The Incredible Progression of the Apple Mac Computer

It’s been 27 years since Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) cofounder Steve Jobs introduced the first Macintosh computer, following the famous “1984” commercial aired during the Super Bowl.

Since then, many things have gone Apple’s way, while many others have gone exactly the opposite.

For instance, we can’t imagine that Jobs would have been happy in 1984 knowing that Microsoft DOS- and Windows-based PCs would come to absolutely clobber the Mac. He would have not been happy that the Mac would have puny market share for decades, basically a high-end niche tool for creative-types.

But he might have smiled at the idea that he’d come back to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) later in his career to save the Mac and the company.

He’d probably be happy knowing that in the December quarter of 2010, Apple would sell more than 4 million Macs for more than $5 billion in revenue.

And if you’d shown him the new MacBook Air in 1984, even Steve Jobs would have been amazed.

The Original Macintosh – January 24, 1984 ($2,500)

The Original Macintosh – January 24, 1984 ($2,500)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The original Mac changed everything by using a graphical user interface and a mouse to control the things on the screen instead of a text-based command line.When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he referred to this as one of the first revolutionary user interfaces that Apple had invented in its history. (The second was the iPod touch wheel, and the third was the iPhone’s multi-touch gesture interface.)

Macintosh Plus – January 16, 1986 ($2,600)

Macintosh Plus – January 16, 1986 ($2,600)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Apple’s all-in-one design has been through many iterations since the mid-1980s. The Plus was one of the most successful early Macs in Apple’s history.

Macintosh II – March 2, 1987 ($5,500)

Macintosh II – March 2, 1987 ($5,500)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Apple’s II series was expensive but allowed for bigger, external monitors, and had room for expansion.

Macintosh Portable – September 20, 1989 ($6,500)

Macintosh Portable – September 20, 1989 ($6,500)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Apple’s first battery-operated computer included a black-and-white screen and weighed more than 15 pounds. It wasn’t a big hit.But Apple eventually became very good at making portable computers.

Macintosh IIsi – October 15, 1990 ($3,770)

Macintosh IIsi – October 15, 1990 ($3,770)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Mac II series continued to get slicker (and cheaper). This was one of the first Macs we had at home in the early 1990s, attached to a then-enormous 16-inch monitor.

PowerBook 100, 140, 170 – October 21, 1991 ($2,500 – $4,600)

PowerBook 100, 140, 170 – October 21, 1991 ($2,500 - $4,600)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Early Mac laptops had trackballs, before Apple switched to trackpads later in the 1990s.They had color screens, but had lower resolution than today’s iPhones.

Quadra Series – October 21, 1991 ($970 – $7,200)

Quadra Series – October 21, 1991 ($970 - $7,200)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Quadra became Apple’s expensive, high-end line focused on business employees.

Performa Series – October 21, 1991

Performa Series – October 21, 1991

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the Performa became Apple’s consumer-focused line in the early 1990s. A third line, “LC,” was designed for educational customers.Eventually, these computers would ship with modems and could connect to “eWorld,” Apple’s version of AOL.

PowerBook Duo – 1992

PowerBook Duo - 1992

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Duo series of PowerBook laptops was unique in that it included a “Duo dock,” which let you dock your laptop to a monitor and keyboard at home.

Macintosh TV – October 25, 1993 ($1,600)

Macintosh TV – October 25, 1993 ($1,600)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

What, you thought Apple TV was the company’s first shot at the living room?This Macintosh TV — basically a black, all-in-one Performa — had a built-in TV tuner and a 14-inch Sony Trinitron display.

Apple only made 10,000 of them, according to the Macintosh TV Wikipedia page.

Power Macintosh 6100, 7100, 8100 – March 14, 1994 ($1,820 – $4,250)

Power Macintosh 6100, 7100, 8100 – March 14, 1994 ($1,820 - $4,250)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Power Mac line took over from the Quadra as Apple’s high-end line, representing Apple’s switch to new “PowerPC” chips, developed by Apple, IBM, and Motorola.

Macintosh Performa 630 – July 18, 1994 ($1,500)

Macintosh Performa 630 – July 18, 1994 ($1,500)

Image: The Mac Gamer

This was a special Mac because it came with a second chip — an Intel chip capable of booting Microsoft Windows. The idea was that someone who absolutely NEEDED to run some Windows software could buy this, and then get the benefits of having a Mac. But it didn’t become a hit.

Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh – March 20, 1997 ($7,499)

Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh – March 20, 1997 ($7,499)

Image: Flickr: Richard Faulder

If you squint, this almost looks like one of the more-recent iMacs, including a flat-panel display and a custom Bose sound system. It also had leather wrist pads and TV/FM tuners.But it was very expensive and not very popular. (Though it did make its way onto the set of “Seinfeld.”)

iMac G3 – May 6, 1998 ($1,299)

iMac G3 – May 6, 1998 ($1,299)

The original “Bondi blue” iMac was probably the first sign that Steve Jobs was going to be able to turn things around at Apple.It was crazy looking, and didn’t have a floppy drive, but it was very cool, including a translucent plastic case that let you see inside it.

Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White) – January 1999 ($1,599)

Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White) – January 1999 ($1,599)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The “iMac look” started making it into other aspects of Apple’s hardware design, including the “Blue and White” G3 tower — the first Apple tower computer with a swing-out door that let you easily add RAM, hard drives, and other upgrades to the computer.

iBook G3 “Clamshell” – July 21, 1999 ($1,599)

iBook G3 "Clamshell" – July 21, 1999 ($1,599)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The iBook represented Apple’s big push into consumer laptops around the end of the 1990s. It looked neat and had a handle.

PowerBook G3 (Pismo) – February 16, 2000 ($2,499)

PowerBook G3 (Pismo) – February 16, 2000 ($2,499)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Pismo PowerBook G3 had Firewire (for hooking up digital camcorders and external hard drives), AirPort (for early wi-fi networks), and hot-swappable side bays to add a second battery, DVD-ROM drive, or even a Zip drive.

Power Macintosh G4 Cube – July 19, 2000 ($1,799)

Power Macintosh G4 Cube – July 19, 2000 ($1,799)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The G4 cube was a good idea — a cheap, no-frills Mac — that didn’t work. But it later gave birth to the Mac mini.

PowerBook G4 (Titanium) – January 9, 2001 ($2,599)

PowerBook G4 (Titanium) – January 9, 2001 ($2,599)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Apple’s laptops really started to get attention when they went metal with the “TiBook.” Apple was making thin, durable laptops with great displays.This is around the time that UNIX geeks started getting interested in Macs because the newish Mac OS X operating system was based on UNIX.

iMac G4 – January 7, 2002 ($1,299)

iMac G4 – January 7, 2002 ($1,299)

The first flat-panel iMac had a weird tube holding it onto a round base, and looked more like a lamp than a computer. But it was the first indication that the LCD would become standard for mass-market desktop computers, not just laptops.This design actually slipped out the night before Steve Jobs was going to unveil it because Time magazine’s cover story leaked.

XServe – May 14, 2002 ($2,999)

XServe – May 14, 2002 ($2,999)

Image: Apple

Apple tried getting into the server business with Xserve, offering high-end servers running OS X with cool, hot-swappable hard drives.The problem is that the server industry wound up moving lower-end, with commodity hardware getting meshed together with software, a la Google’s huge server farms.

Apple discontinued the XServe line in 2010.

Power Macintosh G5 – June 23, 2003 ($1,999)

Power Macintosh G5 – June 23, 2003 ($1,999)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Mac Pro still has a similar, stunning metal design as this Power Mac G5.

Mac Mini – January 11, 2005 ($499)

Mac Mini – January 11, 2005 ($499)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Mac mini became Apple’s big hope to attract “switchers” from Windows, because it was cheap and could already hook up to their existing keyboards and monitors.It eventually got Intel chips and became much thinner.

Some geeks even hook them up to their TVs to use for watching web video.

iMac (Intel-Based) – January 10, 2006 ($1,299)

iMac (Intel-Based) – January 10, 2006 ($1,299)

Image: Apple

The iMac has since evolved into a beast, available with up to four processing cores and up to 27 inches in screen size. This makes a great bedroom TV, and could represent Apple’s eventual transition into selling actual TVs.

MacBook – May 16, 2006 ($1,099)

MacBook – May 16, 2006 ($1,099)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The plastic, Intel-based MacBook became Apple’s go-to consumer computer in the mid-2000s, helping push Apple’s quarterly portable computer revenue far beyond its desktop computer revenue.

MacBook Air – January 15, 2008 ($1,799)

MacBook Air – January 15, 2008 ($1,799)

Image: Apple

The MacBook Air was first unveiled in 2008 and impressed because it could fit into a manila envelope. But it was slow and expensive and didn’t sell very well. (Some people thought it was crazy that it didn’t include an optical drive.)But the new MacBook Air, unveiled in late 2010, is the future of the Mac laptop line. It doesn’t have a hard drive, using completely Flash-based memory, so the battery lasts long and it doesn’t get very hot. It’s quick and turns on instantly, and is incredibly thin and light.

Expect the rest of Apple’s laptop line to look more like this sooner than later.