Anniversary: ​​The Apple Mac is celebrating its 40th birthday

Today is January 24, 2024, which for all Apple nerds means that today marks the 40th anniversary of the original Macintosh. The computer, which was called “Mac” at least internally from the beginning and was later called “Macintosh 128k” or “Mac 128k” to distinguish it from newer models, formed the foundation for further developments of Apple computers. Even today, Apple's computer product line is called "Mac". I have brought together parts of their 40-year history for this article. Do you have any special memories of any of the historic Macs? Then feel free to leave a comment!

The Apple Macintosh Plus from 1986 in the form factor of the original Macintosh from 1984 next to the iconic iMac G3 from 1998 in the Museum of Applied Arts in Cologne (MAKK). Source: Johannes Domke for Sir Apfelot
The Apple Macintosh Plus from 1986 in the form factor of the original Macintosh from 1984 next to the iconic iMac G3 from 1998 in the Museum of Applied Arts in Cologne (MAKK). Source: Johannes Domke for Sir Apfelot

Before the Macintosh: Apple computers, Lisa and Co.

The Macintosh was far from the first computer released by Apple. The Apple I, which was soldered together in Steve Jobs' parents' house, began in 1976. The Apple II followed in 1977 and the Apple II Plus at the end of the decade. The 1980s started with the Apple III and its Plus version as well as the Apple IIe and the Apple IIe Advanced. At the time, however, Steve Jobs focused on developing the Apple Lisa, which was first released in 1983, but soon moved to the Macintosh team.

According to the team's idea, the Macintosh was supposed to turn the computer world on its head and offer completely new possibilities. When developing the graphical software interface, Steve Jobs insisted on the implementation of certain elements in many places - an attractive calculator program, different fonts, different diagrams, simple image editing, etc. Unfortunately, the hardware was saved here and there, which made the Macintosh When it started on January 24, 1984, it wasn't exactly a working machine. The marketing around it was a real eye-catcher. 

Commercial: "So that 1984 doesn't become like '1984'!"

Even today, everyone who knows even a little bit about Apple history is familiar with the commercial with which Apple announced the launch of the Macintosh at the Super Bowl in 1983, among other things. “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984'“, it says. Beforehand, we see gray, bald people marching onto a huge screen, sitting down in front of it and listening to a man proclaiming his dystopian visions like a dictator.

But in between you can always see a woman, a hammer thrower in the truest sense of the word, running into the meeting room with a large sledgehammer. She spins a few times to gain momentum, then launches the striking tool in a straight line into the oversized screen. A dazzling light appears and the bald, uniform mass in front of the screen is illuminated. Initially celebrated, the commercial later received criticism because (r)real skinheads were probably hired for the gathering of the uniformed extras.

The commercial almost didn't make it to the 1983 Super Bowl. Although the two co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were enthusiastic about it, the board of directors didn't like the spot directed by Ridley Scott. The advertising company Chiat/Day hired for this purpose was supposed to sell the advertising space at the Super Bowl again. Of the 90 seconds that were initially booked, only 30 seconds could be returned. This is how Apple was able to advertise the Macintosh - but with an advertising film shortened to 60 seconds.

Steve Jobs presents the Apple Macintosh

On January 24, 1984 the time had come. Steve Jobs introduced the new Macintosh with an extensive stage production. In addition to a demonstration of the hardware and software, the price was also announced. What's interesting is that they were able to push the price down so much that it was $1000 less than the Apple Lisa 2. While the latter cost $3.495, the Macintosh was available for as little as $2.495. In addition to the Macintosh development itself, this internal price competition also brought tensions into the company that ultimately led to Steve Jobs being fired.

The Apple Macintosh caused internal power struggles during its development. These were also sold on the market from publication on January 24, 1984, due to the price difference shown.
The Apple Macintosh caused internal power struggles during its development. These were also sold on the market from publication on January 24, 1984, due to the price difference shown.

The almost half-hour presentation by Steve Jobs was followed by a question-and-answer session with the Macintosh team (see second video after this paragraph). Not only were some very critical and technically specific questions answered or creatively averted, but functions of the Mac as well as its system and programs were also repeatedly demonstrated. All in all, a new era of computer use was to be ushered in - or more precisely, the first era of computers used on a large scale in private households. For this purpose, an extensively usable graphical user interface was used and its use was simplified with the mouse as a second input device alongside the keyboard.

Here is a brief highlight of the presentation of the first Apple Macintosh:

Here the entire one Keynote including demos and question-and-answer session:

Steve Jobs has to go and Apple is spiraling out of control

If you follow Apple's history, you have to observe two developments after the release of the Macintosh. Just one year later, in 1985, Steve Jobs left the company he co-founded after internal differences. To understand Apple's development in the late 1990s, one should follow both the Apple company's further product decisions and the path of Steve Jobs from 1985 onwards. For the sake of simplicity, I refer you to Steve Jobs' biography (see below) as well as relevant documentaries and films for the overall picture. Below are just a few brief comments for the overall picture.

Apple abandoned the Lisa line of computers and later the Apple line because of the success of the Macintosh. The Lisa 2 was only sold until 1986, the Apple IIc Plus was offered until 1990. Even before the turn of the decade and especially afterwards, the range of products on offer became quite confusing. In 1990 alone, the Macintosh IIfx, the Macintosh Classic, the Macintosh LC and the Macintosh IIsi were released. A rather confusing offer for the end consumer market. But by 1997 everything became even more complicated. In addition to a wide variety of computers (including Power Macintosh and Performa) and laptops (PowerBook), there were digital cameras, a Game console, speakers, mice, monitors, modems, the Newton PDA, printers, scanners, etc.

And while Apple was bogged down trying to get involved in every possible digital market, Steve Jobs was building a new computer company: NeXT. Because of the accusation of stealing trade secrets, he had to agree with Apple not to have his own computer model until mid-1987 and to show Apple the prototypes until then, but that didn't stop Steve Jobs. The NeXT workstations were primarily used in scientific areas, and the hardware area was sold in 1993. From then on until 1997, the focus was on software. At the same time, Jobs invested in Pixar in 1986, became a billionaire with its IPO and also held numerous Disney shares.

Steve Jobs returns to Apple and cleans up

Things were going so badly for Apple that they saw the need to take advantage of NeXT's software advantage. And so Steve Jobs' new company was bought out by his old company in 1996. He himself only returned to work in an advisory capacity, became part of the board in August 1997 and was able to snatch the position as CEO again in a coup a month later. In the same year he completed numerous projects and also brought an end to several product lines. He also stopped participating in several charity programs for the time being. The big goal was to make Apple profitable again. There was even a cooperation with Microsoft for this.

With the tidying up of the hardware offering came the development of the next big thing, which would put Apple back on the computer map. This led to the first successful product designed by Jony Ive – the first iMac. This was still equipped with the old Mac operating system, but that would change a few years later. Core elements of the NeXTStep software were used for the development of Mac OS X, which first appeared in 2001 and formed the basis for OS X and macOS. As with NeXT, the dock was a graphical element and technologies such as FreeBDS, Objective-C and the Cocoa API were included in the background.

The iMac G3 puts Apple back on the computer map

You can't talk about Mac history without mentioning the first iMac. Its all-in-one form including speakers, CD-ROM drive, USB ports, monitor, network connection and support of iMovie as usable software brought new purchasing arguments for Apple technology. In my opinion, Apple achieved a stroke of genius with the “i” in its name. Every mention of the product name not only pointed out the possibility of connecting the computer to the Internet. The “I” also created a personal connection with the product – this was later retained in the iBook, iPod, iPhone and iPad. 

In addition to everything technical and the name design, the iMac was mainly a visual novelty. At a time when Windows PCs as beige or even yellowed computer monoliths, along with similarly ugly monitors, keyboards and mice, plagued users' living rooms, there was the Apple iMac G3 with its rounded shape and semi-transparent, colored plastic a true figure of light. Suddenly computers were also part of the Y2K design zeitgeist, which includes the GameBoy Pocket, the Nintendo 64, the Swatch Twinphone and the Nokia 5110 with removable cover (as well as Nokia's subsequent models).

The operating system revision: Mac OS X, OS X and macOS

The iMac was sold in its colorful 2002s form until the beginning of 90, when the 2002 model finally switched to the first flat screen model. That meant the colorful cases were gone; they didn't come back until 2021. The colorful iBook was only sold from 1999 to 2001. From 2006 it was also called MacBook. During the entire development, it is also important to take a look at the Mac's operating system. After the “Macintosh System Software” (1984 – 1986), the “System Software” (1987 – 1996) and “Mac OS” (1997 – 2001) came the first Mac OS X. This was Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah.

The new operating system got off to a rocky start in March 2001 and the option to install Mac OS 9 at the same time was still popular for some time. The new system initially lacked some functions and there were still problems in a few places. But as early as September 2001, Mac OS X 10.1 Cougar The next and much better major version will be delivered later. There were another 150+ improvements in 2002 Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar. From then on, the systems, their functionality, the executable apps and the hardware of the Macs grew steadily.

You can of course find an overview of all Mac operating systems from 2001 to 2023 here in the blog. Take a look at the collective article linked below if you want to get an overview. There are also links to the individual articles in which you can find all the important innovations, the compatible Mac models, the original background images in high resolution, the presentation of the system as a video and more. If you want to indulge in Mac memories, then the best place to start your journey through time is here: Mac Operating Systems - Everything from Mac OS X 10.0 (2001) to macOS 14 Sonoma (2023).

Mac processors: Motorola, PowerPC, Intel, Apple Silicon

Initially, Mac models used a single-core CPU from Motorola. At the beginning of the 1990s, however, it became increasingly clear to Apple that the possibilities of CPUs with multiple cores and thus with multiple simultaneous processes and calculations represented the future. There were discussions with IBM and later also Motorola with a view to developing appropriate processors. This combination of Apple, IBM and Motorola also went down in history as “AIM”. The first PowerPC chips were available in 1992 and their use in Macs began in 1994.

The technology gave its name to various Mac models through the G designation of the various PowerPC generations. The iMac G3 described above is a good example of this, as it contained a third-generation PowerPC CPU. In 2005, the last iMac and other last Mac models with a PowerPC CPU came onto the market, at that time with “G5” as the generation name. From the beginning of 2006, Apple started using Intel CPUs because they could once again achieve an increase in performance and efficiency. In addition, Windows software should be easier to transfer to the Mac through the use of Intel CPUs, which were also found in PCs.

The “Mac OS X” operating systems should also be able to get more out of Intel instead of PowerPC technology. With regard to the switch from PowerPC to Intel technology, the process on the operating system side began back in 2005 Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, which was only released at the end of 2007 Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was replaced - and thus accompanied the entire transition phase. Both systems brought enormous changes that macOS still benefits from today (see OS overview). And many of the subsequent systems would continue to benefit from Intel technology for more than ten years after the named versions. But then Apple discovered the ARM architecture and began developing it on its own.

The “Apple Silicon”, also known as the M-Chip for short, was introduced in 2020. The M1 was the first to show something developed internally by Apple System on a Chip (SoC). In addition to the CPU unit, this also contains a graphics processor (GPU), the Neural Engine (NPU) and other processors, some with numerous cores for efficient multitasking. For the 40th birthday of the Apple Mac, the M3 is already available, alongside the standard version as the more powerful M3 Pro and M3 Max. The M3 Ultra will probably be presented in June. With the SoC instead of a network of individual hardware and with the shared memory Macs became more powerful, more efficient and more attractive.

The whole thing was accompanied by further changes to the operating system. Not only was with macOS 11 BigSur There was no continuation of the 10 series (the “X” in the first twelve versions stood for this). Changes in the design and functionality of the systems also followed with subsequent versions. You can also read about the OS history of the Mac in the collective article linked above. There you will find a summary of the most important changes and innovations for each system as well as the link to the even more detailed individual article for the respective Mac operating system. But enough of the time travel…

Today's offer: Apple's Mac offer on January 24, 2024

It can therefore be said that both the Apple company and the Mac, as one of its core products, have been through a lot in the last 40 years - especially many changes and adjustments to the current and future technological zeitgeist. That's why it's worth taking a look at Apple's current Mac offering for a complete overview:

  • iMac with M3
  • Mac mini with M2 or M2 Pro
  • Mac Studio with M2 Max or M2 Ultra
  • Mac Pro with M2 Ultra
  • MacBook Air with M1 or M2
  • MacBook Pro with M3, M3 Pro or M3 Max
Since the introduction of the Mac Pro with M2 Ultra in June 2023, the entire lineup of Apple computers has been equipped with the in-house SoC. The M3, the M3 Pro, the M3 Max and the MacBook Pro models equipped with them have now been released.
Since the introduction of the Mac Pro with M2 Ultra in June 2023, the entire lineup of Apple computers has been equipped with the in-house SoC. The M3, the M3 Pro, the M3 Max and the MacBook Pro models equipped with them have now been released.

Apple's portfolio: Mobile devices, accessories and services

But that's not enough. Of course, Apple's offering was also expanded in other areas from the 2000s onwards. We all know the iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch and so on. There are also corresponding accessory products such as chargers, cables, keyboards, trackpads and mice. In addition, there are now tracking devices with AirTags and with them EarPods as well as the AirPods various headphones. In addition to the Apple TV, the HomePod is also available for the home.

In addition to the technical products and the respective operating systems with their own Apple apps, there are also several services. For example, you can book iCloud storage as a subscription model, but you can also stream different films, series and documentaries with Apple TV+, and listen to a wide variety of music with Apple Music Apple Fitness + Get or stay fit, play a selection of video games across platforms with Apple Arcade, listen to dozens of shows on Apple Podcasts and browse eBooks on Apple Books.

So Apple is once again active in different areas, but this time it can combine the individual offers into a sensible and interconnected overall offer. Instead of various independent individual experiments like in the 90s or the individual excursions into areas such as routers, webcams and the like in the 2000s, we now know how to build our own ecosystem and expand it sensibly. The whole thing seems to be working. Since Steve Jobs died in 2011 and Tim Cook took over as CEO, Apple has been able to increase its company value enormously. One reason for this is the Apple ecosystem, which automatically includes all new offers.

Apple Vision Pro – The new age of “spatial computing”

In the year of the Mac's 40th anniversary, Apple wants to revolutionize computer use once again. After the first Mac boosted home computing in the private sector, the home, the office and all other areas of life are to be transformed into virtual computer rooms. The Vision Pro, Apple's first "spatial computer", was designed and developed for this purpose and presented in 2023. In the USA you can currently pre-order it and use it from February 2, 2024. It will be available in other countries later this year; probably before WWDC24 in June.

App recommendations: Mactracker and Shop Different

With this article you were hopefully able to experience an exciting and informative journey through time from the first Apple Macintosh to the present day of Apple hardware. Finally, I would like to give you a few recommendations. These two apps start with:

  • Mactracker: An Apple lexicon that offers all the important information about previous devices and systems in a well-organized manner. The free app is available for Mac, iPad and iPhone and is continually updated following new releases.
  • Shop Different: This interactive software offers exploring different Apple Stores on their opening day. You enter 3D environments and can move freely in them, similar to a video game, and discover some extras. The offer is free and not only offers exploration of the first Apple Store when it opened on May 19, 2001, but also others from 2004, 2006 and 2015.

Media recommendations: Steve Jobs' biography and the film “jOBS”

You can find even more history, insights and background information in the official and authorized biography of Steve Jobs, written by Walter Isaacson. In addition to details about Steve Jobs' private life, it also covers his life's work at Apple - as well as his time outside the company when he launched NeXT and got involved with Pixar. You can basically say that without Steve Jobs there would have been no Toy Story. You can find out this and much more in the book, which I can recommend to anyone interested.

If you have less time and just want a few essential points that are important for understanding Mac development, you can and should at least watch the film jOBS. Even if you don't like Ashton Kutcher's other roles, you have to give him credit for portraying Steve Jobs extremely well in this film. The film itself is also very well made and shows the journey from the first Apple computer to the iMac in 1998 along with the associated “Think Different” campaign.

jOBS - Steve Jobs' success story
  • Kutcher, Ashton, Mulroney, Dermot, Gad, Josh (actors)
  • Stern, Joshua Michael (director)
  • Audience Rating: Released from 6 years ago

What are your Mac stories from the last four decades?

As already mentioned at the beginning, we are of course not only interested in the background of the Macintosh from the manufacturer Apple. But also and above all the experiences you have had with Apple computers over the last 40 years. What was your first Apple computer? Did you use it privately or in the office? And why are you currently using a Mac instead of a Windows or Linux computer? Feel free to leave a comment with your stories, anecdotes, opinions and memories :)

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