Back before Apple Inc. made computers that fit in your pocket, it made computers that fit on your desk. Some were big-box machines, others were not so portable portables and still others were — literally — cube-shaped. But the first Macintosh , the one that started Apple’s rise to iconic status, is to the computer industry what the wheel was to cave men.
It was launched during the Super Bowl on Jan. 22, 1984 — in a minute-long commercial directed by Ridley Scott that became a classic of its own — and went on sale two days later. It was the first of a string of Apple computers that would captivate users for the next quarter of a century.
Much has changed in technology over the course of the past 25 years, with Apple often at the center of the advances we now take for granted. To celebrate the Mac’s 25th anniversary, I looked back over the years and picked 10 Apple computers that altered the company’s course and changed the way the world works and communicates. My first pick, naturally, is the first Mac.
The Macintosh (1984) The original Mac, with its compact all-in-one design, innovative mouse and user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI), changed the computer industry. Like the wheel, the Mac just made things convenient for the rest of us.
Most computers in the early 1980s were controlled exclusively through text commands, limiting their audience to true geeks. True, Apple had released a GUI with the introduction of the $9,995 Lisa in 1983, but the Mac, priced at $2,495, was the first computer to capture the attention of everyday people, who could now use a computer without learning an entirely cryptic command-line language.
The mouse, coupled with a user interface that closely followed the physical “desktop” metaphor, allowed users to tackle tasks unheard of for rival computers using its two included applications: MacWrite and MacPaint. Thus was born desktop publishing. Coupled with Adobe Systems Inc.’s laser printer, the Mac brought about WYSIWYG design, allowing artists to output precisely what was on the Mac’s 9-in. black-and-white screen.
In case you forgot, the first Mac came with 128KB of RAM and zipped along with an 8-MHz processor. Reviewers were not always friendly, but the stories of those who helped bring it to life, collected at Folklore.org, offer a fascinating look at the first computer to capture mainstream attention.
The PowerBook 100 series (1991) On Oct. 21, 1991, Apple unveiled its new portable lineup, which included the PowerBook 100, 140 and 170. These “good, better and best” models, the culmination of a joint venture between Apple and Sony Corp., featured a 10-in. color screen and yielded a design that became the blueprint for all subsequent laptop designs from all computer manufacturers.
Apple’s earlier attempt at a portable Macintosh — aptly named the Macintosh Portable — weighed in at a not-so-portable 16 lb. But the Macintosh Portable did introduce the trackball to mobile computing, in this case located to the right of the keyboard.
The PowerBook line placed the keyboard back toward the LCD screen, allowing room for users to rest their palms. It also conveniently allowed Apple to locate the trackball at the center of the palm rest. That made it easy for either left- or right-handed users to operate the machine.
The PowerBook series also introduced Target Disk Mode, which allowed the laptop to be used as a hard drive when connected to another Macintosh using the built-in SCSI port. It also came in a fashionable dark gray, breaking from the standard beige of the PC industry.
The PowerBook 100 series brought in $1 billion in revenue for Apple in its first year, and its impact is still felt to this day. If you’re using a laptop with a trackball or track pad between your palms, you can thank the PowerBook 100 design. (If you’ve got a track pad, you can thank the PowerBook 500. In 1991, that particular model was still three years away.)
The Power Mac G3 (1997) The Power Macintosh G3 represented a new beginning for Apple because it the first computer unveiled after the return of CEO Steve Jobs, who had immediately canceled Apple’s cloning licenses with third-party computer manufacturers. He also slashed Apple’s product line from dozens of models to just a few core products.
The Power Mac G3 was the beginning of Apple’s steps toward the use of industry-standard components to cut costs, and Motorola Inc.’s G3 chip represented a performance improvement over earlier chip sets while using far less power.
The first Power Mac G3 came in beige, with chip speeds starting at 233 MHz. And the G3 chip set became the foundation for Apple’s entire computer lineup until the introduction of the even faster G4 processor two years later. In fact, variants of the G3 would be used by Apple until 2003.
The iMac (1998) The iMac is the computer most credited with reversing Apple’s fortunes, its distinctive looks and playful colors instantly finding a place on consumer desks and in pop-culture history. In terms of specifications, the iMac featured the by-then-ubiquitous G3 processor, but unlike other Apple computers, it featured no legacy ports.
The iMac instead relied on Universal Serial Bus, a technology that offered plug-and-play ease for connecting peripherals and hot-swappable capabilities. Despite criticism about the lack of legacy ports, the USB market boomed around the iMac, and most early USB products came in white plastics and translucent colors that matched the iMac’s style. (The translucent color craze didn’t stop there; everything from USB hubs to George Foreman grills came in bright iMac-like hues.)
Another controversial change was the iMac’s lack of a floppy drive. It was the first computer to drop support for floppy drives as a standard feature, the same technology that the original Macintosh had boosted 14 years earlier. But it did offer a 4GB hard drive and a 15-in. color screen — all for $1,299.
The original iMac’s popularity had little to do with its specifications and everything to do with its cute, space-egg shape. Suddenly, the computer wasn’t just a beige box relegated to the home office; it was a suitable for showing off in the living room as a design element. Apple used the compact, all-in-one design to its advantage, even releasing a <exte