15 Products That Defined Apple’s First 40 Years
If you want to understand the iPhone'simportance to Apple, just look at its earnings. But it's not just that: Without it, our phones might still look like BlackBerries. We might never have learned to pinch to zoom. We might all carry point-and-shoots. It's almost impossible to overstate the revolution the iPhone started in 2007, which has touched and connected billions of people around the world.
iMac and the Return of Steve
When Steve Jobs came back to Apple after being ousted from the company he started, he did it with a vengeance. His first major product was 1998's iMac. It ditched the floppy drive for a USB port, which worked out pretty well for everyone. It was beautiful and high-end, deeply designed in a way Apple products hadn't been for too long. Its designer? Jony Ive, in his first assignment at Apple.
The Apple II wasn't the first Apple computer, but it was the first one made for the masses. When it hit stores in 1977, it had a whopping four kilobytes of RAM, and let you run programs and save data...using cassette tapes. Seriously. It was a smash success, though. It became a computer-nerd tool of choice, and inspired the first of many generations of home computer enthusiasts, programmers, and Apple fanboys.
Macintosh "1984" Commercial
"1984...won't be like '1984.'" The first-ever Macintosh was a big moment for Apple, an adorable little rectangle that looked like a face with a half-smile welcoming you to the world of human-friendly computers. But the commercial—a 60-second spot full of dystopia and propaganda smashed into smithereens by Anya Major's flying hammer—framed everything about what Apple stood for, and would come to mean, in the coming decades.
Well, you can't win 'em all. In 1993, long before Palm Pilots and practically eons before the smartphone, Apple's Personal Digital Assistant was way ahead of its time. Too far ahead, really. It was too expensive, and it just didn't work all that well. But Apple's work on pen-based input, and its ideas about what might happen when you had a computer you could carry around, are still showing up in new products. Even if it wasn't enough to make Jobs want a stylus.
In January of 2004, Apple proudly announced it had sold two million iPods. It also announced a new one: the iPod mini, a cheaper, sleeker, cooler version of the tiny music player. It came in pink and blue! And it had a belt clip! Suddenly the iPod became a fashion accessory as much as a geeky gadget, and everyone you knew had to have one.
Apple's not, let's say, prone to openness. Which made it all the more shocking when in 2002, the company announced that you could connect your iPod to a Windows computer. Then, a year later, the iTunes Music Store opened for business on the platform as well. iTunes for Windows blew up iPod sales, helped Apple blow up the music industry, and turned 99-cent downloads into the way of the future. At least until Spotify showed up.
30-Pin Dock Connector
Introduced on the 3rd generation iPod, and gracing the undercarriage of every Apple mobile device until the Lightning era, the 30-pin Dock Connector was a much-hated but vital piece of Apple's ecosystem. Sure, it was a proprietary cable that was expensive and broke all of the time. But it made iPods (and later iPhones) more useful because you could connect them to speakers and other accessories. More importantly for electronics manufacturers, it kicked off Made for iPhone.
White iPod Earbuds
The buds themselves sounded like shit, but Apple's white headset (free in the box!) was a straight-up fashion bombshell. Remember when kids used to only wear the earbuds—no iPod attached, with the plug end tucked into their jacket—just to look cool?
Siri's not important because it's great. Siri's not great. But Siri's the future. Apple's personal assistant is becoming ever more integral to the way we use our phones. Talking is the new typing (which was the new talking). And after Siri, Google Now and Cortana and countless other voice-based systems came along to make using technology as simple as asking a question. And then asking it two or three more times until it understands you.
Plenty of Apple's products are impressive, but few seem genuinely impossible. Almost none inspire more wide-eyed amazement than sliding a laptop out of a manila envelope and holding it up with three fingers, the way Steve Jobs did in 2008 with the very first MacBook Air. It was ludicrously expensive and preposterously underpowered, but who gave a crap? People everywhere were begging, borrowing, and stealing trying to scrounge up $1,800 to get their own Air. An ocean of ultrabooks followed.
When Steve Jobs stood on stage at WWDC in 2005 and announced Macs were moving to Intel chips, the shockwave radiated out from Moscone and across Silicon Valley. The switch boosted clock speeds, made Macs compatible with more hardware and software, and made Apple laptops more energy efficient—all things that give Mac hardware an actual fighting chance in the hyper-competitive market. It also rocked AMD and effectively ended the Apple-IBM-Motorola alliance.
JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES
The Apple Store
If you've ever stood in line overnight to buy a new iPhone (we're guilty) or gone to the Genius Bar hoping some knowledgeable stranger can undo the mess you've made of your Mac (double guilty), you've experienced the magic that is Apple Retail. The Apple Store accounts for a huge percentage of the company's sales and cachet, and they get so much foot traffic that some people have argued Apple's basically responsible for the ongoing existence of malls.
The App Store
Software is eating the world, and Apple's serving the meal. The App Store, which debuted on iOS 2 and has since spread to the Mac and the Watch and just about every other Apple device of note, is as a whole far more inventive and innovative than anything Apple's ever done. By making it easy for developers to make money and for users to find stuff to buy, Apple created an industry for people with big ideas about taxis, and small ideas about the weather.
The San Bernardino iPhone
If there's one device that made the American people more knowledgeable about digital privacy and the security of our personal technology, and what the implications would be if the government were to succeed in its efforts to take those things away from them, this is it. The impact of this single iPhone in the timeline of Apple's product design is still largely unknown. But the changes the company makes because of it will impact not just future iPhones, but potentially every connected device that promises the encrypted storage of the information within.
BRYAN DERBALLA FOR WIRED
Posted: Friday, April 1, 2016