My Ringside Seat at the 1984 Mac Unveiling

As I sat third row center at the Flint Center in Cupertino on January 24, 1984, I had no idea that I was witnessing history.

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This is the Apple Macintosh that was unveiled in Cupertino, Calif., on Jan. 24, 1984.

This is the Apple Macintosh that was unveiled in Cupertino, Calif., on Jan. 24, 1984. The space-efficient case contained a 32-bit microprocessor, an innovative built-in 3 1/2 inch disk drive and a nine-inch display. The 128k of RAM turned out to be alarmingly skimpy. Suggested price was $2,495.

As I sat third row center at the Flint Center in Cupertino on January 24, 1984, I had no idea that I was witnessing history.

The original unveiling of the Mac took place at Apple’s annual shareholder meeting, so the majority of people in the audience were investors. Steve Jobs came to the stage, took the white sheet off the Mac, and it said, “Hello.”

On January 24,1984, the Mac was born. And on its 30th anniversary, I’ve taken the time to reflect on how this computer has influenced the world of computing since its debut. While the IBM PC clearly set the ball in motion for the PC revolution, it was the Mac that drove much of the real innovation in personal computing from the time it entered the market.

The Mac introduced us to the first true commercial version of a graphical user interface and mouse, and popularized the 3.5-inch floppy disk. But the combined package of the operating-system design, developer program and innovative hardware also made it feasible to launch some very important advancements that drove the PC market forward in important ways. In some cases, it even disrupted industries.

The first key market the Mac disrupted was the world of publishing. Jobs actually set this in motion when he introduced the first desktop laser printer, even though the Apple board was not behind it. Jobs was enamored with its printing capabilities, the fact that he could offer it for about $7000, and the fact that it would fit on a desk. In 1984, the cheapest laser printers cost at least $50,000 and were each the size of a small closet. Ironically, Jobs did not last at Apple long enough to be part of the revolution in publishing that his laser printer helped create.

Toward the end of 1984, a gentleman named Paul Brainerd, the CEO of PageMaker, showed Apple CEO John Sculley and his team a new software product. This was the first WYSIWYG program of its kind and as Brainerd pointed out at the time, the Mac made it possible for him to create such a product. The term “desktop publishing” came out of the union of Apple’s Mac, the laser printer and Aldus’ PageMaker. It changed the world of publishing forever.

An interesting side note to this: After I saw the Canon laser printer engine in 1983, I wrote in a report that I believed this product would someday let people publish documents from the desktop. It was that line in this report that got the attention of Apple and many other companies, and it allowed me to get involved in a lot of desktop publishing projects during those days.

The second thing Apple and the Mac shook up was the vision of the future of computing. In 1987, Apple released a highly futuristic video called the Knowledge Navigator. John Scully and then Apple Fellow Alan Kay had been brainstorming, and crafted a vision for the future of personal computing that encompassed the Mac’s user interface along with voice commands, multimedia and new forms of displays. At the time, this video was viewed with amazement and dismay as many detractors just did not see how this could happen. Here is the actual video. If you have not seen it, you need to watch it — and keep in mind this was done in 1987.


The third thing Apple disrupted with the Mac was education, when the company introduced multimedia to the personal computing landscape. In late 1989, John Scully took the bold step of integrating a CD-ROM drive into all Macs. Apple and some software developers used the CD-ROM and Mac software to create documents that had text, images and even some simple video, turning the Mac into a multimedia creation machine. More importantly, it influenced the future of all PC designs and made multimedia computing a normal part of the computing experience.

I was very privileged to be involved in the UCLA multimedia conference in 1990 where 35 top leaders from the world of PCs, consumer electronics, entertainment and education met to discuss how multimedia could impact their industries. Participants at this conference were people like Alan Kay, Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab, Stewart Brand, John Sculley, Bob Lucky (then the president of Bell Labs), Nolan Bushnell (father of Atari), Trip Hawkins (founder of Electronic Arts), and many key leaders of these industries at the time. Its guiding light was Dr. Martin Greenberger, who piloted the conference and helped the industry define the role multimedia would play in all of these industries in the future. Much of the advancements in multimedia within these industries can be traced back to the work done at this first conference on multimedia computing — advancements bolstered by the role the Mac played in launching the era of multimedia computing.

Then in 1998, after Steve Jobs had been back at Apple for a year, Apple created the first all-in-one PC called the iMac. They came in candy colors and were a big hit. The iMac has evolved over time, but it clearly introduced the concept of the all-in-one PC. Surprisingly, this is the only desktop form factor that is seeing any growth now.

In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod. Earlier in the year Steve Jobs took the stage at MacWorld and declared that he wanted to “make the Mac the center of our digital lifestyles.” With the iPod he fundamentally pushed the concept of the Mac as the core of our digital lifestyles: The iPod was a portable satellite connected to the Mac, and became the first mobile extension of a personal computer. This concept really took off in 2004 when a PC version of iTunes was created, and its influence on Mac and PC connectivity to mobile devices was in full swing.

The next extension of this came with the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, as both furthered the concept of the PC-to-mobile connectivity concept. And as you know, these products have launched the age of mobile and the post-PC era. Although the graphical user interface and mouse were invented at Xerox PARC, it was Apple that commercialized it. Almost all personal computing products and most smartphones and tablets have benefited from the Mac’s legacy. Apple also shook up the world of laptops with the release of its ultra-thin MacBook Air. This Mac design has influenced many of the laptop computer form factors ever since.

The Mac is now 30 years old. In its 30 years, it has had quite an influence on billions of people’s lives in one way or another via its influence on desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets. Apple has lead this charge and while others are catching up, it will be interesting to see what other Mac iterations Apple has up its sleeve in the future — and if the Mac’s legacy can live on in other Apple products.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.