Look back through history and the years are littered with iconic and enduring duels: David vs Goliath, The Beatles vs The Stones, Tom vs Jerry. And in the world of technology and business, there are few more polarising battles than those between proponents of PCs and those of Macs.
We all have an opinion – a Mac’s built-in anti-virus software means they’re safer right? But the user interface on Windows is simpler and more familiar isn’t it? And why oh why does Apple insist on putting their ‘close window’ cross on the other side of the screen?
Well it is certainly true that these two powerhouses of the digital world have enjoyed a rivalry of titanic proportions. But it is the insurgency of Apple that has really been the huge tech story of the past two decades. Their pioneering move into handheld, portable technology kickstarted a revolution, the effects of which we are far from reaching a culmination of. But how did the company get to this point? And what lessons does their rise have for tech start-ups just beginning their own journey?
The architects of Apple’s success are now household names… well, two of them are. Steve Jobs, subject of not one, but two Hollywood biopics is synonymous with creativity and technological innovation and is revered across the world. His namesake, Steve Wozniak, also enjoys a significant level of adulation and respect from the global digital community. The third spoke of Apple’s holy trinity is the not-so-familiar name of Ronald Wayne, yet without his vital (albeit brief) involvement, that iPhone you struggle so much to put down may not exist at all.
After working with Jobs at Atari, the electronics graduate was viewed as a stabilising agent who would be able to resolve conflict between the two more creatively tempestuous Steves. Wayne even drew the company’s first-ever logo and wrote the user manual for the Apple I. For this, he received a 10% stake in the company, an equity that would today value around $75 billion, but one that Ronald Wayne actually surrendered for around just $500 a mere fortnight after first gaining it. The decision to exit made for sound business reasons and concerns over trying to contain the mercurial whims of his effervescent partners. Regrettable all these years later perhaps.
The company was legally founded on April 1st 1976, but there were certainly no fools in sight as Jobs used his flair and expertise to help produce an earlier computer Wozniak had designed, which became their first official product, the Apple I. The first step of a journey neither of them could have ever foreseen.
The Apple II soon followed, and then the Apple III, each heralding a continuance of the innovation now commonplace in the Apple ethos. And sometimes, the emergence of a pioneering spark of creativity was brought about by an attempt to cost-save above anything else. Take for example, the ‘one-button’ mouse. Seen as a staple of the Apple Mac brand, the one button mouse has delighted and confounded users in equal measures over the years and has certainly been a clear distinction in the Mac/PC saga. But the innovation was in fact brought about in the early eighties by Jobs’ desire to have a mouse that was priced far below the more common three-button mouse made by the competitors of the day.
As the company grew, and large investment poured into Apple, so too did the voices arguing for control. Steve Jobs, never shy in displaying his disquiet, often found himself at odds with the corporate structure now in place at the top of the business. With his authority diminished, he often sought refuge in the diverse projects now emerging within the different corners of the company. One of those was Macintosh, a project started in Apple’s development team in 1979 by Jef Raskin. Conceived as a low-cost computer for both work and home use, the Macintosh would go on to be the product that virtually cemented Apple’s future. Jobs came onboard the project in 1981, quickly seizing control of its development and supplanting Raskin who rapidly left the venture he had started. Jobs introduced many creative innovations to the Macintosh product, not least the iconic graphical user interface (GUI), and the shadows of that original Macintosh still run through Apple’s products to this day.
The Macintosh went on sale in the first wintry months of 1984 and was an instant success, with 70,000 units shipped by the following May. This success was boosted by Jobs who, as became clear later in Apple’s famous product launches, knew the power of publicity and creating a ‘show’. He spearheaded a promotional campaign for the Macintosh that included a Ridley Scott-directed commercial shown during the Superbowl. If America didn’t know Apple before, it certainly did now!
Success bred success for the company. Building on that ethos instilled by Jobs and Wozniak in the early days of creativity and quality, Apple developed and released increasingly diverse and powerful products. There were major bumps ahead of course. Jobs left the company in the mid-eighties, ushering in a decade of decline in Apple’s prosperity, before returning in 1997 and once again revolutionising the brand he founded 20 years previously by introducing those seminal smart technology products we know so well today.
Perhaps the best lesson Apple can teach us is the power of originality. Scarcely were Apple ever first. The iPod wasn’t the first digital musical player and the Macintosh wasn’t the first personal computer. But their products were nearly always different to what was already available. They’ve always carved themselves out a place in a crowded market by being uniquely different to their competitors – be that in design or functionality.
Forty years down the line from those original three computer geeks fizzing with creative ideas, Apple stands as one of the true tech powerhouses, matched only in cultural and business stature by the likes of Google, Facebook and its old sparring partner Microsoft. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in the developed world who is not in someway exposed to Apple products day-to-day. An iPhone, an iPad, a Macbook… all widely used across the many facets of daily life. And though Steve Jobs sadly succumbed to a pancreatic tumour in 2011, his cultural legacy and ethos to “Think Different” ensures his, and Apple’s, place in the history of design and technology is secure.
Our concise and brief journey through the early years of Apple barely scratches the surface of the many wondrous, sometimes alarming and always interesting developments throughout the company’s history. For a more comprehensive read, try this excellent feature by MacWorld: http://www.macworld.co.uk/feature/apple/history-of-apple-steve-jobs-mac-3606104/
Read the story of how another tech giant got started with our brief look at the early years of Google