1st Apple Macintosh (Mac) 128K computer, released January 24, 1984 by Steve Jobs (Photo by … [+]
On January 24, 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh. That was 36 years ago last Friday, and, with the introduction of the Mac, Apple started on a path that has given them a market value of $1.3 trillion today.
I was at the Macintosh launch, and it was an amazing event. I still remember where I sat. Third row back, in the middle. Two rows in front of me were Bill Gates and his entourage.
I did not realize at the time how historically important the Mac launch would be. I got to talk to Steve Jobs on the stage right after the event. He was exuberant, and I most remember the broad smile he had when talking about how he felt the Mac would “Change the World.”
When he said this directly to me, I thought his comment was pure marketing hype. Still, the Mac did change the world in many ways, especially in how it impacted the way people used computers via a graphical user interface and introduced an easier to use way to work with personal computers.
Remember, at the time, Microsofts text-driven DOS was the way people made their PCs work and had a serious learning curve for those who used them.
Mac’s launch at DeAnza College’s auditorium in Cupertino was preceded by Apple’s Super Bowl 1984 ad.
That ad was so mysterious that by the time Steve Jobs took the stage to introduce the Mac, there already was huge international interest in what Apple would launch at this event.
It isn’t easy to explain how electric the atmosphere and excitement in that auditorium was during the Mac launch. Part of this came from the mystery of what Apple would unveil. Apple kept this project so under-wraps that most who attended the event had no clue about what Jobs would reveal.
When Jobs pulled the cloth cover off the Mac to reveal it, there was an audible gasp from the audience. Then when the Mac spoke and said, “Hello,” the applause was thunderous. Steve Jobs basked in the attention he and the Mac were getting from an audience that consisted of Apple stockholders, Apple employees involved in the Mac project, and members of the media.
In 1984, there were only about 30 full-time tech industry analysts, and many of them were on the east coast. So only about five industry analysts, all from the Bay Area who could get exclusive invites, attended this event. Also, at that time, we did not have a live video of the event, nor could Apple stream the event. So the news from the Mac launch reached the world basically by media posting via news wire services and from a couple of local TV stations who taped the event and put it in on their evening newscasts.
While there was real excitement around the Mac after its launch, it did not do well in its first year on the market. But Mac’s fortune took an essential turn in January of 1985 when Aldus’s Pagemaker debuted for the Mac, along with Mac Publisher and Ready, Set, Go, at MacWorld. All three were desktop publishing programs and became the first real applications that took great advantage of what the Mac was capable of doing.
I would be remiss to not also mention that Microsoft’s decision to write apps for the Mac, and Mitch Kapor of Lotus, committing to bring Lotus 1,2,3 out for the Mac in late 1985, contributed to Mac’s success in mainstream business. But it was Apple’s push into desktop publishing that really got the Mac noticed.
Two previous decisions by Steve Jobs in the summer of 1983 made Apple’s desktop publishing (DTP) play even more valuable. That year, Adobe’s CEO, John Warnock, had shown Jobs a vital piece of software called PostScript Page Description Language, that delivered a uniform computer publishing language and fonts. Warnock lobbied Jobs to include it in his future products. John Warnock showed me PostScript about the same time, and given that I had very little knowledge of the publishing process, I admit that I had trouble grasping why PostScript would be valuable.
A year earlier, Steve Jobs was shown a new laser printer engine from Canon that was small enough to sit on a desktop. At that time, most laser printers were the size of a small closet and priced well above $50K. Jobs was fascinated by this laser engine, and his engineers began working on what would become the first desktop laser printer, called LaserWriter. It would be priced around $7500 when introduced in early 1985, around the same time Pagemaker came to market.
The Mac, Apple’s LaserWriter, and Apple’s major endorsement and of Aldus’s Pagemaker software begat the desktop publishing revolution. It put the Mac on the map in graphics arts departments, engineering divisions, marketing departments, and those who had been creating newsletters, promotional material, etc. as small businesses.
Apple had used a similar strategy to make the Apple II a bigger success when they endorsed VisiCalc for the Apple II and began to push the idea of Apple providing hardware and software as a solution to potential customers.
I had the privilege of working with Apple on the DTP marketing strategy at the time and was extremely surprised at how fast this concept took off and how important the Mac became to so many people so fast. Over the years, I have heard dozens of stories from people about how the Mac and DTP changed the course of their business lives and set them up for the success they have even today.
Although Jobs claimed the Mac would change the world, one could argue that it did change the world for a large group of people, especially those in the world of publishing, engineering, and graphics. It also has had an enormous impact on Hollywood and TV industries in terms of introducing them to PC based tools for creating everything from storyboards to special effects.
But perhaps Mac’s broader impact was that it introduced to the world of computing graphical user interfaces, the mouse and trackpads for navigation, and multimedia computing. It took us out of the dark ages of DOS into the brighter era of easy to use computing that, eventually brought personal computing to the masses.
The Mac was also significant to Apple in that Apple has ridden the Mac’s back to help them keep them alive long enough for them to introduce the iPhone, which indeed is the one product that Apple introduced that “has” changed the world.
Although the iPhone will be judged as Apple’s most significant world-changing product, make no mistake that it was that Mac and its success that got Apple on the map. And it paved the way for Steve Jobs and his teams to eventually bring us the iPhone and put them on a path to become a $1.3 trillion-dollar company.