Apple shares the secret of why the 40-year-old Mac still rules
On January 24, Apple’s Macintosh computer turns 40 years old. This number usually represents a milestone in middle age. In fact, in the last reported sales year, Macintosh sales fell to less than $30 billion, more than 25 percent of the previous year’s $40 billion. But unlike aging people, Macs are now slimmer, faster, and last longer before needing a recharge.
My own love affair with the computer goes back to its beginnings, when I caught a sneak peek a few weeks before its launch in January 1984. I even wrote a book about the Mac—Insanely greatShe described it as “the computer that changed everything.” Unlike every other realistic sub-translation, this exaggeration was justified. The Mac introduced the way all computers would one day work, and the cessation of controlling the device using written commands ushered in an era that extends into our mobile interactions. It also heralded a focus on design that has transformed our devices.
This legacy has been long lasting. For the first half of its existence, the Mac only occupied a slice of the market, although it inspired many competitors; Now it is a major part of PC sales. Even within the giant Apple, $30 billion is not chicken feed! Furthermore, when people think of personal computers these days, many of them envision the Macintosh. More often than not, the open laptops that fill coffee shops and tech company workstations emit glowing apples from their covers. Apple claims the Macbook Air is the best-selling computer model in the world. One 2019 poll reported that more than two-thirds of all college students prefer a Mac. Apple has relentlessly improved the product, whether with the iMac’s slim profile or the Macbook Pro’s 22-hour battery life. Moreover, it’s still a Mac something. Chromebooks and Surface PCs come and go, but Apple’s innovation remains the pinnacle of PCs. “It’s not a story of nostalgia, or history that’s passing us by,” says Greg “Goose” Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, in a rare recorded interview with five Apple executives involved in the Macintosh operation. “The fact that we’ve been doing this for 40 years is incredible.”
You can summarize the evolution of the Mac in several stages. The first version launched a revolution in human-computer interaction by popularizing the graphical user interface in a compelling package. Then came his design period, marked by the 1998 release of the iMac. Steve Jobs, recently restored as CEO, used it to set Apple on the path to recovery and, eventually, glory. This design acumen extended into the world of software with the development of Mac OS More recently, the most exciting developments in the Mac have been under the hood, enhancing its power in a way that opens the door to new innovations. “With the transition to Apple processors that we began in 2020, the Mac experience is unlike anything before,” says John Ternos, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering.
Ternus’ comment opens up an unexpected topic for our conversation: how connections between Macs and other Apple products are constantly energizing the company’s PC backbone. As a result, the Mac has remained relevant and influential beyond the normal lifespan of a computer product.
The iPhone, introduced in 2007, quickly became an insanely successful device, dominating Apple’s bottom line. But the iPhone didn’t replace the Macintosh, it made the Mac more powerful. Initially, the impact could be seen in how it brought the spirit of mobile interactions to the Mac, translating touchscreen gestures to the touchpad, and even allowing mobile and desktop apps to interact. “Our goal is to make these products work well together, to get that consistency,” says Alan Dye, Apple’s vice president of human interface design. (He’s quick to add that all Apple products work independently, too.)
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