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Apple broke the rule book with the 1st Macintosh

We take our Apple Mac’s for granted – but there was a time, that was not always the case

Apple's 1st Macintosh

Time for change

January 24th 1984 was a pretty big day for Apple. It was that day that they launched the first Macintosh.

My, how things have changed. In those nearly forty years, Apple has become a global company, with a net worth of three trillion dollars. But did you know, the Mac very nearly never happened? And, it was not even the sole idea of Steve Jobs…

That advert

Just two days before the product launch, Apple aired a sixty-second commercial during that year’s Super Bowl. With a backdrop of George Orwell’s 1984, the strap line for that ad, told us why 1984 would not be like 1984, or the way it was depicted in the novel, at least.

What we didn’t know at that time, though, was what an important part of Apple’s strategy, marketing, was to become.

The initial marketing budget was a whopping $78m ($209 million today). They really intended to hit the ground running. Steve Jobs, who by this time was fully involved in the project, kept insisting on higher, and higher specifications for the Macintosh.

When it finally did launch, the price was $2495, or $6695 in today’s money. It sure seems as if they were trying to recoup those hefty marketing costs as quickly as possible, huh.

There was even an eight-part EPK (electronic press kit), that accompanied the launch, called Evolution of a Computer. The videos looked like an early version of the promo videos we have become used to today from Apple, and featured the then CEO – John Sculley.

Not an instant hit

At the time of release, the Macintosh was not the run-away success they hoped for…or needed.

It was expensive, clunky, and cumbersome, but for all its faults, there was something appealing about it. Something managed to catch the imagination of the public, and that first Apple Macintosh changed the future of home, desktop computing. Part of its appeal was that it looked nothing like any of the computers of its generation.

The ever enigmatic Steve Jobs came on stage at the Flint Center in De Anza College, Cupertino, on Tuesday, January 24, 1984, and said, “Now I’d like to show you Macintosh in person.”

The Macintosh we got, as you’d imagine, bore little, or no similarity to the Macs of today. It had a small, mono monitor, simple graphics and a weird kind of computerised voice that was a trademark of its era.

A handful of journalists were invited to some secret pre-release events, behind closed doors. The intention of those previews in October, and November 1983 were to generate a buzz, and interest ahead of launch.

Although the public ended up reticent, the journalists liked what they saw. There were even models available in some resellers, so as they could get some valuable ‘hands-on’ time, ahead of the full release.

The Apple marketing machine was up and running, with Sculley saying, “with Macintosh we have put together an extremely well-coordinated, very powerful consumer marketing program to introduce this product.”

Steve Jobs take, was a little more aggressive, enticing, and product focused “we’re gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make ‘me too’ products.”

The man behind the Macintosh

Jobs clearly had his DNA all over that first Macintosh, but he didn’t initiate the project.

That honour fell to an engineer by the name of Jef Raskin.

It was Raskin, who passed away in 2005, that had the vision of what the Macintosh should be capable of, and the development of the mouse that it shipped with, which was another first.

Raskin had not figured on a mouse to control the computer, but rather a joystick. It was Jobs that had insisted on developing the mouse. But it did fall upon Raskin to run with Jobs plan, and get it production ready.

Raskin had been a regular at the Xerox PARC facility, where they used a confusing, three-buttoned mouse, that he could never fully get to grips with (sorry about the pun!). It was that cumbersome encounter of their mouse, that encouraged him to develop a single button version.

“They had this three-button mouse and I couldn’t keep track of which button was which. And so, when I came to create the Macintosh project… I realised you could do all that you have to do with a one-button mouse.”

The idea of the first Mac came to light in 1979 in discussions between himself, and Apple’s chairman, Mike Markkula. At that time, Apple had two projects in development – Apple III, and Lisa.

In Raskin’s opinion, neither of those projects would see Apple take-off and fly. He told Markkula that “the Apple III didn’t have the technical pizazz…and that Lisa was going to be overpriced and too slow.”

It was then, that Raskin first pitched his Macintosh concept. Actually, the name Macintosh, he thought, would merely be a project name, and that when it came to market, it would more than likely be called Apple V. Raskin’s main objective was to simplify the user experience.

Nuts and bolts

Originally, there were to be no peripheral slots, meaning that customers would never have to see the insides. It was also then the idea of an all-in-one Mac came to be.

The Macintosh project was starting to gain some attention within Apple. Sculley came on-board to oversee the marketing, and having been removed from the Lisa project, Jobs was now involved too.

By late 1980, Jobs became ever more involved, to the point he was forcing Raskin further, and further away from it. The launch was delayed by Jobs –originally, Apple had intended for this project to come out by Christmas 1981, rather than January 1984,

But, even withstanding those delays, due to that marketing budget I mentioned earlier, pushed hard for by Sculley, the product launch itself was a massive success, even if the computer was a little disappointing.

Raskin eventually left Apple, and his original concepts came to bear in the shape of Canon’s CAT desktop.

Wrapping up

Jef Raskin is, undoubtedly, the forgotten hero of the Macintosh – it was his idea originally. Jobs, the man who claimed all the credit, had been more interested in taking the Lisa idea, and developing it closer to what he had seen at Xerox. He felt that was the future. Raskin was the unsung man-of-the-moment – the forgotten genius. But, that’s not to say that Jobs clearly played a massive part in making Mac and Apple what it has since become.

Luckily, there was a change of heart, and the legacy that has become Apple, was born.

From a slow, poor, initial reception, to design icon, we have a lot to thank that first 1984 Macintosh for. The company, it’s visions, and it’s ability to innovate, show no signs of abating.

The Mac is in a good place.

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