iRemember when...


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Wolfgang Wedenig, Norman Seeff
12 Wednesday 12th October 2011

When news of Steve Jobs' death spread worldwide last week, it caused a whole bunch of emotions to erupt. Sadness mixed with humble respect, indifference from those who were never going to admit to being anything other than 'a PC' and the awkward upside-down smiley face from posts named iSad all hit the internet in record time. And while the news may have broken another Twitter record (sorry, Beyonce and baby bump) the reality of his contribution to technology still resounds. So much so, in fact, that the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in DC has got its own exhibit running now, sharing some of these Apple 'artifacts' with the world. Their role in American history and the overall history of technological change is a pretty big one so we've gone to take a look at some of our favourites.

The Apple-2, complete with its own useful monitor
Apple-1 and 2: The Beginning
While this may be hard for anyone to believe now, back in the day personal computers were bought, then assembled piece-by-piece at home (generally by the most hardcore hobbyists and programmers). I mean, IKEA and Apple probably could've had a great thing going. Instead the software guys decided to update this model. The first ever Apple-1 was released in 1976 and blew the DIY concept apart, incorporating an unprecedented focus on the hobby market with about 4KB of RAM (a lot for those days). You still had to add your own case, keyboard, power switch and actual monitor to the circuit board, but at that time not fiddling with the chips yourself was a Big Deal. Only 200 were made, going for $666.66 at the time (apparently Steve Wozniak loved repitition), with advertising and marketing spearheaded by Jobs. By the time the Apple-2 came out a year later, with its own screen, Jobs and Wozniak seemed well on their way to dominating the personal computer market.
A close shave with Lisa
Proceedings to take over the world continued when the Lisa and Macintosh came out in the eighties. After the initial success of the Apple-1 and 2 families, it came time to introduce the world to the graphical user interface (affectionately known as GUI to most of us now). Just thinking about the long ting effort of typing in command code for every single action I'd want to undertake is already making me feel nauseous, but that was just the general reality of 1980s computing.
That all changed with the Lisa, that relatively compact PC that ushered in not only the mouse but a whole precursor to Mac's OS as we know it now (based largely on Xerox's Xerox Star GUI). Jobs got things going on the Lisa's development when he liked what he saw at Xerox's Palo Alto offices and decided to make a version of his own, but was taken off the project before he could see it through. Costing a bomb at $9,995 in 1983, the Lisa proved hard to market to the average consumer. Then when the Macintosh-1 was released a year later, it pretty much buried it. Still, that little thing got us into the mouse and at least has that legacy under its bonnet.
Moving apples around: the portable
While Jobs was on his hiatus from the company, Apple Computers busted out their first attempt at a laptop, the Macintosh Portable. It was clunky, expensive and weighed 16lb but at least had a floppy disk drive (remember them?) and a pretty sharp LCD display. But that $6,500 price tag was putting people off, so it was just as well Jobs stormed back in in 1997 to make some brutal changes. A whole bunch of people got fired, old systems got chucked out and the iMac G3 was born. These cutesy, translucent PCs were some of the first to incorporate the monitor and computer in one piece and were a big hit with consumers. Their rounded shape and use of colour began the rumblings that would later shake Microsoft's foundations when all the i-products would be churned out.
Though not portable, iMacs paved the way for the Mac iBook, revamped PowerBooks that came later and of course the iPod we now all know and love. Jobs was part of a team that again looked for a way to improve upon a product that already existed and put the average consumer at the centre of its marketing campaign. Moving away from the sometimes harshly satirical and almost mocking ads of the eighties, the engineers behind the iPod looked to sell it as "1,000 songs that fit in your pocket". Maybe they didn't know it at the time, but the iPod's revolutionary approach to transporting and exporting music would shake up the industry irrevocably.  
And the rest really is recent history: from teens in China selling their kidneys in exchange for iPads and the recent flurry of excitement over the launch of iOS 5, the impacts made by this one company are pretty massive. To think all that time ago, Steve Jobs had to sell his car just to inject enough capital to manufacture and market the Apple-1s; now the company's worth more than most countries on the planet. Damn.
Which have been your favourite Apple products? Any of the several we couldn't squeeze in that you think deserve a shout out? Tell us, below.

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