Forty years of gear lust

apple-shiny-logoWith the recent focus on Apple’s 40th anniversary, it got me to thinking about my own history with the fruit-flavored company, its products—and, more broadly, its sensibilities.

Although I was aware of Apple Computer (as it was named then) from the beginning, when Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs famously started the company in a garage on April Fools Day in 1976, my interest wasn’t seriously piqued until 1983.

That was the year that the Apple Lisa was introduced. Precursor to the iconic Macintosh, the Lisa was Apple’s first foray into the now ubiquitous point-and-click graphical user interface.

Exciting times

At the time, I had just begun working for a start-up company that was developing an electronic publishing system. I was employee #16 at the now-defunct Texet (later purchased by Compugraphic), which set out to develop a specialized WYSIWYG computer for book and magazine publishers.

Apple_LisaAlthough hired to manage the company’s tech pubs department, I was still pretty green…but at the same time, open to everything. Exciting times!

As luck would have it, the company’s founder was invited to a demonstration of the Apple Lisa, and brought several of his employees, including yours truly, along for the ride.

Little did I know how seminal that early computer would be for the computer industry’s next 40 years. It would also be the proverbial light bulb, for me, in understanding how profound a tool the personal computer could be for average Joes and Janes.

Early enthusiasm

Prior to that, computers such as the Altair 8800, the TRS-80, and the Apple ][, were primarily for engineering geeks and hobbyists. I didn’t have a clue how to program BASIC on a monochrome CRT monitor. Nor did I really want to.

Macintosh_128k_newEven the Lisa, which had a mouse and graphical user interface, seemed somewhat abstract to me. Although I loved the concept, it was introduced at a price of $9,995, which was not an investment most of us could afford in those days.

A year later, however, I came to understand the concept of gear lust, a trait that, to this day, I still exhibit. In 1984, Apple announced the more portable, more affordable, and cooler cousin of the Lisa—the Macintosh.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one, and, fortunately, neither could the team at Texet. We purchased two of the early Macs, and, like library books, could borrow and bring them home with us.

Of course, the engineers had priority, but in those early days, I was able to bring one of the Macs home with me over many weekends.

Serious disruption

The Macintosh seriously disrupted the nascent personal computer industry. It was very well-designed and easy to learn and use. Truly a computer for the rest of us—that is, the non-geeks, the non-hobbyists—just regular folk.

Young-Steve-Jobs-with-MacsI won’t rehash in detail the history here—Steve Jobs leaving Apple; the IBM PC and the emergence of Microsoft Windows; the decline of Apple under the misguided leadership of John Sculley and other men in suits; the return of Steve Jobs; and the company as Disrupter (with a capital ‘D’) of multiple industries. It’s all been said and done.

Over the years, as my career in technical publications unfolded, I got to use Macs as my work computer at several of my employers. Creative (graphic design, illustration, publishing) was the one area in most companies where you could justify the purchase of Macs.

But the bean counters and the IT guys hated Macs. Slowly, IBM-compatible PCs running versions of Windows became the norm.

Macs are better

Having used both platforms extensively, I can honestly say that Macs are better, but over time it became an argument that I grew tired of having. My thinking was, if I had to use a PC at work, so be it. But at home, I would have a Mac.

Macintosh_quadra_605_warmThe first Mac I bought was a Quadra 605 with its pizza-box design. I paired it with a cheap third-party monitor, if memory serves. I had more powerful Quadras and better color monitors at work.

After Jobs returned to Apple, I bought the original iMac, and several iMacs to follow over the years, each one with a more distinctive design than the previous, it seemed. A few years ago, I abandoned iMacs for MacBooks, first the MacBook Air, then MacBook Pros. I’m currently set with the 2015 model 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 512GB solid-state drive and 16GB of memory.

And—it would follow—I would go on to acquire multiple iPods, iPhones, and iPads, and even an Apple Watch. My gear lust knew no bounds.

Apple appeal

Apple had a hook and I bought in. All of its devices worked well together. Its iTunes and iCloud ecosystems kept improving.

icloudUpgrading to a new machine was simple, and backing up data and performing routine maintenance was straightforward.

Buy a new Mac and within an hour have all your files, applications, and desktop organization restored. And, then, jump right back into being productive.

But industry—like rust— never sleeps.

Just as Apple faced increasing pressure from Microsoft and Windows then, today the company faces similar pressures from Microsoft, Google, Samsung, and other manufacturers who want pieces of the businesses in which Apple competes—and mostly dominates.

Apple’s had a good run, right? Forty years. But it can only be downhill from here. Or so the pundits say.

Not so fast. The Apple death knell has been sounding repeatedly for years. Yet the company keeps cooking.

The next forty years?

It’s been recently noted that Apple has increased its R&D expenditures by 45% year over year. The company has entered and is dominating the wearables market with the Watch. It has introduced toolkits for the home automation and health industries.

iPad_futureWith the help of IBM and Cisco, Apple is extending its reach into the enterprise.

Apple has introduced Swift, a remarkably simpler programming language that has gained praise and wide acceptance by software developers creating software for Apple’s entire product line.

Apple has introduced new display technologies with its latest iPad Pro.

There are rumors that the company is developing improved batteries, electric cars, and virtual and augmented reality products.

Who knows for sure if Apple is developing any new and ground-breaking technologies in its labs today? We can only imagine. But if the spirit of Steve Jobs lives on at Apple—and I believe it does—I’m betting that at least some of those technologies are going to be insanely great.

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