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The Apple Mac’s 30th anniversary: Marking three decades of tech disruption

Sitting third row centre at the Flint Centre in Cupertino on 24 January 1984, I had no idea that I was witnessing history.

Steve Jobs came to the stage, took a white sheet off the Mac, and it said hello. In those days there were only a few of us with the title Industry Analyst, and most of the assembled press were business reporters with local papers, with a few national papers and magazines sprinkled in. The actual unveiling of the Mac took place at Apple's annual shareholder meeting, so the majority of people in the audience were investors and holders of Apple's stock. But all of us were intrigued by what Apple had up its sleeve, thanks to the "1984" ad that ran during the Super Bowl over in the US, two days earlier.

So, today marks the 30th anniversary of the Mac's introduction, and it's worth reflecting on how this computer has influenced the world of computing since its debut. In fact, since I am the only analyst from the event still working in the industry, I did a lot of interviews with newspapers, magazines, and bloggers leading up to this anniversary. I told them all that while the IBM PC clearly set the ball in motion for the PC revolution, it was the Mac that drove much of the real innovation in personal computing.

The Mac introduced us to the first true commercial version of a graphical user interface and mouse, and popularised the 3.5in floppy disk. But the combined package of the OS design, developer program, and innovative hardware also made it feasible to launch some very important advancements that drove the PC market forward and in some cases even disrupted some industries.


The first key market the Mac disrupted was the world of publishing. Jobs actually set this in motion when he introduced the first desktop laser printer even though the Apple board was not behind it. Jobs was so enamoured with its small size and printing capabilities and the fact that he could offer it for about $7,000 (£4,200). In 1984, the cheapest laser printers cost at least $50,000 (£30,000) and were the size of a small closet. Ironically, Jobs did not last long enough at Apple to be part of the publishing revolution his laser printer helped create. He was ousted in mid-1984, just before a guy named Paul Brainerd, the CEO of Pagemaker, showed Apple CEO John Sculley and his team a product called, well, Pagemaker. This was the first WYSIWYG program of its kind and as Brainerd pointed out at the time, the Mac made it possible for him to create such a product, ushering in the era of desktop publishing.

An interesting side note to this was that in a report on printers in early 1983, after I saw the Canon laser printer engine, I wrote that I believed this product would someday let people publish documents from the desktop. It was that line in this report that got the attention of Apple and many other companies, and it allowed me to get involved in a lot of DTP projects during those days.

The Future of computing

The second thing Apple and the Mac shook up was the future of computing. In 1987, Apple released a highly futuristic video (below) called the Knowledge Navigator. John Sculley and then Apple Fellow Alan Kay had been brainstorming and crafted a vision for the future of personal computing that encompassed the Mac's UI along with voice commands, multimedia, and new forms of displays. At the time this video was viewed with amazement and dismay as many detractors just did not see how it could happen.


The Mac also disrupted the education space by introducing multimedia to the personal computing landscape. In late 1989, John Sculley took the bold move of integrating a CD-ROM drive into all Macs. The first drives were true CD-ROMs, or read-only, but the following year they were made read/write and the floppy was removed altogether. Apple and some software developers used the CD-ROM and Mac software to create documents that had text, images, and even some simple video, turning the Mac into a multimedia creation machine. More importantly, it influenced the future of all PC designs and made multimedia computing a normal part of the computing experience.

I was very privileged to be involved in the UCLA multimedia conference in 1990 where 35 top leaders from the world of PCs, consumer electronics, entertainment, and education met to discuss how multimedia could impact their industries. Participants at this conference were people like Alan Kay, Nicholas Negroponte of MIT's Media Lab, Stuart Brand, John Sculley, former Bell Labs president Bob Lucky, Nolan Bushnell, father of the Atari computer, and Trip Hawkins, founder of EA Games. Its guiding light was Dr Martin Greenberger, who piloted the conference and helped the industry define the role multimedia would play in all of these industries in the future.

The iMac and beyond

Then in 1998, after Steve Jobs had been back at Apple for a year, Apple created the first all-in-one PC called the iMac. They came in candy colours and were a big hit. The iMac has evolved over time, but it clearly introduced the concept of the all-in-one PC and surprisingly this is the only desktop form factor that is seeing any growth now.

In early 2001, Steve Jobs took the stage at Macworld and declared that he wanted to "make the Mac the centre of our digital lifestyles." With the introduction of the iPod later in the year, the Mac became the core of our digital lifestyle while the iPod was its mobile extension. This concept really took off in 2004 with the debut of a PC version of iTunes.

That continued with the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. Although the GUI (and mouse) were invented at Xerox PARC, it was Apple that commercialised it and almost all personal computing products and most smartphones and tablets have benefited from the Mac's legacy.

The Mac is now 30 years old, and in its 30 years it has had quite an influence on billions of people's lives in one way or another via its extensions in desktops, laptops, smartphones, and more recently tablets. It will be interesting to see what other Mac extensions or iterations Apple has up its sleeve in the future, and whether the Mac's legacy can live on in other products it creates.