Above: Apple store in Beijing. Image by testing / Shutterstock.com
I remember my first Macintosh computer. It was a Macintosh Performa, unfortunately one of their weaker models at the time, but still a magical little box to the me of the past. There was this woman programmed into the machine that taught me how to use it; seeing a human there on a computer screen that I could interact with was nothing short of stellar. Sure, the computer couldn’t do all that much, but it was mine, a personal technological wonder.
Flash forward to a few years later, the release of the first iMac. Now that was a revolutionary piece of equipment. Seriously, it was awesome, and colorful, and I could edit videos on it (I also received that year a JVC digital camcorder, so life was basically rad). My friend, in his continued attempt to out-Apple me, had the charcoal grey model, a tad more advanced. Either way, the applications and games were all so creative and fun. This all-in-one machine, a re-imagining of the first Macintosh, made me fall in love with Apple, an affair that continues to go strong to this day.
The 1984 release of the Macintosh as a device to keep an Orwellian future from occurring is a creative ideal Apple has almost never strayed from.
In January, Apple celebrated the 30th anniversary of that first Macintosh, a personal computer Steve Jobs and others (lets give Wozniak some love) created to give computing power to the masses. Apple’s history was shaky for a while after that, but then suddenly Jobs was back and there was the iMac, then the iPod, then all the other iProducts that have shaped everyday life and creativity more than can be measured. The universal integration of the products made them easy to use, and the design aesthetics were damn fine. Apple’s special attention to computing beauty got people’s attention and the company became synonymous with gorgeous, imaginative machines.
Although Apple has come under fire for a whole host of things (secrecy getting folks fired, bad foreign production policies and practices, etc.), it should be said that Jobs’ vision is an honorable one. Sure, it’s possible now to do anything on any type of computer, but no company holds true to a design standard like Apple. The original iPod was by no means the first mp3 player, but it was the first that was infused with an artistic sensibility. We have to face it; Apple products may be expensive, but they look the best and it’s a pleasure to work on one. Visual and recording artists (Moby, you guys) stake their claims on Apple.
According to Walter Isaacson, the President and CEO of Aspen Institute, and Steve Jobs’ biographer, Apple not only succeeded because of an interest in innovation, but in a commitment to focus. Steve Jobs focused his efforts and produced the small family of best products out there, each one innovative, yes, but also minutely perfected. Isaacson wrote that Jobs would annually take his top employees on a retreat, have them come up with ideas, and slash most of them, believing that by focusing on a few great products, Apple would be unique. And a producer of simply great products.
Today, Apple has a singularly awesome piece of equipment for everything. The iPhone is sleek and incredibly user-friendly, the iPod remains one of the simplest and best music players, the two lines of Macbooks are at the head of creative computing, and even the new Mac Pro seems worth the four grand (even though it looks kinda like a trashcan). Walking into the Apple store is not like sludging through other computer shacks; it’s like weaving through the displays at a gallery. Of course, the intention is to sell as many units as possible, but giving Apple money has never felt (for me) anything less than a triumph. True, Apple makes a lot of money off making people feel a sometimes false rush of imaginative divinity, but that’s an impressive marketing feat in and of itself.
One common criticism I’ve heard from folks who hate on Apple is the fact that Apple products only integrate with each other, not with second party technologies. Apple products can only be repaired by a Genius, and because of this all products are so much more expensive. People believe that Apple machines are for the computer illiterate (people who don’t game and program). This is far from the truth, though. Apple machines give the freedom to focus on creative business; leave the techno-babble to others, and play with Garageband, I say! Simple is good, because if Apple technology wasn’t simple, we wouldn’t be able to “Think Different” at all. Sure, Apple is too expensive and Jobs may have been a bit of a brainiac monster, but their influence over the past 30 years can’t be denied, an influence over artistic and technological culture that Apple is not relinquishing any time soon.