How the Mac made computing possible for ‘the rest of us’
Unveiled 30 years ago this month, the little, all-in-one Apple Mac succeeded in redefining home computing
A 1984 photograph of then Apple chief executive Steve Jobs (left) and president John Sculley presenting the new Macintosh desktop computer. photograph: ap
“Still standing at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. Happy Birthday Mac!” With that tweet, sent out by Tim Cook last weekend at a 30th birthday bash for the Mac computer at Apple headquarters, the company’s chief executive pinpointed one of the key factors that has led to the Mac’s three decades of success.
It is an idea that Apple founder Steve Jobs understood implicitly when he launched the little all-in-one computer on January 24th, 1984, with an outrageously expensive advertisement, from Alien and Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, that debuted during the Super Bowl.
The machine that would redefine home computing was marketed with the slogan: “The computer for the rest of us.”
Meaning, the computer for those without degrees in computing, or not brave enough to tackle the blinking, text-only command-line interface of the IBM machines of the day. (Many now assume the Orwellian-themed advertisement depicted a world dominated by Microsoft. But that era was yet to come – in the advertisement, it was IBM.)
Establishing a market
Now, when we all use computers and computer-based devices (many of them, such as the iPhone and iPad, made by Apple), it is easy to forgot there was a time when computing companies struggled to establish a market for home computers. In large part, this was because computers seemed made for people who, well, knew about computers. They did not seem to be for “the rest of us” – arts graduates or small-business owners, homemakers or teens, grandparents or graphic designers.
Most homes remained unconvinced they needed such a thing. But the Mac introduced a computer that could show text in the typefaces people knew from books and newspapers. Its screen could show pictures, rather than crude, pixellated approximations. Animations, even. It also had sound. Watch the video of a proud Jobs (in a bow tie back then) at the official Mac launch in Cupertino in 1984, and it still impresses. The crowd is genuinely astonished. Jobs basks in the adulation.
Over the next 30 years, the Mac would go through many iterations: expanding in memory and power; morphing into too many separate lines in the first post-Jobs era in the 1990s; turning multicoloured when he returned, and blue and white, then white, then aluminium. The desktop versions were poised on a stalk, then a stand. Laptops got smaller and thinner.
Though it always had a far smaller market share than less costly PCs, the Mac provided Apple with significantly larger margins. It retained a deeply loyal user base. And it still has respectable selling power. In results announced this week, Apple said it had sold 4.8 million Macs in the last quarter (ending December 28th), compared to 4.1 million in the same quarter the previous year.