How The Release Of The Apple Macintosh In 1984 Signalled The Arrival Of The Future

By Ali Khaled
24 January 2019
Apple Macintosh, Apple, Steve Jobs
It's 35 years to the day since the launch of the Apple Macintosh, the grandaddy of every device you use today

At some point today, take a minute to reflect on an event that took place exactly 35 years ago. Because, whether you realise it or not, it dictates how you live your life today.

On January 24, 1984, the very first Apple Macintosh computer was released. For those who don’t know, that is the grandaddy of the computers and smart devices you probably use today. And not just Apple products.

At the time, Apple founder Steve Jobs was only 29, and the company had been in existence for a mere eight years, having quickly gained a share in the nascent personal computer market on the back of the co-founder Steve Wozniak-designed Apple I, and then popular Apple II computers.

But the Macintosh - name specifically tweaked by Jobs from “McIntosh” (apples!) - was a game-changer.

Its launch was accompanied by what remains one of the most famous television commercials of all time. Directed by Ridley Scott, the Superbowl ad, "1984", played on George Orwell’s vision of the year, and showed a woman saving the conformist masses from a grey, dystopian existence, while promising that “1984 won’t be like 1984”. The future had arrived early.

 

The introduction of the Apple Macintosh was a turning point for desktop publishing. But for its creators, the dream turned sour quickly.

In a move that has become legend in the tech industry, Jobs and Wozniak left Apple in 1985 after a power struggle with then CEO John Sculley. But the company’s future would belong to Jobs.

Though the Apple Macintosh was discontinued in 1993, its reincarnation was only a few years away from revolutionising the world of personal computers. And aesthetics were about to go hand in hand with functionality with the return of the prodigal son.

Jobs returned to save the day in 1997, becoming the CEO of an almost bankrupt Apple.

In 1998, Jobs dropped the iMac on an unsuspecting world. In one swoop, it rejuvenated an ailing company and transformed the world of computing forever.

Designed by Jony Ive, it was an instant object of desire. All curves and without a right angle in sight, it also came in 13 different colours, or “flavours” as Apple’s marketing magicians preferred. 

Having blown the cobwebs off the world of personal computers, Jobs then dragged the laptop into the 21st century with the release of the redesigned Powerbook (previously Macintosh PowerBook) in 2001. The Titanium Powerbook G4 became, as many Apple products would around that time, a design classic.

Apple's timing was immaculate. To an aspirational generation of increasingly affluent users, how the products looked was as important as its functionality. Owning an Apple laptop become the ultimate status symbol for young professionals, especially in the world of media and design.

No longer was working on a computer the domain of the geeky. Now you could tap away on your shiny new Powerbook in public and you were suddenly the coolest kid in your trendy local coffee shop.

It would be Apple’s Ive-designed devices that would, it is no exaggeration to say, change the world.

Apple

When the first iPod was released in 2001, it signalled the beginning of seismic shift in how music (and later film) was produced, sold, and listened to. The entertainment industry was transformed overnight, though for many, in hindsight, not necessarily for the belter.

The iconic white headphones became so desirable that owners were warned about flaunting them in public for fear of muggings.

The iPod was a small evolutionary step away to the iPhone. But a giant leap in terms communication.

Since its introduction in 2007, the iPhone, in its many incarnations, has become the most sought-after smartphone in the world, even in a market which often provides technically superior products.

The success of the iPod and then iPhone, and by extension Apple iTunes, proved a savage blow to the record industry, and the traditional music album, as a concept, has not recovered since. The days of waiting in line to buy your favourite band’s latest release were over.

The only lines you’ll find people waiting in these days are for those of a new Apple product launch.

Powerbooks, iMacs, Macbooks, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, Airpods.

Not all are direct descendants of the Macintosh. But all certainly inspired by the innovation that produced that marvel back in 1984.

The present, and the future, owes a huge debt to the return - time and again - of the Mac.