History of Apple Inc./Printable version

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History of Apple Inc.

The current, editable version of this book is available in Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection, at

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Early successes

Apple I[edit | edit source]

After the Apple I was released, Wozniak and Jobs set off to improve the design and functions of their product.

Apple II[edit | edit source]

On June 5, 1977 the compact and self-contained Apple II computer was released. The Apple Computer took the world by storm. The Apple II was not only the first successful personal computer, it was the first successful computer to have a keyboard and monitor, a form which has come to be synonymous with "computer" to many. It was priced at $1,298.00 for 4KB of RAM or $2,698.00 for 48KB of RAM. The features included a 1 MHz Motorola 6502 8-bit processor using MOS technology and sound capabilities. The result was pure genius - a personalized computer that was attractive and easy to operate for the everyday user.

Through the years Jobs and Wozniak created and sold over 2 million subsequent models that improved on the speed and original design of the Apple II (models included the: Apple II+, Apple //e, and Apple //c), making Apple a billion dollar company.

In February 1981, Steve Wozniak left Apple after he crashed his airplane while taking off from Santa Cruz Sky Park. As a result of the accident, he had temporary Anterograde Amnesia, but was able to restore his short-term memory with the help of his girlfriend, Candi Clark. On the board now, to take Wozniak's place was Jeff Raskin and Bill Atkinson who came up with the Lisa project and the extension of the Apple II. Both of these systems had switched to the Motorola 6809E processors, 64 KB of RAM and monochrome graphics fitting a 256x256 pixel display.

The Apple Inc. is established

During 1983, Jobs did some research at the labs of Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) and Alto's GUI (Graphical User Interface) systems. After various visits to these labs, Jobs was convinced that he should add the GUI to both the Macintosh and Lisa systems to heighten its marketability, and in 1983 Apple had another hit with the Macintosh model. The "Mac" was the first successful personal computer with a graphical user interface complete with mouse, windows, menus. Along with the Apple LaserWriter, one of the earliest mass-market Laser Printers, the Mac redefined how a computer should be used, and all personal computers since have worked like the Mac. Unit sales were again, in the millions. At the turn of the decade Apple released a line of attractive, usable laptop computers and again made millions. Apple appeared to be a charmed company; Apple products were innovative in both design and engineering, high quality, and fun to use. Legions of Apple fans drooled over press releases and went to extremes such as tattooing the Apple logo on their bodies in their expression of Apple-philia.

On January 22, 1984, following the Super Bowl Half-Time marketing blitz, which premiered the Macintosh commercial with a woman throwing a sledgehammer into an Orwellian "Big Brother" video screen representing the competitor: IBM. The final Macintosh featured 128KB RAM (2 64KB chips soldered onto the motherboard) and expandable to 512KB, the Motorola 68000 processor operating at 8Mhz, an internal, 3.5” floppy disk drive, and 384x256 pixel bitmap display. Included were the Xerox-inspired GUI and two user-friendly programs – MacWrite, a word processor, and MacPaint, a simple graphics program. The Mac retailed at a price of $2,495.00, much less than the similarly designed and financially disastrous Lisa model (at $9,995.00 and including an internal hard drive) released a year earlier.


By 1984 the Apple Company faced several internal struggles between the CEO John Scully and Steve Jobs; eventually Jobs was forced out of Apple. During Jobs absence, Apple released Macintosh-specific packages such as, MacPublisher and Aldus PageMaker, along with the first LaserWriter Printer; this created a firm foundation for Apple's reputation of desktop publishing. The following year, Apple released the Macintosh Plus to combat the issues of the original Mac. The Mac Plus featured 1MB of RAM (expandable to 4MB), a SCSI hard drive controller that allowed for the possibility of adding 6 additional devices, and increased floppy disk capacity of 800KB.

In 1987 Apple upgraded to the faster Motorola 68020 for the Macintosh II and introduced color graphics and open architecture. The Mac SE, (a lower-cost version of the Mac II), was released in the same year to follow-up with the declining PC clone prices. Later, the Mac IIx, Mac IIxi, Mac IIcx, Mac IIci, Mac II SE, and Mac IIfx were released into the 90's.

During 1992, the sales of Macintosh computers suffered from the accumulation of inexpensive PC clones, and finally for the first time in its history, Apple resorted to creating clones. Eventually in 1997, Steve Jobs the founding leader of Apple returned. He maneuvered the company away from the clones and reversed their direction with a back-to-basics approach.

Progress in the 1990s

Mid 90s[edit | edit source]

Continued incompetence, or sowing what was reaped...

By the mid nineties Apple was a shadow of its former self. With few exceptions, Apple products had become overpriced and uninspired; the majority of the product line consisted of indistinct rehashes of the 1984 Macintosh, with relatively minor improvements. Competing products beat the Macintosh in almost every aspect, save maybe for style, typically at a significantly lower price.

Apple was no longer a technological leader and struggled to stay afloat as the company lost money in all of 1994, 95, 96, and 97. The first quarter of 1997 marked a nadir, as Apple stock hit a 12-year low of $4 and the company reported a $708 million loss. Were it not from an unexpected (yet with hindsight, inevitable) cash infusion, Apple would surely have crumbled by the end of the decade.

Late 90s[edit | edit source]

Attempts at rebuilding

In August 1997 Apple hit rock bottom, having accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. To avoid an oncoming disaster, Microsoft agreed to pay Apple $150M dollars in exchange for a few perks that would be useful to them, including making Internet Explorer the default browser on all Macs shipped after the agreement. However the main motivation for the transaction cannot be ignored, being that Microsoft would have essentially become the only significant operating system developer in the world and faced countless lawsuits.

In May 1998 Apple released the all-in-one iMac, priced at a brave $1,299. It was designed much like the original Macintosh in a clear plastic case available in translucent shades of red, blue, green and orange. The iMac was controversial among reviewers at launch because of its lack of a diskette drive and the presence of USB ports, which were yet to be well established. The development cost of the machine was never disclosed, but it is highly likely that the money Apple had received from Microsoft essentially went directly to the development and marketing of the iMac. The cultural impact of the iMac was far larger than anticipated and sales were surprisingly good, especially in educational establishments due to their portability and form factor. Apple released updates to the iMac platform in following years with the G3, G4 and G5 iMacs, even venturing further into education markets with the eMac in 2003. The iMac continues to be sold in 2017, although its design is barely comparable to the original and there is no longer a generational naming scheme.

The PowerMac G3 (first released in 1997) was Apple's major professional-oriented product for the majority of the late nineties. It featured the new PowerPC G3 architecture and performed surprisingly well when compared to processors from rivals AMD and Intel, exceeding them by factors of two or three in certain applications. Sadly however the software market was so Windows-oriented in 1997 that many Mac versions of PC software were painfully underoptimised and performed very poorly. However as time progressed the market warmed to the lineup and sales started to improve. Large software corporations such as Adobe taking a new interest in Apple was crucial in this time. By 1998 the product was doing very well and as a response (as well as the match the new iMac) Apple refreshed the exterior design of the machine in bright blue and white colours, with distinctive large "G3" branding on the side (a feature loathed by many but equally well liked). The product was yet another success and Apple finally started to look like it might turn things around.

Apple's stock price leveled off as the company began to earn meager profits again, leaving investors hopeful that a new beginning was in sight for Apple. New, competitive and attractive products began to hit store shelves, slowly at first, but by the early 2000s the company was out of trouble and their retail presence was firmly established.

Apple arguably got ahead of itself in July 2000 by releasing the PowerMac G4 Cube, a tiny cube-shaped desktop computer with a remarkable design that sadly could not justify the $1,599 price for the base model. Sales were poor and production was suspended indefinitely in 2001, however the machine garnered a cult following and sells for high prices nowadays. The nineties had been trying times for Apple, but by the year 2000 they were set on their way to becoming one of the most valuable companies in the world.


The Apple III[edit | edit source]

The Apple Lisa[edit | edit source]

The Macintosh 128k debacle[edit | edit source]


Apple Interactive Television Box

Apple Pippin

Platform Wars

In 1983 Apple released the Macintosh. Twenty years later, all computers still resemble what the Mac brought to the market. Apple had a long head start on the competition, the first successful competing product was Microsoft Windows 3.1, released in 1992 (GEOS, released in 1986, failed). In technology-years this was an eternity, but Apple failed to capitalize.

See The "Apple Could Have Been Microsoft" Myth[1]

Winner-takes-all Platform Wars[edit | edit source]

Army of users familiar with one platform[edit | edit source]

Suites of integrated software[edit | edit source]


To do:
Discuss Microsoft's "Suite" strategy, how it erected a barrier to entry for Apple and any other competitor.

Someone could build a better Word processor or a better spreadsheet, or a better powerpoint, but they wouldn't be able to build all three at the same time.

Network effects?

Discuss the Apple rip-off myth. Or was it?


To do:

Apple should have had an advantage

Notable platform lesson: Platform ownership makes advancements easier to deliver to users.[2]

Microsoft had to worry about someone eating their MS-DOS cow while they tried to push a move to OS/2 or Windows. IBM couldn't push new hardware. Apple had no such worries -- it could change both.

The Backwards Compatibility Curse and a Solution[edit | edit source]

If it lacked backwards compatibility, Apple would have to convince developers to port all their applications before anyone would buy it. But if nobody had it, why build applications for it? Conversely, if it provided flawless backward compatibility with the Mac, then its new features might never be really put to use by developers.

These same problems were faced by Microsoft and IBM in trying to establish OS/2 as a new platform: how different from DOS could it afford to be? While OS/2 was beginning to offer a much stronger foundation than the aging MS-DOS, developers weren't quick to jump on OS/2 development because it wasn't yet widely deployed.

Notable platform lesson: The catch-22 of development support for new platforms is one of the most significant barriers for entry.[3]

Simulating a complete Mac in Copland was difficult. It took 8 years for the Mac to simulate Apple IIs, with the Apple IIe Card [[4]]. Simulating the Mac didn't happen till OSX.

Apple does an end-run around compatibility curse nowadays. Software works for two cycles, then must be rebuilt. Apple won't support anything older.

The "Universal binary" strategy where software developers build PowerPC and Intel binaries simultaneously and ship them on the same CD. Makes transition more comfortable for software producers and consumers.[5]

Disadvantages of closed hardware

Apple's closed system gave Apple a monopoly on hardware. This let Apple charge far more for its gear than it could have in a competitive market (some disagree -- see the apple overprcing myth). The closed model has other major advantages; Apple could make major changes to its designs, for instance.

But it also resulted in, possibly, smaller market share and correspondingly smaller incentives for suppliers to compete and improve their products. While Intel, AMD, and Cyrix competed to make cheaper and faster CPUs, Apple's sole CPU supplier, Motorola, produced mediocre products.

Notable platform lessons: supporting an integrated system is far easier than supporting a product of assembled parts from different vendors.[6]

Hamstrung by an Established User Base

A factor in the failure of any technology company that must be considered is technical incompetence. Apple displayed a measure of this, perhaps most of all in its 90's operating system development work.

See "hitting the wall": [7]

The initial incarnation of the Macintosh OS had been created for the minimal hardware platform that was available in 1983; tradeoffs had been made to meet time-to-market and cost constraints. By 1989, affordable hardware had become much more powerful, and Apple management was meeting to discuss redesign of the OS to adapt to the changing needs of the market. Some features, such as a user interface with color, were added fairly quickly, but the less superficial features necessary to make the Mac competitive beyond the early 90's proved more challenging. Indeed, by 1997, this next generation of Mac OS, codenamed "Copland", was incomplete with no foreseeable ship date. On the advice of engineering manager Ellen Hancock, Apple CEO Gil Amelio killed Copland. What had happened?

Copland seemed to incorporate all the right ideas. For instance, a marquee Copland feature was "memory protection". Memory protection prevents poorly written software from causing system crashes -- this hadn't been a significant issue in the earlier Macs, which only ran one program at a time, but beefed-up early 90's Macs ran many more programs concurrently and accordingly, crashed much more often. Memory protection technology had been present in UNIX for decades; cheaper and more powerful hardware in the early 1990s made it both technologically feasible and a competitive must-have for personal computers, and appeared in 1992 versions of Microsoft Windows. Copland also included a "microkernel" and operating system "services": both respected means of organizing a modern OS. Copland also included a virtual machine called the "blue box" which would run an older version of Mac OS for backwards compatibility and a simple upgrade path for existing customers. Apple's heart seems to have been in the right place.

But technically Copland proved difficult to execute. To illustrate one technical hurdle: Copland aimed to use no more than 4MB of memory, but the backward compatibility mode demanded a complete, memory-resident version of Mac OS 7, consuming 2.5MB of memory; two-thirds of the Copland memory budget was consumed before the first line of code was written. Interestingly, the 4MB limit may have seemed reasonable in 1992 when Copland was initially scoped out, but, as Copland fell behind it became quaint: 64MB of memory was standard by 1997.

Insiders report that technical difficulties like this were only part of the problem. Apple by the mid-90s had assumed the posture of a research organization. The regular releases, firm timelines and deliverables lists characteristic of successful software companies ceased to exist. Mac OS upgrades had become little more than bundles of shareware apps -- a widely touted but hardly notable feature of Mac OS 8 was an interface tweak known as "springing folders". "Why Apple Failed" talks of "Snowball Projects": projects which, like snowballs rolling down hills in cartoons, had grown larger and larger until they had only a snowball's chance in hell of completion. These projects became unkillable, because in their growth they had also grown to contain strategic technologies the company believed it couldn't do without. Copland was not the only failed project of the era -- X, Y, and Z also bombed.

The Copland goals eventually materialized, years later, in Mac OS X.

See "The Rise of Windows"[8] Rather than working to maintain its lead of the graphic desktop, in the early 90's Apple seemed content to doodle around with "advanced technology" and gained comfort in pointing out that it had already delivered what Microsoft was trying to build with Windows. That turned out to be a disastrous path for Apple, but the full consequences were hidden under a temporary illusion of apparent productivity.

Apple had delivered A/UX, a Unix distribution with impressive support for the Mac system software; played around with porting System 7 to the PC; experimented with a new RISC workstation platform; begun work on a media architecture called QuickTime; developed the Newton handheld computer and a line of cameras, scanners and other peripherals; described a new messaging platform called PowerTalk; and incubated various other enabling technologies, but was having trouble creating any significantly marketable products beyond the Mac.

Notable platform lesson: Real artists ship!

2000s resurgence

Why?[edit | edit source]

Internals organization?[edit | edit source]

Engineering[edit | edit source]

Marketing[edit | edit source]

Arrogance[edit | edit source]

Disruptive technologies[edit | edit source]

Technical incompetence, the wasted years[edit | edit source]

Poor pricing?[edit | edit source]

Macs used quite expensive machines starting at nearly $1500 where one could pick up a Windows-based PC for about $500. However, Recent price drops with products such as the Mac mini and the white polycarbonate MacBook, Macs have become more accessible to the general public.

2007[edit | edit source]

The name change from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple Inc.