The Apple Mac turns 30 tomorrow – and over its lifespan it's regenerated more times than Doctor Who.
From beige boxes to multi-coloured iMacs to the sleek black dustbin that is the new Mac Pro, it's evolved to suit the tenor of the times – and served as the testbed for many a computing innovation. We've rounded up the ten most important, memorable and, yes, prettiest from Apple's storied history.
1. The Macintosh 128k (1984)
This diminutive computer looks quaint today, but was revolutionary at the time. The Mac humanised computing, aiming to understand people, rather than forcing them to understand arcane command lines. The Mac ushered in the age of the mouse, windows, and menus, a desktop revolution that remained entrenched in computing until Apple disrupted the industry with the iPad.
2. Macintosh LC (1990)
The LC was all about introducing colour and affordability to the Mac line. It was Apple’s attempt to bring its products to the masses, and was a strong seller, cementing Apple’s place in US education, and broadening its appeal in the consumer market.
3. PowerBook 100 (1991)
In 1989, Apple released the Macintosh Portable, yet the 7kg device was more appropriately described as luggable. But mobile technology was evolving fast; by 1991, then-CEO John Sculley’s PowerBook project bore fruit, in the shape of the PowerBook 100. Although it packed in similar specs to its predecessor, the newcomer was only a third as heavy, and was therefore the first Mac you could truly take anywhere, like a book.
4. 20th anniversary Mac (1997)
You could argue that this expensive (US$7500 (S$9600)!) and relatively low-powered machine summed up everything that was wrong with Apple at the time. Yet listen to Jony Ive’s reasoning for its existence — convergence, fitting into personal environments, an emphasis on design — and he could be talking about a modern iMac. An expensive failure, then, but one that informed much of Apple’s future thinking.
5. iMac G3 (1998)
The iMac was a radical departure from ‘traditional’ computer design (even Apple’s), with its friendly, colourful translucent shell that allowed anyone to peer inside. Apple had reinvented the computer for the rest of us, providing a machine you’d happily display in a living room rather than consign to a dusty study. Sales were strong, possibly even saving Apple; the iMac was also the point that an entire industry began using Apple for R&D, initially sparking a depressingly vapid trend for slapping coloured plastic on even the beigest of computer hardware.
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6. Power Mac G4 Cube (2000)
An audacious failure, the G4 Cube appeared to float above your desk, optical discs playfully ejecting from the top, toaster-style. The high price tag and relatively low power saw the machine put on ice after just one year, but Apple learned lessons regarding packing plenty of hardware into tiny, unconventional cases; the Cube’s spirit therefore lives on in much of Apple’s range.
7. iMac G4 (2002)
The iMac had repositioned computers as truly consumer fare, but the G4 model infused them with personality. – with an arm-mounted flatscreen that made the iMac look like it had escaped from a Pixar animation. The iMac G4 was also the first great example of how Apple would radically rework even hugely popular hardware to remain relevant – and this playful design was itself eventually superseded by the ‘screen only’ iMac G5.
8. MacBook Air (2008)
At Macworld 2008, Steve Jobs noted how lightweight notebooks from rivals were full of compromises, and he then pulled the surprisingly powerful and absurdly thin MacBook Air from an envelope. The industry scoffed, but then fell over itself trying to ape Apple’s design – the age of the super-thin laptop had arrived.
9. MacBook Pro with Retina display (2012)
High-resolution displays have a habit of making screens you once thought were fine look like garbage. This had happened on mobile, and in 2012 Apple brought such displays to its notebooks. Sooner or later, all Mac screens will be similarly impressive, further immersing users in their content.
10. Mac Pro (2013)
The new Mac Pro is unlike any other workstation. Some have dismissed it as Darth Vader’s dustbin, but not those who’ve seen one up close — they’re too mesmerised by the form and otherworldly mirror-like finish. But this new Mac isn’t about aesthetics; instead it strives to rethink the desktop for the modern age: it’s tiny, but hugely powerful, runs cool, and relies on external — not internal — expansion. Surprisingly, it’s also good value — the entry price of S$4288 might seem wallet-busting, but more powerful Mac Pro configurations compare very favourably to DIY Windows-based solutions.