Mac at 30

Sure enough the call came to come to Jobs’s office. “These yours?” Steve asked pointing at some designs of a unibody, transparent blue plastic computer. “Yes,” said the British designer whose name was Jony Ive. “This is the computer we’re going to build and sell this year,” said Jobs.  “Nothing else.”

“You do realise that’s how I want it to look?” said Jony. “I mean, the transparent plastic and everything.” “That’s exactly how it’ll look,” Jobs returned. “Only it will have the insanely great things called USB ports too. No other computer in the world has them yet.”  The greatest team in commercial computing was born. Perhaps the greatest team in commercial history.

That now iconic Bondi blue computer, christened the iMac, became the best-selling computer of 1998. Next came – you don’t need me to tell you – other colours, and then of course the coloured iBooks, the titanium Powerbook, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. From the brink of bankruptcy to becoming the largest and most valuable company on earth Apple had changed the world again, just as it had when the Apple II was the most popular home computer of the 1970s.

The secret was always in Steve’s sense of the aesthetic. People and rivals who thought Apple’s products were a triumph of design over substance just didn’t get it. They get it now of course and fall over themselves to replicate the astounding detailing, bevelling, gleam, glide and sheer beauty of these products. Or of course they hate them and think anyone who uses them is a poser who doesn’t know their tech and has more money than sense.

Apple has split the tech world extraordinarily. If Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s excellent and totally non-partisan technology reporter, is so much as seen as holding an Apple product he will get streams of trolling invective from mad Apple haters. If he holds up a Samsung and licks it, none of us give a toss. It’s all become very troubling. I notice the BBC have no article in their tech page today even mentioning the Mac’s 30th birthday. I supposed they’re just scared by those weird trolls who think that Apple has them in their pay or something equally mad. I can’t be arsed to go out there and defend Apple products, they speak and sell for themselves. If you think the world is fine enough in all other areas for there to be room for you to be all angry about Apple, then go ahead and be angry. It’s your spleen. Do what you like with it.

What cannot be denied is that the first Macintosh changed my life completely. It made me want to write, I couldn’t wait to get to it every morning. If you compare computers to offices, the Mac was the equivalent of the most beautifully designed colourful space, with jazzy carpets on shiny oak floors, a pool table, wooden beams, a cappuccino machine, posters and great music playing. The rest of the world trudged into Microsoft’s operating system: a grey, soulless partitioned office, with nylon carpets, flickering fluorescent lamps and a faintly damp smell. I made that architectural design analogy time after time and no one seemed to notice, thought I was just pretentious. But now of course, MS are as aware of sick building/OS syndrome as anyone else, and have, since the launch of iPad and new range of OS X operating systems gone out of their way to tread the true path to deliciousness, colour, feel, joy, pleasure and taste without which function cannot … well … function.

I wish no ill on any other manufacturer of computers or digital devices. But I think it would be an odd, ornery and wrong-headed poltroon who didn’t agree that it is worth recognising the 30th anniversary of a machine that changed everything in our lives.


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