30 years and Apple is still hip

By Gery L. Deer Deer in Headlines

January 31, 2014

On Jan. 24, 1984, Steve Jobs introduced the world to the first Apple Macintosh computer. Just two days earlier, the famous “1984-themed” Ridley Scott Apple commercial ran during the Super Bowl battle between the Washington Redskins and the Los Angeles Raiders.

Apple already had a few other products out there, the Apple II, the Apple III (which pretty much flopped) and the Apple LISA, designed for business use. But at more than $10,000 each, most companies didn’t see the value in the LISA and it was tanking as well. Apple was in trouble and Jobs’ latest masterpiece almost didn’t happen.

But as radio commentator Paul Harvey would have said, you already know, “the rest of the story.” The Macintosh became the tough act to follow, but follow they did and the little, beige box with the friendly, “Hello” on its screen changed the way computers are built today. Thirty years later, Steve Jobs is gone and Apple’s shine might have dulled a bit, but they certainly set the stage for the innovation of personal technology. Of course, the script is constantly being re-written.

According to the website, EveryMac.com, the original Apple Macintosh (128k) featured an 8 MHz 68000 processor, 128k (128,000 bytes) of RAM (Random Access Memory), and a 400k disk drive, packaged up in a small, all-in-one, portable case with a 9-inch monochrome display.

To put that into modern tech perspective, the iPhone 3, boasted 62-times the memory of the first Mac computer and processing speeds that make the original desktop look like a pocket calculator. The video and audio of the iPhone are superior even to most television cameras of the 1980s and weighs in at less than 5 ounces. It’s safe to say, technology has certainly come a long way.

The concept of the “Mac” was simple, to get people focused on using the computer rather than just trying to get it to work properly. Sporting a new graphical user interface (“borrowed” from Xerox copiers) the user no longer needed to know how to use DOS (Disk Operating System). Clicking a mouse button instead of keying in code gave the computer an approachable appeal.

Most of the Mac’s other innovative features became standard on many subsequent computers. Much of that original technology is outdated now, like the 3 ½-inch floppy disk, but it was a big deal when the average hard disk was the size of a shoebox.

When it was released Apple’s largest competitor was not IBM, but the Commodore 64. Using the household television for a monitor, and equipped with a game port and external storage drives, Commodore’s second generation home PC was less than $200. Until the Mac, the Atari 2600 game console was Commodore’s only competition.

Although the Commodore had a tight grip on the home PC market of the day, it was still less user-friendly than the Mac. To the general public, most of whom had little understanding of even the most basic computer terminology, the Apple Macintosh shot to the top of the sales charts.

Here was a machine that the average middle-class family could use and afford. It wasn’t like buying a car; more like buying a television. As the Mac grew more popular, other computer companies followed suit with graphical interface systems, mouse control and continual upgrades to memory, processing speed and audio-visual quality.

Since Microsoft introduced the first independent version of Windows 1.0 in November of 1985, the self-segregation between “PC” and Apple users has grown into a cultural divide. Windows users are seen to be uptight, stuffed-shirt business types, while Apple invites the persona of the artist, undisciplined and burning their neckties in the streets.

Regardless of the cultural differences, Apple set the stage for the home computer market and continues to offer the “hip and cool” product line. No one knows what will be next for Apple, but it’s clear the company’s innovative reputation has suffered since the death of its most influential founder. Still, there are plenty of innovations waiting to be made in the world of personal technology and it’s unlikely the company will lose the loyal following of users anytime soon.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and owner of Deer Computer Consulting, Ltd. in Jamestown. More at www.deercomputerconsulting.com.