For 30 years now, we've lived with the Mac, through the good, the bad, and even the ugly. But as we celebrate this momentous anniversary, I found myself wondering just how much longer the Mac we know and love will continue to be an integral part of our lives.
In their interview with my colleague Jason Snell, Apple's executives firmly maintain that the Mac still has its own place in Apple's grand scheme of things and that, despite the popularity of the iPad and iPhone, that place is secure.
Me, I'm not so sure. Not to be a doomsayer, but looking back over how far the Mac has come in the last 30 years, I'm not sure if it's future is as quite so assured. If we look ahead another 30 years, will the Mac still have a place then?
The Mac that was
It used to be that the Mac was all there was.
When the Macintosh — yes, some of us remember when it was a three-syllable name — first arrived on the scene, it turned the entire idea of computers on its head. Instead of an arcane command line that required mastery of special keywords and Byzantine syntax to accomplish even the simplest of tasks, users were greeted by a friendly desktop, with recognizable icons that made it easy for regular people to use a computer.
It was, undeniably, a revolution.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Apple's future was tied to the success of the Macintosh. When the Mac's fortunes dipped, as they did under the onslaught of Windows PCs, consumers worried about the ultimate fate of the company. And the device that ushered in Apple's late-90s renaissance was a computer: the original iMac.
But increasingly, despite its recent record-setting sales, the Mac has taken a backseat to Apple's newer products: first the iPod, then the iPhone, and now the iPad. With these other product lines contributing so much of Apple's overall revenue and sales, it sometimes seems as though the old Macintosh is to Apple what bicycles eventually became to Land Rover: a once-profitable sideline business that has now reached technological and market maturity. Even revolutionary products and inventions have their peaks and valleys.
Just a few years after their respective introductions, the iPhone and the iPad are more prominent and popular than the Macintosh was even in its heyday. There are plenty of reasons why: Even now, iPads and iPhones are cheaper than most Macs. More significantly, our society has evolved to a point where computing has become ubiquitous; it no longer requires a traditional computer per se.
Computers are no longer something you keep on your desk at work or at home; they're with you all the time. Just as laptops supplanted desktops for many users in the late '90s and early 2000s, smartphones and tablets have already begun to replace laptops for many everyday computing tasks.
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