Apple computer's history is a classic American success story. The company designed and built what would become the personal computer, and was instrumental in the birth of this important global industry.
In early 1970's two young teenagers, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak crossed paths and began a friendship and collaboration that eventually led to the founding of Apple Computer Co. in April of 1976. In basic terms Steve Wozniak was the engineer and Jobs the entrepreneur.
The first machine designed and built by Wozniak was shown to folks at Hewlett-Packard and other companies who passed on purchasing or investing so Jobs and "Woz" decided to take it to the world themselves.
At the time personal computing was limited to build-it-yourself kits sold through hobby stores and catalogs. The Apple team met with a retail outlet in CA called The Byte Shop, and agreed to build 500 machines on consignment to be sold on spec. They took the risk, and to skip ahead, it worked out very well.
Apple quickly moved from an extra bedroom, to the garage of Jobs' home, and soon into a leased commercial space. In 1977 the company was incorporated and released its new Apple II computer. This important design had a board with 8 expansion slots to be more flexible and powerful. I came in a case with a keyboard and output to a color display.
At this time Apple was competing with the TRS-80 from Tandy (Radio Shack) and the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor). The big event that changed thing was the introduction of the World's first "killer app" called VisiCalc for Apple. This spreadsheet application was most responsible for the rapid growth in sales for Apple's machines.
In 1979 Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC (Palo Alta Research Center) and was introduced to their GUI, graphical user interface, running on Xerox computer called Alto. He was convinced that the GUI would be the way of the world. Apple to begin development of a graphical user interface for the next big product, the Apple "Lisa", in 1978. The project took until 1983 to be released to the market. Sales of Lisa would prove to be less than stellar.
On December 12, 1980 Apple share went public, creating more millionaires in one day (over 300) than any company ever. The stock began trading at $2.75 per share.
During the same time frame another team at Apple was diligently working on a more affordable product called "Macintosh". Released in 1984 the Macintosh was less expensive than the Lisa, and offered more software titles. The simple machine was the first to come with a mouse and user-friendly GUI. The market bought it and the cult was born.
The GUI based operating system Apple developed for the Macintosh was the beginning of what would become Mac OS, but at the time is was simply called System software. In 1984 this Apple OS was System version 1.0 This early package simplified the operation of a computer by hiding the complex instructions behind simple icons. Brilliant.
Earlier computers had be run by Mac DOS or early firmware embedded in the on-board chips. The development of the System software was a big step in Apple's computers.
The Mac, as it would become known, was successful at arranging the display on the screen to match the output sent to the printer. In 1985 Apple introduced the LaserWriter printer to work with PageMaker software. This was a huge advantage and led to the development and explosion in desktop publishing.
Apples' System 1.0 was followed by 2.0 in 1985 adding networking by AppleTalk and LaserWriter print support.
Microsoft based systems would soon be capable of desktop publishing as well, but the industry would continue its preference and fondness for the Apple products. This could be a deciding factor in Apple survival during the explosion of Microsoft's Windows growth throughout the personal and business markets.
In 1981 IBM entered the personal computer market in a big way. The market klout and resources of IBM led them to quickly achieve success in the business market. These systems were powered by Intel processors and Microsoft's MS DOS. Others soon reverse-engineered these system and began making "IBM-compatibles" or "clones" of the popular machines.
Apple was very concerned about the quality and control of their systems and made the process quite difficult for any company that wanted to duplicate their systems. They proved to have a valid point as IBM quickly lost their market share to the cloners and finely left the PC hardware business entirely.
The market for big business was taking its toll at Apple. In 1983 John Sculley was named CEO at Apple. Steve Jobs had lost some of his power and control as the public shareholders now were a factor. His plans and struggles became at odds with the new board and his power was stripped from the company he began.
In 1985 sales of the Macintosh were slow and not growing fast enough to meet Wall Street's expectations. Steve Jobs, who was then running the Macintosh division, and CEO John Sculley had a big disagreement on the strategy to grow the business. After some brief research by the board of directors they decided to back Sculley's plan and to asked Jobs to step down from his leadership position.
Steve Jobs left Apple and during this time he created a new computer system called NeXT, and purchased a little animation company Pixar. One loser and one winner. Pixar's success would dwarf the NeXT failure.
The Apple System Software would be upgraded to versions 3.0 through 5.1 over the next few years adding features and changing the file structure to hierarchal system, a fast SCSI interface, expansion card support, and larger displays.
The introduction of System 6.0 was a big step, and was the first complete system. It would prove to be stable and long-lasting. The version went through 8 minor upgrades over the next 3 years.
In 1987 Apple began developing the Newton, and Sculley is sometimes credited with coining the term PDA, Personal Digital Assistant. The Newton was never really able to find a market and remained a minor component of the Apple business for about 10 years. Many believe that the product was what led to the iPod, a product that hit a market that was finally ready and eager for it!
In 1988 American business was in turmoil and the business at Apple was struggling to make any progress. The computer being built by Next, Steve Jobs new company was introduced and Apple began a long period of legal suits against Microsoft claiming that the Graphical User Interface in Windows infringed on Apple. The suits finally were found baseless and no award to Apple.
In 1991 the next major upgrade System 7 was released and was the beginning of a long run in this Apple operating system generation. System 7 would have a life of 6 yeas being upgraded many times. The version 7.5.1 was the first to actually be called "Mac OS"
System 7 also introduced TrueType fonts, which are still in use by Apple as well as all Microsoft's Windows products.
During this period the Apple system was ported for the new PowerPC processor as the company switched to this hardware. John Sculley would later say that this was his biggest mistake as it would have been a better idea to move into the more popular Intel architecture.
By 1994 the Apple was struggling and John Sculley was sent packing. NeXT computer had developed an excellent operating system called NeXTstep, but had stopped building the expensive hardware to run it.
In 1995 Apple began a program to license it's ROM and System to produces of Apple clones. The company needed the revenue and with the clones was able to capture an estimated 10% market share in desktop computers.
NeXT computer would be purchased by Apple in 1996 and bring Jobs back into the company he began. The NeXTstep system would become the basis for the Mac OS X. Apple was beginning to make better moves than it could have imagined.
Jobs found some loopholes in the legal terms of licensing for the clones and with the release of Mac OS 8 all the clone business was over. The market share for Macs fell to about 3% but that would not last long. Jobs would become the CEO in 1998 and begin a series of product development that started with the iMac.
The iMac was an integrated display and processor unit incased in colorful clear and translucent plastic. The aesthetics and design would show dramatic style and change the market forever. iMac with its modern look would sell a million units a year, doubling their market share to 10% in only 6 months.
The new product releases would continue with the Power Mac G4, the iBook consumer laptop and the rise and implementation of AirPort and the Mac OS 9 wireless capabilities and transitional features.
By 2001 the next big thing was ready and Apple released OS X, based on the NeXTstep and parts of the FreeBSD kernel. This OS was new from the ground up and completely incompatible with the older Mac OS. As a transitional move the system included a bit of magic to run in classic mode with Mac OS 9. Many long-time users were unhappy with the dramatic change but many new users came to Apple for the stability and simplicity offered with the edgy new style that would completely change the computer market forever.
The OS X operating system was released in beta in 2000. The first official version OS x 10.0 was released March 2001, and has since been through 8 upgrades, each named after large cats. The current version 10.8 is called Mountain Lion.
One of the most notable OS X upgrades is version 10.6 Snow Leopard which was the first Intel only version ending Apple's long run with the PowerPC processors.
As OS X was being released the company boldly came to the market with an expensive and unique small music device called iPod. Jobs and Apple were betting on the shift of entertainment from traditional channels to new devices. The iPod was soon followed by the launch of the iTunes store and against many expectations this segment was wildly successful. Features and components of the computer operating system were being built more to work together and Mac OS upgrades began coming at a rapid and consistent rate.
In 2007 the iPhone launched, and in 2010 the iPad. 2007 also saw the company change their name from Apple Computer to Apple, Inc. The computer no longer is the business but simply a division of the world's most valuable company.
Apple now is estimated to have grown to a 12% share of the computer market. It continues to grow even though the overall market is flat. The computer market is going through dramatic shifts as many business functions move to tablets and other devices. Androids numerous iterations, Microsoft and Apple have new competitors and rapidly changing technology. For the foreseeable future Apple has built itself some breathing room.