Today is the 40th birthday of the Apple Computer Company, which is now the world’s most valuable firm, but back when they started up their world-changing venture in Los Altos, California, USA, on 1 April, 1976, they were just three guys with a dream – to make computers for the rest of us.
Incorporated as Apple Computer, Inc. on 3 January, 1977, Apple was renamed Apple Inc. on 9 January, 2007, to reflect its shifted focus toward consumer electronics. The technology firm has risen from early days in a Californian bedroom and Steve Jobs’ family’s garage to being worth more than £486 billion ($700 billion USD).
Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne (who was to leave the company before it became a major success) joined forces to make and sell the Apple I personal computer kit. Electronics engineer and computer programmer Wozniak (now affectionately known as Woz) was the man who single-handedly designed the first and much of the second early Apples of the 8-bit era. Jobs was to become the company’s now legendary (if occasionally controversial) inspirer and marketing guru. Wayne provided administrative oversight of the fledgling start-up. He also drew the first Apple logo, wrote the three men’s original partnership agreement, and wrote the Apple I manual.
The Apple I computer kits were first shown to the public at the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley, California. Strictly a hobbyist machine, the Apple I was sold simply as a motherboard (with CPU, RAM, and basic textual-video chips), which left the buyer to sort out a power supply, keyboard and monitor. Some even built their (now exceedingly rare and valuable) Apples into wooden boxes – kind of an Apple crate, in fact! The Apple I went on sale in July 1976 and was at $666.66 ($2,772 in 2016 dollars, adjusted for inflation).
Forty years after starting up, the company now has a massive space-age headquarters in Cupertino, California (with another being built) as well as more than 480 retail stores in 18 countries worldwide and reported income of more than $18 billion US dollars – £12.4 billion – for the first quarter of this year.
Come in number ][
The Apple I became the inspiration for one of the first mass-produced home, educational and business computer systems, the Apple II (or Apple ][ )range, and the shoulders upon which the later Macintosh range, still selling in its modern incarnation today, was to stand.
Of course no company has ever had a straight line course to success, and Apple had its own ups and downs, including problems with machines such as the Apple III and sales of the later incarnations of the Mac itself in the 1990s.
The Macintosh 128k was introduced in 1984 as ‘the computer for the rest of us’. It was Steve Jobs’ pet project– a friendly alternative to the corporate, user-unfriendly, business machines, typified by the DOS-based IBM PC. The ‘Mac’, as it has been affectionately known ever since, despite then being relatively underpowered, and expensive, built upon and popularised the WIMP concepts (Windows, Icons, Mouse, Pointer) which have since inspired other companies. It was the beginning of a revolution that brings us to where personal computing is today.
Of mice and men
It’s been a decades-long roller-coaster ride that almost came off the rails in the late 1980s-1990s, when Steve Jobs was pushed out of the company in the mid-1980s after the Mac range struggled and he attempted to oust then chief executive John Sculley.
That later period also saw faltering sales, too many similar models and miniscule market share compared to IBM PC’s and the myriad cheap clones which flooded the market, but after some years spent wandering in the wilderness (Pixar and NeXT, actually) Jobs returned in triumph in 1997 at a time when Apple was suffering a financial crisis, and bringing British design guru Sir Jony Ive’s (now Sir Jony for services to design), launched the colourful and fruity iMac the following year.
Years of innovation and style icons
The iMac (aka iMac G3), effectively a return to the original Mac, albeit in a colourful and more powerful new incarnation, as the ‘computer for the rest of us’, started to turn the whole ship around, and became phenomenally popular, but was to be just the first in a string of hardware products that includes successor LCD-screen based iMacs, Power Macs and Mac Pro’s, the iPod, iPhone and iPad, as well as the iTunes Store that cemented Apple’s place as an industry leader. The non-computer products have helped buil wider acceptance and interest in the Macs, especially the new-generation iMacs, and so the wheel turns.
In the late 20th and early 21st century, the company that was born in a bedroom and a garage and that eventually gained a remarkable reputation for refining existing technologies, adding inspiration and top design, and making them mainstream, has gone from strength to strength.
The company recently revealed that there are now more than one billion active Apple devices being used around the world.
End of an era
Sadly, the inspirational marketing genius and saviour of Apple, Steve Jobs, passed away in 2011 of pancreatic cancer; the company might have wobbled a somewhat then, but has since carried steadily on with new CEO Tim Cook at the helm.
Engineer and programmer Steve Wozniak, creator of the first Apples and pioneer of the personal computer revolution, is still about, doing his own thing and being surprisingly accessible through his website www.woz.org and social media. Since being one of the top partners at Apple in the early years, he’s still technically a stipended employee and is also an Apple shareholder, but has gone on to run several companies and other ventures as well as working in academia.
Today, forty years after the firm was official incorporated as The Apple Computer Company Apple has changed the world and the way we see, hear and communicate with it.
And what about the Mac, the computer which built on Apple’s early success, struggled for a while and has now become ubiquitous? It may not be so obvious as the iPhone in millions of hands and the iPad in millions of homes, but since the arrival of OS X in 2001 there has been a steady increase in sales in its hi-tech iMacs and MacBooks in spite of a global drop in PC sales. The wheel turns.
Where the future of Apple lies has still to be determined. There’s a good chance they’ll lead the way in technology for the rest of us, one way or another. The iWatch, for one latest example, has surely been a sign of the times. Technology is all around us, worn by us, and in some cases, is inside us.
In the words of Steve Jobs, though, as long as they can keep on coming up with just ‘one more thing’, they’ll continue to be the amazing success that seemed so far away and so unlikely all those years ago.
Happy Birthday Apple, and many happy returns of the day.
Retro Computing News is produced and edited using a 2008 Mac Pro 8-core. Our editor and publisher Stuart Williams has been a Mac user since 1995, and being of a retro disposition, is currently in the process of acquiring an Apple IIe for the very first time.