Happy 40th Birthday Apple

the computer that said ‘Hello’…

One simple word that changed everything. On January 24, 1984, the world of home computers was forever changed by the debut of the Apple Macintosh. It launched with a gigantic 9-inch monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and 128 KB of built-in memory. This breakthrough personal computer could be yours for the low, low price of US$2,495.

Today marks Macintosh’s 40th anniversary – happy birthday Apple!

hello… the simple word that changed the future
hello… the simple word that changed the future

OK, so I’m not going to get into that perennial Mac v PC debate that went on in its early years. Life is way too short for that. Love or hate them, from my perspective, the Mac’s simplicity transformed not just the way I worked, but also the type of work I do.

Apple Mackintosh game changer
Apple Mackintosh game changer

The Mac interface and way of working took my everyday tasks and gave them familiar metaphors, just in a computer-based, digital context. It gave the technology a human interface. It turned the tool of technology into something anybody could use. In my book, that’s a good thing.

Technology tamed

This computer context was both invisible and accessible at the same time. Suddenly it made sense, The Mac was a really useful creative tool. It was a digital drawing board with digital pens, compasses and rulers. This I could understand and work with!

the world transformed from analogue to digital
the world transformed from analogue to digital

My initial introduction to computers was during the early 1980’s was just so far removed from this! I still to this day remember being in a computer lesson finding out how to write endless lines of DOS code just to try to get the computer to draw a rather uninspiring X in green type on a small dark computer screen! Computers and I did not get on. It seemed you had to think like a computer just to try and use one. If you couldn’t speak its precise alien language, then the computer would just say no.

Enter Macintosh Portable

Apple’s first battery-powered Mac from 1989. It weighed in at a keep-fit weight of 16lbs (7.3kg), roughly the weight of six modern MacBook Airs. The strive for thinness didn’t exist back then. All-day battery life? Dream on! The Macintosh Portable is a crazy machine for its time – a fully equipped desktop battle station, shrunk down to portable size and powered by a lead-acid battery the size of a brick.

Mind you I recently found out about one of its biggest claims to fame. On August 28, 1991: The first email was sent from space using a Macintosh Portable and AppleLink software. Sent by the crew of the Atlantis space shuttle, it read…

“Hello Earth! Greetings from the STS-43 Crew. This is the first AppleLink from space. Having a GREAT time, wish you were here,…send cryo and RCS! Hasta la vista, baby,…we’ll be back!”

The Mac Portable was an expensive flop ($7,300 in 1989 – that’s over $17,000 today, adjusting for inflation!). Apple didn’t have a successful portable computer until they contracted Sony to help design the original PowerBook a couple of years later.

Beige bad boy

In the late 1980’s I was out of college and fortunate enough to volunteer at an educational charity called Toy Pirates in London. It was here I first met a brilliant designer (who now designs and created TechCard) who had a Mac Classic and a Macintosh Portable at the time.

I was able to use the Macintosh Portable in the evenings/weekends. This was where I was first introduced to the Mac. It was a breath of fresh air compared to my previous computer experience. Suddenly things made sense. It was an easy-to-use design tool that opened up a whole new world of possibilities. It quite literally changed the course of my life and the work that I do.

the Macintosh Portable was my entry point to Apple Computers
the Macintosh Portable was my entry point to Apple Computers

None of your 5k or ultra HD retina screens with a gazillion colours. This original bad boy was a non-backlit machine in 1989. I used to use an angle poise light to help read what was on the screen! Later on, the Macintosh Portable received an expensive upgrade to benefit from an illuminated backlit display. Imagine that.


Around the time, Jonathan, a product designer friend, was also extolling the virtues of the Mac and helped me sort out my CV and college application on his works Apple Mac. I was amazed at the quality output of text on the 300dpi laser printer they had. No more lettraset for me, those days were long gone! It was a shame I lost contact with Jonathan at the time. I heard he’d got a job out in the United States.

The iconic Yum poster has to be one of my personal favourites
The iconic Yum poster has to be one of my personal favourites

It was a few years later when I was reading in a magazine about the new British design guru that Apple had taken on as its senior vice president of industrial design. Turns out that my old friend Jonathan (Ive) had done pretty well really!

Legendary advertising

Back in the day, Apple was renowned for producing breakthrough advertising campaigns. In 1984 Ridley Scott directed the now classic big-budget (US$900,000) television commercial to launch the Apple Macintosh computer…

The so-called ‘1984 advertisement’ was given a showcase airing in the United States on 22 January 1984, during Super Bowl XVIII, alongside screenings in cinemas. Some consider this advertisement a ‘watershed event’ in advertising and a ‘masterpiece’. The advertisement used its heroine (portrayed by Anya Major) to represent the coming of the Macintosh (indicated by her white tank top adorned with a picture of Apple’s Macintosh computer) as a means of saving humanity from ‘conformity’ (Big Brother).

bold distinctive advertising broke new ground
bold distinctive advertising broke new ground

The bold approach to advertising made them one of the most distinguishable brands in a sector that was typically staid and very, very beige!

Think different

Another of Apple’s classic ad campaigns in 1997 praised those that stood out from the crowd and dared to ‘Think Different’ – It was a way of extolling the virtues of a more maverick independent approach to what they did.

Now some 40 years after its initial launch, Apple products are mainstream consumer devices worldwide with the ubiquitous presence and success of their iPhones, iPads and different Macs – so who’s the crazy one now? So Happy 40th Birthday Mac – one of my favourite creative tools (after my pencil of course!)…

doodling and sketching is still my design starting point
doodling and sketching is still my design starting point

Pencils only need sharpening. They never need charging, they don’t need connecting, they just work. I might have gone digital, but I still sketch and doodle ideas out first normally.

One more thing…

It will be interesting to see what the future might bring. Technology is constantly evolving. At one point I thought MiniDiscs were the future for music. Had a portable player, fitted another in my car and even had a component on in my HiFi. Then the iPod launched and brought mp3 music to the masses. A 1,000 songs in your pocket. RIP MiniDisc!

Like this article?

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.