Apple Computer

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Apple Computer

Apple Computer was originally founded by Steven Wozniak and Steven Jobs in 1976. Wozniak and Jobs had been friends in high school, and they shared an interest in electronics. They both eventually dropped out of college and worked for electronics companies, Wozniak at Hewlett-Packard and Jobs at Atari. Wozniak, who experimented in computer design, built the prototype for the Apple I in his garage in early 1976. Jobs saw the potential of the Apple I, and he insisted that he and Wozniak try to sell the machine.

The computer world did not take the Apple I very seriously, and it saw limited success. When the Apple II debuted in 1977, things changed dramatically. The first personal computer to include color graphics, the Apple II was an impressive machine. Orders for Apple machines grew rapidly, and with the introduction of the Apple Disk II, an inexpensive machine with an easy-to-use floppy drive, Apple sales further increased.

With the increase in sales came increased company size. By 1980, when the Apple III was released, Apple had several thousand employees. Apple had taken on a number of new investors who opted to take seats on the board of directors. Older, more conservative men, the new directors wanted Apple to become a more traditional corporation, much to the dismay of many of its original employees.

By 1981, a saturated personal computer market forced Apple to lay off employees. In addition, Wozniak was injured in a plane crash. He took a leave of absence from Apple and returned only briefly. Jobs became chairman of Apple computer in March. Although the personal computer market was growing by leaps and bounds, Apple continued to find itself falling behind the market-share curve. When IBM introduced its first PC in late 1981, Jobs realized Apple needed to change direction.

In 1984, Apple released the Macintosh. The Mac, which would become synonymous with Apple, marked a dramatic revolution in the field of personal computing. Although the Mac was not the first computer to use the Graphical User Interface (GUI) system of icons rather than text-line commands, it was the first GUI-based machine mass-marketed to the general public. By allowing computer users to simply point-and-click rather than having to understand a complex and often unintuitive set of typed commands, the Macintosh made it possible for the average person to operate a personal computer.

The advertisement promoting the launch of the Macintosh was equally dramatic. The ad, which aired during halftime of the Super Bowl, depicted a woman with a large hammer attacking a gigantic video screen that broadcast the image of a suit-wearing Big Brother figure to the gathered masses. Marrying a David vs. Goliath theme to imagery from George Orwell's dystopic 1984, the commercial suggested that the Macintosh was ready to challenge the evil dominance of corporate giant IBM.

In 1985, after a heated and contentious struggle within the board of directors, Steve Jobs left Apple Computer. For the next eight years, Apple appeared to be on a roller-coaster ride, going from Wall Street darling to has-been several times. Beset by internal struggles and several poorly-designed advertising campaigns, Apple watched its share of the computer market dwindle. Microsoft introduced the Windows software for Intel-based computers, which further eroded Apple's market share. Windows, which essentially copied the Macintosh GUI, proved phenomenally successful. With its ease-of-use trump card gone, Apple continued to slide, despite the fact that many believed that Apple offered a superior computer.

By 1996, it appeared Apple was headed for bankruptcy. Quarterly losses continued to pile up, and layoffs continued. To the surprise of most industry insiders, Steve Jobs returned to Apple in July of 1996, and by July of 1997 he was the de facto CEO. Jobs made major changes in the Apple line, focusing on consumer machines rather than high-end workstations. He introduced the G3 processor, which was vastly superior to previous models. In 1998, he brought out the iMac, which was specifically targeted for the average home computer user. Jobs return to Apple cut costs, introduced new technologies, and brought Apple back into the black. Although some of his decisions were controversial, Apple's continued health was the best indicator of his abilities.

Although Apple remains a fairly small player in the consumer computer market, the Macintosh's superior graphics and sound capabilities have given it a dominant position is several high-end markets, notably desktop publishing, high-end graphics work (such as movie special effects), and music production. The Macintosh slogan "Think Different" became a mantra for many Mac users. Macintosh consistently has one of the highest brand loyalty ratings, and hardcore Mac users (sometimes called MacEvangelists) constantly preach the superiority of the Macintosh over other computer platforms.

Although the marketing skills of Apple are often suspect, the innovative thinking at Apple is peerless in the computer industry. The Apple GUI became the standard by which all other operating systems are evaluated, and the similarities between the Apple GUI and Windows is unmistakable. Apple was the first company to offer plug-and-play expansion, allowing computer users to configure new hardware using software alone. Plug-and-play has since become an industry standard across all major operating systems. Although the handwriting recognition software of the original Apple Newton was poorly designed, it laid the groundwork for the multitude of hand-held Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) such as the Palm Pilot. These innovations, along with many others, will keep Apple at the forefront of personal computing for the foreseeable future.

—Geoff Peterson

Further Reading:

Amelio, Gil. On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple. New York, Harper Business, 1998.

Carlton, Jim. Apple: The Insider Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders. New York, Times Books, 1997.

Levy, Steven. Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything. New York, Viking, 1994.

Moritz, Michael. The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer. New York, William Morrow, 1984.