Apple: Down To The Core

September 17th, 2015 by


A closer look at the beginnings of the technology giant, Apple. 

It may be hard to believe, but there was once a world without Apple. From computers designed to look like typewriters through to pocket-sized MP3 players, the 39-year history of one of the world’s foremost computing and technology brands is a fascinating one to chart.

The first device to bear the Apple name was the unimaginatively-titled Apple I. Priced at $666.66, this timber-framed device was hand built by members of the Jobs and Wozniak families – the two co-founders of this Californian start-up enterprise. One of those early 1976 machines would be worth almost a million dollars today as only 200 were ever built. The following year’s Apple II bore a much stronger resemblance to modern desktop devices, with color graphics and a whole 64K of RAM in flagship models. These specifications were far ahead of their time, particularly compared to the 16K RAM chip that the Sinclair Spectrum debuted with five years later.

Compared to its predecessor, the Apple II was a huge success, selling six million units over a 16-year period. However, it wasn’t until 1984 that Apple introduced what would become their trademark: a non-upgradable single-box machine with an integral screen. The Macintosh was the affordable alternative to a high-end business machine called Lisa, reflecting a schism at the time between Apple’s two founders. While Lisa cost four times as much and targeted business users, the Macintosh’s simplicity and pioneering one-button mouse became the breakthrough product. It was also the first mainstream computer to use a graphical user interface, avoiding the text-based OS found among rival PCs at the time. Despite the absence of a hard drive, the Macintosh represented a genuine alternative to MS-DOS; indeed, Windows 3.1 and all subsequent Microsoft OS versions borrowed heavily from Apple’s GUI.

Apple’s one-box computers continued throughout the 1990s, though few people will remember the bronze-coated Anniversary Mac or the flimsy Power Mac G4 Cube. Instead, Apple became synonymous with the iMac. By hiding the processors and circuitry within a pastel-colored CRT monitor, Apple created a machine as at home in an advertising agency’s offices as a teenager’s bedroom. Powered from 2001 onwards by Mac OS X – which survives to this day – the iMac and its iBook laptop cousin were the first examples of Apple’s refusal to mimic PCs by placing function ahead of form.

It’s unusual for a company to successfully diversify beyond its core industry, but Apple achieved this in 2001 by supporting the fast-growing digital music industry. Just as Sony pioneered the concept of listening to music on the move with the Walkman cassette player a generation earlier, so Apple brought the concept of portable digital music to the masses with its first-generation iPod. The company would also spearhead the tablet revolution a decade later by creating the iPad, while the iPhone made its debut in 2007 as an alternative to the then-ubiquitous BlackBerry and Nokia devices that dominated the market.

Today, Apple is renowned for its marketing as much as its products, with minimalist high street stores everywhere from New York City to London. The iTunes store is one of the leading sources of digital media, having expanded far beyond its original musical remit to supply films, TV series and even apps for the iOS smartphone platform. While Android now dominates the mobile phone market, no self-respecting company can afford to create an Android app without an Apple counterpart, in the same way that web designers need to consider Apple’s Safari browser as much as Firefox or Chrome when beta-testing HTML coding.

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