Today, there’s hardly a soul on the planet who doesn’t know the name Apple and its line of Macintosh computers.
Thirty-five years ago, on Jan. 22, 1984, a 27-year-old Steve Jobs unveiled the very first Mac in an iconic ad that ran during Super Bowl XVIII. Released two days later, few could have predicted the enduring legacy the Macintosh 128K would have.
WHAT Made the Macintosh 128K Special?
Featuring an “8 MHz 68000 processor, 128k of RAM, and a 400k disk drive in a beige all-in-one case with a 9 inch monochrome display,” the computer came with a keyboard and a mouse and was one of the first affordable devices to include several features that would be taken for granted today, according to EveryMac.com: namely, a graphical user interface, a “consistent look-and-feel among applications,” and true what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) printing.
But what was on the inside was just as important as what was on the outside, as the Mac’s software proved key to its success. The computer included System and Finder software, as well as MacWrite and MacPaint, which “showed off the bit-mapped graphical capabilities of the machine,” CNET notes.
The company sought to differentiate its product by making the user interface relatively intuitive and “user friendly,” according to TechTarget.
Programmer Bill Atkinson, who helped develop the QuickDraw 2D graphics library and application programming interface that became a core Mac OS component, told CNET that the software aimed to be user friendly.
"You could summarize everything I did at Apple as making tools to empower creative people,” he said. “QuickDraw empowered all these other programmers to now be able to sling stuff on the screen. The Window Manager, Event Manager, and Menu Manager. Those are things that I worked on that were empowering other people.”
HOW Much Did the Macintosh 128K Cost?
Price was a huge factor in the success of the first Macintosh, which sold 70,000 machines in its first 100 days. The cost of the original machine was $2,495, equal to roughly $5,970 today. At the time, this was a relatively inexpensive compared with the $10,000 price tag for its predecessor, the Apple Lisa.
WHAT Could Have Been Improved?
Despite its innovation, the technology still had room for improvement. According to the Verge:
Consumer Reports noted that by the time you installed the operating system, the Mac’s 128KB of memory left it with just enough space for 8.5 typewritten pages. Loading a similar document took 27 seconds. It didn’t have color graphics or much in the way of software. Other reviewers lamented that it wasn’t expandable, incompatible with MS-DOS, that it was monochrome, and only had one storage option: microfloppy.
But even with these issues, there was no doubt that the Mac had set a precedent that Apple would build on to chart a trajectory for the future of personal computing.
"The next generation of interesting software will be done on Macintosh, not the IBM PC,” Bill Gates told BusinessWeek, The Verge reports.
And some, like Macworld Publisher David Bunnell, praised the ingenuity of the machine even while recognizing its early failures in power, software and memory.
“Miracles, like the Macintosh, can only happen once,” said Bunnell in a review.