Apple's Mac Computer Turns 30 | KCUR

Apple's Mac Computer Turns 30

Jan 22, 2014

This coming Friday marks the 30th anniversary of the first Apple Mac that went on sale.

NPR technology correspondent Steve Henn joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the genesis of the Macintosh, the future of Apple and how the Mac has influenced both Apple and the technological world.



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This is HERE AND NOW, from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

Thirty years ago today, Apple first aired what is widely considered the greatest commercial in Super Bowl history.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.

HOBSON: In that ad, Apple invoked George Orwell's totalitarian future, claiming that 1984 won't be like "1984," because of the imminent arrival of the Macintosh computer. Two days later, a young Steve Jobs officially introduced the computer that would forever change not just the company, but the world of personal computing.


STEVE JOBS: You've just seen some pictures of Macintosh. Now I'd like to show you Macintosh in person. All of the images you are about to see on the large screen will be generated by what's in that bag.

HOBSON: Well, of course, a lot has happened since then, and NPR technology correspondent Steve Henn is with us from Silicon Valley to discuss. Hi, Steve.


HOBSON: Well, the introduction of that Macintosh computer, it's so amazing to hear such a young Steve Jobs. But what did that do for Apple and for personal computing?

HENN: Well, you know, it was a brilliant marketing moment, first and foremost. It set out Apple as a rival to IBM. But actually, at the time that that commercial ran, you know, the most popular personal computer in the country and the world wasn't an IBM PC or an Apple Computer, or even a PC clone. It was the Commodore 64. So, you know, in many ways, that commercial created a narrative about a rivalry between a huge company and Apple, as this sort of plucky upstart, that was fighting for individually creative people. And over the years, I think that really helped sustain the brand.

The other big thing about the Mac that's really important is it was just a better machine than anything else that was out there at the time. It wasn't the first computer to use a mouse or the metaphor of a desktop, but it was the first one that a middle class family could afford. And Bill Gates, who worked closely with Apple, putting software together for that machine, clearly took note and introduced Windows, you know, less than a year later.

HOBSON: And back then, of course, Apple was Think Different. Of course, now it's really much more mainstream. It's hardly different. Everybody's got an Apple product of some kind. What does that do to Apple?

HENN: Well, you know, it's interesting. It's become mainstream because it really has done more than any other company to usher in the post-PC era. You know, the last decade for Apple has been pretty incredible. It introduced the iPhone and the iPad. It's merged computing and entertainment, going back to 2001, with the introduction of the iPod. It's made everything mobile.

So, you know, while it's become part of the mainstream, I think it's still a very innovative company. And people expect Apple to introduce ideas that will, over time, change the way we all live. And I think that's pretty core to sort of how people think about it still.

HOBSON: But there are big questions, Steve, about the future of Apple. Its stock took a tumble in the last year and a half or so. It has come back somewhat. But just in the 30 seconds or so we have left, what do we have coming from Apple in the future?

HENN: Well, you know, I think there are still questions about whether it can innovate in the post-Steve Jobs era. And those may be a little unfair. You know, it - years between the introduction of the iPod and then the iPhone, and then later to introduce the iPad, what I would look for from Apple - and I have to be honest. I don't have any sort of special, real insight into their product plans. But what I'd expect for them to do is to continue to innovate around how we interact with machines. I mean, their big advances in the past have been the graphical user interface, and then the touch screen. And I think in the future, we're going to see machines from Apple that can recognize us and our gestures. So that's what I'm looking for.

HOBSON: NPR technology correspondent Steve Henn, who sounds, because of the line he's on, like he's talking to us from an iPhone, but he isn't. Steve, thanks so much.

HENN: My pleasure. Take care.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.