Now 41 years old, Apple is a technology company with a long and storied history. Over its lifetime, some of the figures associated with it have become legendary, particularly Steve Jobs, whose exploits inspired a controversial 2015 film. With his signature black turtleneck, Jobs was the face of Apple, along with the other Steve, Steve Wozniak, often referred to as Woz.
But it’s about more than two men and a cavalcade of technology. I’d like to take some time to delve into Apple’s roots, and how it has evolved as a company over the years.
Back in 1971, Woz and Jobs were introduced through mutual friend Bill Fernandez, and the two became fast friends, bonding over their love of technology and practical jokes, even almost prank calling the Pope. The two were already involved in technological pursuits—Wozniak working for HP and Jobs for Atari, where he worked on the arcade game Breakout.
In 1975, Wozniak designed the Apple I, a computer consisting of a monitor linked to a typewriter-like keyboard. While this has since become the mental model for what a computer should look like, it was the first computer of its kind. Woz’s design philosophy was that an interface should be simple and familiar, building off of devices that people were previously familiar with. That said, his intention wasn’t to build anything earth shattering—as he stated in a 2006 interview with NPR, he wished “to really show the people around me, to boast, to be clever, to get acknowledgement for having designed a very inexpensive computer.”
Jobs, inspired by Wozniak’s design, sought to fund his computer’s production, and along with their friend Ronald Wayne, founded Apple Inc. Wayne, though an integral part of Apple’s initial founding, backed out 12 days with 10% of the company’s stock, selling it for a mere $500 a share. Today, his stock would be worth over $72 billion.
The original Apple logo was a far cry from the simple design that we know today. Featuring a thoroughly antiquated drawing of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree, the original illustration seems more suited for a whiskey distillery than a technology company. The more simplistic logo that came later on better reflected the minimalist aesthetic that has become signature among Apple products.
Woz was initially unambitious about selling the Apple I, until Jobs persuaded him to strike a deal with a computer shop that would secure them both more revenue the parts that they needed to bring their company to life. Though the Apple I was as bare bones as could be, and only 200 were produced, but was so much of a success that the pair wasted almost no time in producing the Apple II. This model was far more refined, and considered one of the first personal computers, despite its weighty price tag. The reason for this computer’s success was Visicalc, an application that can be seen as a precursor to modern spreadsheet software. Its capabilities made businesses much more willing to purchase the Apple II. Additionally, the Apple II was the first of its kind of include color graphics.
The next big revolution for Apple came when Jobs became enamored with the idea of using a graphical interface on the company’s computers. This involved the use of a mouse, with Jobs simplifying the usual 3-button mouse to the 1-button design that is still in use (though many miss the functionality of the right click). This lead to the creation of the Macintosh, now a household name, which possessed an intuitive interface that became the basis for many of the company’s future computers.
The Macintosh was also appealing for its lack of complexity, with engineers working tirelessly to decrease the number of chips required to make it function and bring the price down to something that a family could afford. Plus, its simplistic casing made it much more attractive than some other models of computer, which at this point often had outwardly visible components.
However, one of the factors contributing to the Macintosh’s success was the bizarre and iconic “1984” advert, directed by none other than Ridley Scott. The sixty-second spot, set to be aired during the Super Bowl, featured athlete Anya Major running amidst a crowd of dour and brainwashed workers, with a Big-Brother-like figure lecturing them through a television screen. Major then proceeds to destroy the screen with a hammer, thus freeing the drones from their enslavement. It was meant to be a jab at rival company IBM, who had long since become a staple for office computing. A less-famous commercial debuted a year later after the success of the first, featuring a similarly-dour procession of lemmings running off of a cliff, only realizing at the last second that they needed to change course and, naturally, switch to Apple computers.
What made Apple famous wasn’t necessarily the fact that they were first movers, although the company never shied away from innovation. Apple built its reputation for doing things differently, perhaps exemplified by the commercials it aired in the 80s. Its LaserWriter laser printer was network ready, making it easy for businesses to link a large number of computers to a single printer. Adobe PageMaker was part of what cemented the printer as a worthy investment, as it gave publishers and creators more leeway to design and print what they wanted. Eventually, it was supplanted by another Adobe product, InDesign, a modern iteration of which is still in use today.
However, despite Apple’s success, Steve Jobs was something of a controversial figure at the company. This was highlighted when Mark Sculley was hired as Apple’s CEO. While he and jobs got along very well at first, a rift formed between them, with Sculley expressing concern with how Jobs treated some of the company’s employees. This combined with several commercial failures lead to fighting breaking out between the two men, with Jobs asking the board to choose between them. When they sided with Sculley, Jobs resigned from the company soon after. This was not catastrophic for the company, and indeed, Apple’s stocks went up during this period.
Jobs’ departure also marked a shift in company philosophy. Whereas he had sought to sell computers for as low a price as possible, his replacement was adamant about selling high. While this made the Macintosh more expensive than its PC rivals, brand loyalty and the ever-popular UI kept it as a viable option. However, this only lasted for so long, and the market shifted to favor lower-priced options.
Not long after this, Windows UI became more robust, cementing it as a major rival for the Macintosh. A number of experiments followed with Apple, none of them a particularly rousing success, and were indeed often viewed as confusing and complicated. Nowadays, while Microsoft and Apple maintain their long standing rivalry, they’re also very much dependent on each other. Apple needs to run Microsoft Office, as it is an industry standard, and Microsoft needs to ensure that its subscription services are pushed to as many devices as possible, and cannot afford to prevent the Mac from running them.
Still, between the two of them, Apple has expressed discontent at the extent to which Microsoft has used similar interfaces and created similarly positioned products on the market. It is arguable that this competition is part of what pushes innovation, but many users of one company’s products are steadfastly dedicated to decrying the other.
However, Apple still had some tricks up its sleeve. Looking for an operating system, it purchased NeXT, and by extension NeXTSTEP and Steve Jobs himself. Jobs quickly found himself acting as interim CEO, and sought to bring Apple back from the slump it had experienced. He decided to slim down Apple’s offerings and eliminated products that he felt were extraneous, limiting their range of computers to just four. He also cut Apple’s licensing deals and limited the number of computers running their OS.
Since then, Apple has continued releasing products, and even after Jobs’ death, maintains its position as an innovator in the technology industry. The company’s distinctive products have continued to make them a popular choice, and now, with the iPhone celebrating its tenth anniversary, it will be fascinating to see how the company evolves in the coming years.