Steve Jobs and the History of Apple Product Development

With Steve Jobs taking a medical leave of absence, it’s worth looking at some of Apple’s most iconic successes and failures to date to get a macro-level look at the effect he’s had on Apple products (and by extension, the company itself) so far.

The Macintosh

Looking back to 1976, the Apple I was the first big success for Apple, though arguably it was also a failure. The company ultimately killed the Apple computer in favor of the Apple Macintosh. Introduced in 1984, the Macintosh popularized the Graphical User Interface, as well as the input device known as the “mouse.” The Macintosh was self-contained, including the display, and easy to set up with few cables, characteristics favored by Jobs and ones that continue to distinguish Apple products to this day.

It’s not surprising then that upon returning to Apple, Jobs oversaw the Mac’s rebirth in 1998. The iMac combined the “excitement of the Internet with the simplicity of the Macintosh.” The iMac cleared away legacy technology, including the (at the time ubiquitous) floppy disk drive, emphasizing networking and getting online “fast and easy.” At $1,199, it was a huge success. In 2000, the iMac accounted for nearly half of all Macs sold. The iMac was one of two products that saved Apple Computer; the other was the iPod.


“We love music” is one of those quotes that Jobs often repeats, and in the iPod, it really showed. Although not the first hard-drive based media player, the iPod combined great functionality, 5GB of storage and 10 hours of battery life with brilliant industrial design and the click-wheel, all in a case the size of a “deck of cards.” That device, combined first with iTunes, and then with the iTunes Music Store, ultimately established Apple as the leading purveyor of media players and digital music.


However, not everything Jobs touched ended up turning to gold, though one did successfully transmute at Apple. NeXT was the company Jobs started after leaving Apple, and while it and its computers ultimately failed, the NeXTSTEP OS did not: We know it today as OS X.

A rare but lasting failure for Apple was the Cube. Introduced in 2000, the Apple Cube was, according to Jobs, “simply the coolest computer ever.” At any rate, the buying public was definitely cool towards it. Less than two years after its launch, an embarrassing press release put the Cube on “ice” permanently.

Another notable Mac failure was the iMac G4. Introduced in 2002, the iMac G4 boasted a revolutionary design that placed an LCD display on an articulating arm, the “sunflower” design, as Jobs described it. “Why have a flat display if you’re going to glom all this stuff on its back?” Two years later, following a reception best described as lukewarm, that’s exactly what Apple did with the iMac G5.

The Tablet Revolution

If it sounded like boasting in 2007 when Steve Jobs said Apple was introducing “a revolutionary product that changes everything,” it sounds like a straightforward declaration of facts in hindsight. Back then, it was thought that we were getting a new phone with multi-touch and a real Internet experience, but four years later, it turns out that what we got was a brand new, robust computing platform.  The iPad is the latest innovation in mobile computing from Apple, and if the rush of competitors to offer similar devices is any indication, it could approach even the lofty example set by the iPhone in terms of its effect on the way people use technology in their daily lives.

1984, 2001, 2007, 2010: those are the years that matter, the years of the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, and Steve Jobs was there for every one. Like every other Apple fan, I can’t wait for Jobs to come back and continue the hit parade that just won’t stop.

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