Apple@40: Apple turns 40 - here are its highs and lows throughout the years

Introduction

Steve Jobs

Apple is the most valuable brand in the world. Its cutesy fruit logo with a cheeky bite taken out of it wouldn’t look out of place on a kids toy, but to many it’s a symbol of desire, achievement, style… although to others it means something quite the opposite.

You don’t need to love Apple, and we know there are plenty out there who don’t, but there’s no doubting the tech landscape would be a very different place today if Apple had never made it out of Jobs’ garage (yes, it’s a myth, WE KNOW).

The Cupertino-based company can be credited with some of the most important and iconic technological breakthroughs in modern times, from the iMac to iPod to the iPhone, but it’s also had its fair share disappointments, embarrassments and, let’s be honest, failures along the way

So come, take our hand. With some help from our buddies at MacFormat (click here to subscribe), we walk you through Apple’s highs and lows from the last 40 years.

Happy Birthday, Apple.

1. High – iMac with 5K Retina display (2014)

iMac

Apple had its own Spinal Tap moment with the first Retina iMac – in a good way. Everybody thought the company would turn to 4K, but it actually went one better by unveiling the pixel-packed iMac with 5K Retina display in late 2014. Simply put: it went up to 11.

Thin, powerful and stunning to look at, it was the only way to get your hands on a 5K monitor that year, and it remains one of only a handful of options today. Apple had to redesign the computer’s 40-gigabit timing controller (or TCON) just to keep all 14.7 million pixels in the display outputting at 60Hz.

Apple’s decision to move to a flatter design and more colorful palette in OS X 10.10 Yosemite suddenly began to make sense.

2. Low – Apple Maps (2012)

iMac

When Apple introduced its own Maps app in iOS 6, it “changed the world” but not in a good way… Familiar landmarks warped into surreal shapes, half of Cambridge vanished, various tourist attractions moved miles away, and it refused to locate some towns and cities – instead taking you to tiny villages of the same name.

Apple quickly apologized and swung into action to set things right, although even now it’s still struggling to claw back the distance between it and the popular Google Maps, despite its use as an in-app service bolstering the number of users.

3. High – iPhone (2007)

iPhone

The iPhone wasn’t groundbreaking because it’s a phone – there were plenty of mobile phones before it, and it wasn’t even the first touchscreen phone – but it has reshaped the smartphone industry because it defines modern mobile connectivity: it combines a cellular phone with mobile data and connectivity anywhere, and its capabilities are expandable via apps.

When Steve Jobs introduced it, he had to explain what it was: “An iPod. A phone. An internet communicator. This is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”

While this wasn’t the invention of the smartphone, but it made it popular. For many, it showed them a new way to go online, to shop and consume entertainment, as well as, dare we say it, keep in touch.

4. Low – Steve Jobs passes away (2011)

Steve Jobs

This one isn’t a typical ‘low’ entry, of course, and obviously not a fault of Apple’s.

The company has proved that it’s more than capable of thriving without its co-founder. It’s pretty clear Steve Jobs surrounded himself with great minds and turned Apple into a company-sized version of himself. But that doesn’t mean Jobs no longer being around isn’t a big loss.

He had vision, taste and an understanding of consumer electronics beyond his contemporaries, and we still miss his entertaining keynote presentations.

5. High – Original iMac (1998)

iMac

In 1998 the original iMac set a worldwide design trend not just for all-in-one computers but for translucent colored plastic and curved shapes. This extended way beyond computers and peripherals, to home appliances, games consoles, steam irons and many other consumer products. The fad has waned a little now, but the look has proved surprisingly perennial.

The iMac blazed a trail for reasons beyond aesthetics. In blazing a trail, Apple has sometimes been accused of forcing the pace, and when the iMac landed as the first “legacy-free personal computer”, without a floppy disk drive, it sent shockwaves through an industry always anxious about backwards compatibility.

But the iMac was a huge hit, and it rewrote the rules. As it did the floppy, Apple has now dropped optical drives from all its range but one model, the spec of which dates from 2012.

6. Low – Apple Music (2015)

Apple Music

If Apple Music was a beautiful, but under-used, country spa retreat, it would have been knocked down for an out of town shopping mall by now.

The UI of Apple Music is fantastically confusing – we can’t be the only ones who’ll pick a song and then spend ten minutes trying to work out how to find the rest of the album – and the artist social network Connect is like a ghost town.

Music boss Jimmy Iovine’s daft, sexist comments about women finding it hard to find music didn’t help either.

7. High – App Store (2008)

Apple Music

Fortune magazine says: “The so-called ‘ecosystem’ concept may be one of Steve Jobs’ most lasting contributions to global business. The idea is simple: create a closed universe of hardware, software and services that – thanks to tight integration – provide a superior experience for users.”

The App Store brings the same closed-ecosystem business model as iTunes to iOS and, increasingly, the desktop as well – and everyone else tried to emulate it, with varying degrees of success.

8. Low – iOS8 launch (2014)

iOS8

Here’s our new OS! Oops, it’s broken! Here’s an update! Oops, it’s more broken than the broken one it was supposed to fix!

Google’s Lollipop had release issues too, but it wasn’t as much of a snafu as the iOS 8 launch. The only way Apple could have bungled it more would be if it had put a picture of Bungle from Rainbow on every iPhone’s lock screen.

That wasn’t the only issue with iOS 8. There was a kerfuffle over iOS 8 extensions, and Panic’s Transmit app was forced to remove iCloud Drive sharing because of confusing and contradictory developer policies. A developer backlash soon took hold.

9. High – iTunes & iPod (2003 and 2001)

iTunes

The iTunes ecosystem revolutionised the way we buy and consume music, particularly after the launch of the iTunes Store in 2003, and hence changed the music industry, forcing the labels to change their business models.

The iPod (2001) was not the first portable music player, but when the Store and its pioneering micropayments system also enabled you to find and buy tracks, it delivered the first end-to-end ecosystem incorporating purchase, management and playback of music (and later other media).

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not trying to pretend iTunes is perfect (it’s anything but) but the service it offered has been world-changing.

10. Low – U2 album release (2014)

U2

Who doesn’t like free music? That’s probably what was going through the minds of Apple executives, Bono, The Edge and crew when it was decided U2’s Songs of Innocence would appear on Apple iPhone and iPods overnight.

Whether you liked the global rock giants or not, the album would appear in your iTunes and many criticised the stunt for it pushing it on over half a billion people as they weren’t given the choice over whether they wanted it at all.

In the end Bono had to issue an apology and the band hasn’t released another album since – although there’s no reason to think the two are connected.

11. High – MacBook Air and SSDs (2010)

MacBook AIr

Apple’s first ultralight notebook, 2008’s MacBook Air, incorporated many technologies associated with previous MacBooks (or PowerBooks before them) but its 2010 revision was the first mass-market computer to have a solid-state disk drive as standard instead of a cheaper – but slower – hard disk.

As well as helping popularise the ultralight category, “it made solid-state storage make sense,” Time Magazine said.

12. Low – EarPods (2012)

EarPods

The achingly hip adverts made iPods seem cool, and they were. But the earbuds they came with, and which subsequently got bundled with the iPhone, we’re so far below Apple’s usual quality they could have won a limbo competition. Apple tried to reboot with the EarPods in 2012, and while this improved things somewhat they still weren’t up the premium performance of the handset they were sold with.

Apple did eventually step up its game (a little) and even bought Beats, but the damage was done and it might well be that nothing will make people trust Apple’s audiophile credentials again.

13. High – UX-based design

12-inch MacBook

Beyond just colored casings, Apple rewrote the rules of tech product design. As Steve Jobs expressed the design philosophy, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Fortune magazine added: “For Jobs, how a product looked, felt and responded trumped raw technical specifications.”

This focus on the user experience led not just to minimalist product design but to a division between those who want spec-led products they can customize and those who want products that “just work”.

14. Low – Proprietary chargers

Lightning cable

Apple has never been a fan of following the crowd and anyone who loves their Fruity kit will understand the pain that comes from ever-changing and expensive proprietary cables just to make things work.

The rest of the smartphone world has moved to the micro USB format, and Apple is supposed to have followed suit. However, it’s got around this by offering an adaptor on sale so you can use your old Samsung charger to power your iPhone… which doesn’t really help when you don’t want to spend half your salary on replacing a broken cable.

15. High – Apple shopping experience

Apple Queue

When the first Apple Stores opened in 2001, they were not the first single-maker outlet (Gateway had tried and struggled) but they transformed expectations of the computer shopping experience.

They’re not just commercially significant, but changed the customer’s relationship with the brand, offering direct support and tuition as well as products. More than third-party dealers and repairers, they represented the cool, high-tech ethos of the brand as a physical presence in the high street.

They also became a focus for the faithful – where else are there overnight queues for every new product release? (We didn’t say these are all changes for the better!)

16. Low – Harman Kardon speakers

Speakers

Harman Kardon speakers. The hipster speakers before hipsters became a thing.

Every wannabe Apple-ite who could afford them had them to show off in their tiny home offices, with the clear plexi casing let you see the speaker cones and the wires inside, to tell the world “Look how comfortable with technology and design I am”.

17. High – Seamless Networking

Harmon

In the past, AppleTalk, LocalTalk and Ethernet (which Time Magazine called “a startlingly advanced feature for a home computer” on the original iMac) all made it possible to network relatively easily with an inexpensive cable, but Apple has kept going even further.

Network administrators dislike Apple’s chatty auto-discovery networking, but it means mobile devices, computers and peripherals can all connect easily, without requiring a lot of technical expertise. AirDrop is as simple as peer-to-peer gets, and Handoff attempts to make it possible to do stuff on any Apple platform, anywhere, almost seamlessly.

18. Low – Final Cut Pro X (2011)

Future

A software low for Apple was its reimagining of its high-end video software. Although Final Cut Pro was looking a bit long in the tooth, the pro video industry wasn’t ready for what Apple replaced it with: a tool seemingly more suited to the semi-pro market.

Anyone would think Apple had realised it could sell a multitude more copies at that tier than at a higher level…

19. High – Superbowl commercial (1984)

1984

Apple’s strength has always been as much in selling as in making good products, says The Independent.

“And its first spectacular go at doing so was the ‘1984’ Super Bowl commercial. As well as introducing the Apple Macintosh to the world, it also did much of the work to spawn the very idea of high-budget, film-like Super Bowl commercials, an innovation that would eventually become expected across all TV events that draw big audiences.”

20. Low – Turtleneck

Turtlebook

A man’s got to have a style, but Jobs’ dedication to turtlenecks was ridiculous for a man with such dedication to design.

Through his health ups and downs, the turtleneck remained, a fixed part of Jobs’ staple event-wear, adopted in the early 80s, they remained his go-to wardrobe.

That Michael Fassbender, who played Apple’s founder in the biopic of the same name in 2015, is pictured wearing Jobs’ turtleneck in most of the movie’s promotional materials says it all.

21. High – Fighting against Flash

Flash

Apple’s iOS devices proved that you don’t need Adobe Flash, which dominated streaming video and online animation for almost 20 years but was widely disliked for its glitchy performance and endless security issues.

One commentator called it “the world’s most hated software” and declared “It’s time for it to die.” Apple led the way, and now Google has ended AdWords advertising dependence on Flash, and Adobe itself has all but killed the Flash brand.

22. Low – Sapphire (2014)

Flash

2014 was going to be the year of sapphire screens, but it didn’t work out that way: Apple’s manufacturing partner, GT Advanced Technologies, encountered both technical problems – it couldn’t make enough usable sapphire at the price Apple wanted to pay – and business ones, with apparent organisational chaos ultimately forcing the company into bankruptcy protection.

GT says it’s all Apple’s fault, Apple says it’s all GT’s fault, and over at the Gorilla Glass factory Corning executives probably popped open the champagne.

23. High – CDRoms for all (1990s)

Flash

In the 1990s, Apple was the first manufacturer to include CD-ROM drives in every computer it made. Did it simply foresee the trend? It was certainly in the vanguard.

1993’s immersive graphic adventure game Myst, developed on the Mac using HyperCard and QuickTime (see below), was regarded as something of a “killer app” driving the adoption of CD-ROM and surprisingly became the best-selling computer game of all time until 2002.

24. Low – The hump (2015)

Hump

Are the doom-mongers so desperate that they’ll seize on a crappy battery case to prove that Apple is in trouble?

Oh yeah – but they have a point. Apple’s new Smart Battery Case is part of a wider trend that suggests the brand doesn’t always think things through, despite trying to fill a performance hole it had identified.

Other examples include the Magic Mouse 2, which has its charging socket on the bottom, so you can’t use it while charging. The Apple Pencil sticks out of the iPad Pro to charge quickly on the go (if you haven’t got the bundled connector to hand), which looks ugly and precarious.

25. High – Apple I (1976)

Apple 1

Not the first microcomputer, but a milestone on the road to personal computing. Almost all its predecessors came in kit form, cost thousands of dollars, or both, but the Apple I was an elegant, ready-assembled motherboard for $666.

Plus, you could attach not just switches and lights for input and output but a keyboard and monitor – Steve “Woz” Wozniak eventually secured three patents for display controller technologies.

As he later quipped: “I don’t want credit for designing the first personal computer; I want credit for designing the first good one.”

26. Low – 12-inch MacBook USB-C port (2015)

Hump

Apple’s 12-inch MacBook stunned on the back of its razor-thin design, which came at a cost. Featuring just one USB Type-C port, Apple’s latest machine requires you to use an adapter if you want to charge it and use a peripheral – such as an external monitor and a mouse – at the same time.

While the trade-off is welcomed by some, the move to a single USB port proved too much of an extreme move for many.

27. High – Apple II (1977)

Apple II

The first ready-to-use, affordable personal computer for consumers, not just hobbyists. It came out-of-the-box with circuit board, switching power supply, sound card, integrated speaker, colour output, etc – and also expansion slots. In production for an astonishing 16 years, it sold millions.

Along with the TRS-80 and Commodore PET, which shipped later in the same year, it kickstarted the personal computing revolution.

28. Low – MacBook Air display (2008 – present)

MacBook Air

As a machine, the MacBook Air is definitely a long-running high for Apple. Which makes it all the more frustrating that the company’s best-balanced laptop (in terms of power and portability) is still lacking a high-resolution display after all of these years.

Surpassed by a number of Windows machines including the Dell XPS 13, Asus UX305 and Apple’s own 12-inch MacBook, the MacBook Air’s 1,440 x 900 pixel-resolution panel is stuck firmly in 2008.

As always, rumor has it that an updated version of the Air (and MacBook Pro) is on the way, so it’s possible Apple’s laptop will soon get the Retina display it so badly needs.

29. High – Siri

Siri

Developed by a spinoff from Stanford Research Institute (SRI, get it?), the original Siri appeared as an iPhone app in 2010, where Apple quickly acquired the company and reworked Siri.

We’re not saying that it’s better than the rivals – although we’ve yet to use Cortana consistently for any length of time – but the improvements that come with each iOS update are impressive.

Siri isn’t just about a single search but interpreting a spoken, natural-language interaction and collating responses from multiple sources – having a conversation (although most of the time this descends into trying to find a Siri ‘joke’ response.

Google’s doing some exceptional things with Now, but for a tightly integrated voice assistant Siri has gone from being an annoying accidental holding of the home button for too long to the default way to perform simple tasks on your phone.

30. Low – Ping (2010)

Ping

The social network that isn’t social and is trapped inside the lumbering beast that is iTunes, Ping never stood a chance.

No-one cared, no-one really knew what it was for, and even its hook-up with Twitter merely turned Ping into a Twitter spamming service, not an essential for social networking nuts.

31. High – Backlit laptop keyboard (2003)

G4

In 2003, Apple’s 17-inch PowerBook G4 featured the world’s first fibre-optic backlit keyboard, along with ambient light sensors that regulated the brightness of the display and of the keyboard backlighting.

“This truly integrated display and lighting solution is an industry first,” Apple declared, “and will be warmly greeted by professionals who spend long hours in front of computer screens in low light conditions.”

While it’s not the only backlit keyboard anymore by a long distance, it was still a revolutionary moment for anyone trying to live-blog a conference in a pitch black auditorium.

32. Low – Apple TV

G4

For a company that releases a new phone every 10 months, it sure took Apple a while to finally upgrade the Apple TV to its latest iteration.

There was a three-year timespan in between the latest Apple TV, what we typically refer to as the fourth-generation Apple TV, that came out in 2015 and the third-generation Apple TV that came out in 2012.

I’m not saying it wasn’t worth the wait – integrating Siri into the remote and opening the App Store to all developers have begun to reshape the streaming landscape – but maybe next time Apple can be a little quicker on the draw.

33. High – Software update

G4

As more and more computers (and then mobile devices) became always-connected, Apple realised that software updates and bug fixes could be delivered directly and efficiently over the Internet.

In their account of Steve Jobs’s career, tech journalists Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli note that the OS X development team “were among the first mainstream operating system developers to take full advantage of this capability, and their approach would change the expectations of hundreds of millions of people, from corporate IT managers all the way down to the individual smartphone user who wants the very latest version of his favourite game.

“…This way of maintaining and fixing software would quickly become the industry norm. It also transformed customers’ expectations: no longer would they be willing to wait months for their software providers to fix a problem.”

34. Low – Mac mini (2014)

Mac

The Mac mini has proved a popular ‘first Apple computer’ throughout the years, but the 2014 version left much to be desired. The long-awaited model succeeded the previous version from 2012, arriving with a welcome lower price tag.

Unfortunately Apple tuned down the specs to match it, eliminating a quad-core processor option in the process and soldering in the RAM, which was impossible to upgrade. The Firewire port was another casualty.

Apple has yet to refresh the Mac mini, leaving fans of the small computer with a bad taste in the mouth that lingers to this day.

35. Mac and 3.5-inch floppy (1984)

Mac

In 1984 the Mac came with a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive built-in. Sony had invented the format, and HP had shipped an external drive with its HP 9121, but this was the first computer with the drive built-in.

The format evolved from single-sided to double, and there were competing, incompatible data formats, but Apple was instrumental in establishing the enduring 3.5-inch floppy disk standard.

36. Low – iCloud wobbles (2011)

Mac

The cloud is something that Apple’s never entirely got, and while iCloud isn’t quite the mess MobileMe was, it had plenty of glitches when it launched in 2011.

Users have watched, aghast, as iCal appointments vanished, or documents reverted to their ‘true’ version in the cloud. We’re not shocked the WSJ reported Apple’s recruiting “senior-level executives with backgrounds in Web-based software”.

37. High – Post PC age (2010)

Mac

The iPhone, and then especially the iPad (2010) have redefined how we do computing now. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet computer, but it primarily used touch instead of a stylus and thus, as Steve Jobs put it at the time, created “an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.”

We’ll gloss over the fact that since then the Apple Pencil has brought the stylus back in, but instead of a necessary input device it’s a secondary tool for professionals crying out for a touch more control.

Gary Marshall sums it up: “Before the iPad, if you wanted to do something on a computer you needed to learn how to use the computer first. With the iPad, you just do what you want to do. Play piano? The iPad’s a piano. Write a letter? It’s a typewriter. Read a book? It’s a book. Fire exploding birds? It’s a catapult.”

38. Low – Bendgate (2014)

Bendgate

What do you get if you combine the laws of physics with hit-hungry websites? Bendgate: the not-overhyped-at-all story that found thin metal things bend if you apply sufficient force.

Cue dullards going into Apple Stores to try and break iPhone 6 and 6 Plus handsets, endless “Apple is doooooomed!” columns and the sound of a molehill being blown up to mountain size.

Other handsets were proven to be more bendable than iPhones, but this was a perfect example of Apple creating a frenzy around its ‘perfect’ products and then having to suffer the backlash when they were found to have a flaw.

39. High – Apple Pay (2014)

Apple Pay

It’s early days, but Apple Pay is a particularly clever implementation of contactless NFC transactions.

It offers a smart security system using fingerprint authentication and “tokens” that mean your card or account details are never shared with the retailer, or even stored on your device – and Apple is one of the few companies with the clout to entice banks and retailers worldwide to sign up.

In the UK, Barclays is the only major bank that dragged its feet, but now that it’s on board Apple Pay is likely to have a major impact in the years ahead.

40. Low – Gizmodo and the iPhone 4 (2010)

iPhone 4

If you’re an Apple employee, leaving your pre-release iPhone 4 in a bar isn’t a great idea when there are slightly shifty people lurking.

Cue: Gizmodo ‘acquiring’ the device and amazingly not noticing half the new tech, Apple lawyers getting astonishingly angry, police doing ‘policey’ things, and a general feeling that Apple had turned into the Big Brother it derided back in 1984.

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