NEW YORK — From the start, Apple’s Macintosh shattered conventional notions of what a computer should be.
In a 1984 Super Bowl commercial that is still considered one of the best ads ever, an athlete tries to save humanity from conformity. The 60-second ad, which aired 30 years ago this week, alluded to Big Brother from George Orwell’s “1984” and was seen as a dig at Apple’s leading rival at the time, IBM. The Mac, the ad implied, would save people from a computing future dominated by IBM.
Apple’s Macs never succeeded in toppling IBM’s PCs, which live on through clones made by countless other manufacturers. But Macs did make a lasting impact. By 1995, Windows PCs came to look much like Macs.
The Mac’s user-friendly approach to computing is now a fundamental part of all consumer electronics. The Mac was the first successful computer to incorporate a graphical user interface and a mouse, rather than require people to type in commands.
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The first Mac had a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive at a time when a 5.25-inch drive was the standard. The Mac used the smaller drive for practical reasons; the larger floppies weren’t reliable.
But it paved the way for computers to get even smaller. Over the next three decades, Apple would release several other notable Macs:
• Apple’s first laptop, the Macintosh Portable, came out in 1989. The machine itself wasn’t noteworthy, but it would lead Apple on a path of making devices for on the go — culminating with iPhones and iPads, which represent the bulk of Apple’s business today.
• Do computers have to look boring? Not according to Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder who returned from exile to lead the company in 1997.
In 1998, Apple came out with its first iMac. PCs at the time were typically housed in uniform, beige boxes. The first iMacs looked more like TVs and came in a variety of colors over the years. At one point, Jobs even teased consumers to collect all five. Later iMacs would sport other notable designs, including ones shaped like a sunflower. The iMacs were also famous for ditching floppy drives in favor of CDs and incorporating USB ports — now standard in computers.
• The iBook G3 in 1999 was among the first laptops to come with a Wi-Fi card. It was so new that Jobs used a hula-hoop on stage to show — just like a magician — that he was surfing the Web without any wires.
• The Power Mac G4 Cube in 2000 was praised for its design, even though it didn’t sell well. The entire computer fit into a cube measuring 7 inches on each side. A crystal-clear casing made the Cube slightly larger, but it also made the device memorable. It’s now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
• In 2008, Apple started selling the MacBook Air, notable for being thin and light. In introducing the device, Jobs stuffed one into a standard-sized manila office envelope. Apple pulled this off by eliminating the CD drive and the wired Ethernet port, figuring that people could download files from the Internet over Wi-Fi. Later Airs and MacBook Pros would stay thin and light by also ditching the traditional, spinning hard drive in favor of solid-state memory, the kind used in phones and tablets.
• Last month marked the debut of Apple’s newest Mac. Aimed at professionals, the Mac Pro has more computer power than most consumers would need, squeezed into a black, cylinder-shaped case that is about one-eighth the volume of the previous, boxy model.
The original Mac had 128 kilobytes of memory. The Pro starts at 12 gigabytes, or more than 90,000 times as much.