Thirty years ago, Apple introduced the Macintosh, and we all learned why 1984 wasn't going to be like 1984. A lot has changed in 30 years, and yet even in as fast-moving a field as technology, Apple and the Mac are still here. A time traveler from 1984, fresh from Steve Jobs's introduction of the original Mac, would probably be able to point at one of today's iMacs and identify it as the logical evolution of the original.
"Every company that made computers when we started the Mac, they're all gone," said Philip Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, in an interview on Apple's Cupertino campus Thursday. "We're the only one left. We're still doing it, and growing faster than the rest of the PC industry because of that willingness to reinvent ourselves over and over."
The Mac's path over the last 30 years has hardly been a straight one. Under the surface, the operating system that runs it is completely different from the original, thanks to Apple's acquisition of Next (and, oh yeah, Steve Jobs) in 1996. It debuted as a desktop computer, and now more than two-thirds of all Macs are laptops.
"There were so many things of value in the original Mac that it is still recognizable," Schiller said. The teams at Apple that have built and re-built the Mac over the years have had the option to toss away anything that didn't work — and yet so much of the original Mac concept succeeded that 30 years later, the Mac remains undeniably the Mac.
Bud Tribble, now Apple's Vice President of Software Technology, was a member of the original Macintosh development team, giving him a unique perspective on both the Apple of 1984 and the 2014 model.
"An incredible amount of thought and creativity went into the original Mac metaphor," Tribble said. "So there are some extremely strong threads of DNA that have lasted for 30 years. The sign of the strength of them and the underlying principles behind them — that the Mac should be easily approachable and learnable by just looking at it, that it should bend to the will of the person and not bend the person's will to the technology — those underlying threads also apply to our other products."
Energized by the iPhone
Today's Apple is not just defined by the Mac. In the past decade first the iPod and now the iPhone and iPad have risen to become Apple's highest-profile and fastest-growing products. As is inevitable with anything related to Apple, that has led to speculation that the Mac is on its way out, or increasingly irrelevant to Apple's business. But talk to Schiller, Tribble, and Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, and you will hear a very different story.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.