11 April 2017

A Brief History of Apple Inc

Apple was founded in 1976 by three men: Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne. Apple back then was just a garage in California, created with the intention of selling their Apple 1 Personal Computer, hand built by Wozniak. The Apple 1 barely qualified as a finished product, lacking any Human Interface Devices built in such as a keyboard, or even a case. Regardless, it attracted the attention of a multimillionaire, Mike Markkula.

5 years after, the first Macintosh was designed. With the ground-breaking “1984” ad, Apple set themselves apart from the firms targeted in the advertisement: namely, IBM. The Mac was a revolution in personal computer design. It came with its own GUI (Graphical User Interface) and allowed for the use of a ‘mouse’. We still consider the use of computer mice and a user-friendly GUI to be essential, more than 30 years later.

Unfortunately, there were issues with developing hardware this advanced. At this point, Ronald Wayne had left the company a long time ago, as had Wozniak a year after the launch of the Macintosh, this time for good. With all but 1 of the founders left, Apple shifted gears to make high-end products with a high price, which they referred to as the High-Right Policy. This led to some unique products, such as the Macintosh Portable, a huge brick that nevertheless had most of the functionality of a Macintosh II. Other products include the PowerBook, the common ancestor of all modern laptop designs and the Newton, a pet project of John Sculley (The CEO of Apple after the resignation of Mike Markkula) that pioneered the PDA, and later assisted in creating the tablet.

On the other hand, Steve Jobs had advocated for a consumer market-led focus to product development, suggesting that the Macintosh be sold at $1000 in 1984 dollars. For this and his supposed eccentricities, he was held back from taking a leading role in the company he founded and eventually resigned in 1985. After the High-Right Policy proved to be unsustainable, Apple began introducing products at the consumer, such as the Macintosh Classic, the LC (essentially an upgraded Apple II) and the later Performa budget series, with the failure of the latter revealing how poorly thought out their approach to consumer-market electronics was.

By and large, the Performa series were just older Apple computers with a new coat of paint. By 1997, the company was struggling to make ends meet, with constant changes to management, layoffs across the board and failure to counter the rise of Microsoft, who offered equivalent performance at a much lower price bracket. With this, Apple bought NeXT, Steve Job’s firm that he had been working with since 1985.

With the resurgence of Jobs, Apple began restructuring. The High-Right Policy was abandoned for good and a year later, the iMac G3 was born. It was cheap, visually unique and powerful for its day, a radical departure from the expensive and serious looking boxes that could barely keep up with Microsoft. The iMac quickly became an icon of the late 90s and helped Apple escape from its financial rut.

Around this time, Apple began changing its brand and product image. Apple products weren’t just for stuffy businessmen: they were for kids, graphic designers, artists, and anyone that wanted to choose the ‘underdog’, with Microsoft earning some bad press at the time. The iPod further developed on this image, with an iconic advertising campaign helping Apple dig themselves a niche in the MP3 market which they quickly dominated.

Since then, Apple’s primary focus has moved from desktop computing to mobile devices, the iPhone and iPad quickly becoming vogue and them mainstream. Apple wasn’t the first to develop a smartphone (The Blackberry had a sizable portion of the market long before the iPhone) or a tablet, but pioneered the futuristic 2001: A Space Odyssey look for any future tablets.

Apple may have earned some (well deserved) mockery and criticism in the past, with unethical labour practices scandals, its insistence on their products being ‘closed off’ to modification, its history of tax avoidance and occasionally poor quality control, such as the iPhone 4’s antenna being blocked easily by putting your hand over it. But many of the technological marvels we take for granted were developed by Apple. From 1976 to 2017, Apple has been a key player in the consumer electronics market for 20 years and remains one of the most recognisable brands in the world.

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