The History of Apple Computers

Apple Store in China

 

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Before it became one of the wealthiest companies in the world, Apple Inc. was a tiny start-up in Los Altos, California. Co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, both college dropouts, wanted to develop the world's first user-friendly personal computer. Their work ended up revolutionizing the computer industry and changing the face of consumer technology. Along with tech giants like Microsoft and IBM, Apple helped make computers part of everyday life, ushering in the Digital Revolution and the Information Age.

The Early Years

Apple Inc.—originally known as Apple Computers—began in 1976. Founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak worked out of Jobs' garage at his home in Los Altos, California. On April 1, 1976, they debuted the Apple 1, a desktop computer that came as a single motherboard, pre-assembled, unlike other personal computers of that era.

The Apple II was introduced about a year later. The upgraded machine included an integrated keyboard and case, along with expansion slots for attaching floppy disk drives and other components. The Apple III was released in 1980, one year before IBM released the IBM Personal Computer. Technical failures and other problems with the machine resulted in recalls and damage to Apple's reputation.

The first home computer with a GUI, or graphical user interface—an interface that allows users to interact with visual icons—was the Apple Lisa. The very first graphical interface was developed by the Xerox Corporation at its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s. Steve Jobs visited PARC in 1979 (after buying Xerox stock) and was impressed and highly influenced by the Xerox Alto, the first computer to feature a GUI. This machine, though, was quite large. Jobs adapted the technology for the Apple Lisa, a computer small enough to fit on a desktop.

The Macintosh Computer

In 1984, Apple introduced its most successful product yet—the Macintosh, a personal computer that came with a built-in screen and mouse. The machine featured a GUI, an operating system known as System 1 (the earliest version of Mac OS), and a number of software programs, including the word processor MacWrite and the graphics editor MacPaint. The New York Times said that the Macintosh was the beginning of a "revolution in personal computing."

In 1985, Jobs was forced out of the company over disagreements with Apple's CEO, John Scully. He went on to found NeXT Inc., a computer and software company that was later purchased by Apple in 1997.

Over the course of the 1980s, the Macintosh underwent many changes. In 1990, the company introduced three new models—the Macintosh Classic, Macintosh LC, and Macintosh IIsi—all of which were smaller and cheaper than the original computer. A year later Apple released the PowerBook, the earliest version of the company's laptop computer.

The iMac and the iPod

In 1997, Jobs returned to Apple as the interim CEO, and a year later the company introduced a new personal computer, the iMac. The machine became iconic for its semi-transparent plastic case, which was eventually produced in a variety of colors. The iMac was a strong seller, and Apple quickly went to work developing a suite of digital tools for its users, including the music player iTunes, the video editor iMovie, and the photo editor iPhoto. These were made available as a software bundle known as iLife.

In 2001, Apple released its first version of the iPod, a portable music player that allowed users to store "1000 songs in your pocket." Later versions included models such as the iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, and iPod Touch. By 2015, Apple had sold 390 million units.

The iPhone

In 2007, Apple extended its reach into the consumer electronics market with the release of the iPhone, a smartphone that sold over 6 million units. Later models of the iPhone have added a multitude of features, including GPS navigation, Touch ID, and facial recognition, along with the ability to shoot photos and video. In 2017, Apple sold 223 million iPhones, making the device the top-selling tech product of the year.

Under CEO Tim Cook, who took over Apple after Jobs' death in 2011, the company has expanded, releasing a new generation of iPhones, iPads, iMacs, and MacBooks, along with new products such as the Apple Watch and the HomePod. In 2018, the tech giant became the first U.S. company to be worth $1 trillion.