1984. It was a leap year, the “actor” president Republican Ronald Reagan was in office for his second term, America was not doing so well economically speaking, Russia was still our biggest enemy and the eerie dystopian society of George Orwell’s book 1984 had not entirely come to pass. Right at the beginning of the year around this time, January 24, 1984, this little machine was released to the general public that changed our lives forever.
Say hello to the Apple Macintosh (Mac 128k), the Mac GrandDaddy, the personal computer that would sell 70,000 units its first 100 days of release. Not a small feat mind you since the price of this wonder machine was .. wait for it .. $2495.00. How do you like them apples?
The Beginning of the PC Age
Before we talk about why this was a banner moment in computing history have a gander at what $900,000 and the director of the original Alien and Blade Runner (Ridley Scott) gets you for a launch commercial.
Creepy? Yes.Confusing? Yes? Where was the actual product? Well they had the logo in there? That counts right? That almost million dollar commercial premiered during Superbowl XVIII two days before the Apple Macintosh was released to the public. And even at almost $2500 a pop this is the machine that would change personal computing forever.
Looking back at the specs now, it doesn’t seem like much for that kind of cash -- It had too little memory, no expansion/upgrade potential, a small monochrome screen, no numeric keypad or function keys, and terrible disk copying methods. But in our 21st century HD, super duper computing era, that would seem lame.
In 1984, this was a magnificent invention.
The Macintosh was the first “affordable” computer to include a graphical user interface (GUI). In fact one of the goals of the company was to achieve adequate graphics performance, at a price accessible to the middle class. Notice a familiar modern Apple pattern here? Make something that already exists, make it better and somehow convince people they should buy it.
The genius in the the processing was that it was built around then amazing Motorola 68000 chip, which was significantly faster than previous processors, running at 8 MHz. It came in a small beige case with a black and white monitor built in and it had a keyboard and mouse, and had a floppy drive that took 400 kB 3.5 disks. Yet another feature that had not been available until then. So an all-in-one package that was easy to use.
Soon after release though (or maybe that was the plan all along), Apple realized the 128K (despite its initial success) was not really going deliver the computing power they wanted it to for them to stay in the PC game. And in true Apple fashion, just nine months later they debuted a newer version of this model, the “fat Mac," in September 1984. The Mac 512k quadrupled the memory, a significant increase, which finally allowed more complex work to be done on the machine. The 512K also improved the 3.5" floppy drive by doubling its capacity (800k).
So by essentially making something: easier to use, faster, with twice as much memory as it’s biggest competitor at the time, the Commodore 64, and a GUI that no one else had, this was the epitome of user friendly. It was also the beginning of a business model and strategy has has continued to serve Apple well for more a quarter of a century.