartner.
“Really, I think the 1984 ad had more of an impact than the product did,” said Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies, referring to a commercial Apple aired during the 1984 Super Bowl, referencing the George Orwell book.
In the commercial, ranks of zombielike figures with gray uniforms and shaved heads marches with dead eyes toward a dictatorial talking head on a huge auditorium screen. In a simultaneous cut-in scene—a woman carrying a sledgehammer, wearing a tight-fitting track shorts and tank-top combination that today looks like a Hooters uniform, races away from pursuing guards. When she reaches the auditorium where the zombies are all staring blankly at the talking head, she heaves the hammer at the screen like an Olympic competitor, shattering the display.
“On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh, and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984,’” says a voice-over as the words scroll up the screen.
Kay admits that such celebrations of Apple are always a little spoiled for him by the fact that Apple stole the mouse from Xerox PARC.
Apple Marks Mac’s 30th Anniversary as Observers Look to the Future
“But sure. Any company that has been alive for 30 years should certainly celebrate. But they also have to keep looking over their shoulder. That whole fool me twice adage,” Kay says, referring to the roughly one decade that Microsoft dominated (“we’re talking like 95 percent market share, to Apple’s 4 or 5 percent market share”) after Microsoft introduced personal computers with a mouse and GUI.
Apple came back, after nearly losing everything, recalled Kay, who used to advise Apple to offer something to enable it to compete at the lower end of the market.
“It’s been a tremendously vindicating story for them. … The only caveat is, don’t let it happen again.”
Baker says the high end is where Apple wants to play, and that’s fine, as the company is content not to dominate the PC market.
“You have to pick and choose your battles,” said Baker. “They only play on the high end because the market expects Apple to make 35 points a margin, and you can’t do that in the mainstream PC space.”
Plus, any talk of a post-PC era “couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said Baker, pointing to the synergies Apple has created between its PCs and its tablets, and the environment of making whatever content a user loves available from whichever Apple device is handy at whatever time of day.
“And there are still lots of opportunities to innovate in the PC space, [such as] gestural controls, voice controls,” said Baker. “And Apple can afford to do some things that the mainstream PC guys can’t afford to do.”
The people who complain about Apple’s closed system tend to be technologists, adds Baker. “The average person likes Apple products because they’re simple to use, elegant in their design and they just do what they’re supposed to.”
Dave Winer, who falls into the technologist camp, developed the software that ran on the first Macintosh. In a blog post written as part of Cnet’s coverage of Apple’s anniversary, Winer wrote that Apple’s closed system proved a hindrance to all the Mac could have been, and still holds back Apple and innovation.
“The web should have happened on the Mac. We had the best software, the best developers, the best platform, no 640k limit. … We had it all, but the Apple culture wouldn’t let us use it,” wrote Winer.
“I love the Mac,” he continued. “I love what it did for me, it gave me a lot of freedom I wouldn’t have gotten any other way. However, it stopped short of where it could have gone, and in doing so, I hope serves as a lesson for future generations of technologists.”