Thirty years ago today, Steve Jobs did something he would go on to do many times over: He strode onto a stage and introduced the public to a product that would do its damnedest to dent the universe.
Here is, probably, the main thing worth remembering about the launch of the Macintosh: The soundtrack Apple chose for the moment of the machine’s introduction was, hilariously, the theme song from Chariots of Fire.
But here are a few more things to remember as the Mac marks its 30th birthday.
In an open letter to President Obama and Congress, eight of the most prominent U.S. tech companies have demanded that strict new limits be put on government surveillance, citing revelations made earlier this summer, when stories based Edward Snowden’s leaked documents began running in The Guardian. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual,” they argue, “rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”
They’ve staked out an extraordinary position.
Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and AOL all have an interest in restoring public trust in their products and averting new regulatory challenges in countries disinclined to let a spying hegemon control the Internet. My colleague James Fallows has written eloquently about the damage the NSA’s behavior could do to U.S. economic might as other countries react to it. The companies could’ve made a compelling case for reform on those grounds alone.
Instead, they’ve gone quite a bit farther.
Read more. [Image: Jason Lee/Reuters]
Everybody wants Apple to be Volkswagen, but Apple just wants to be BMW.
Or, more to the point, Apple just wants to be Apple. Instead of making cheap phones to grow market share, it’s making expensive phones to maintain high profit margins—and market share is fading.
About 80 million smartphones were sold between the third quarters of 2012 and 2013. This graph, from Gartner data of smartphone growth in the last year, shows who got what. Apple might be the second biggest phone seller in the world, but Lenovo sold more phones in the last year. And Samsung sold almost five times more units.
What do you think an apple core is? What’s the thing we throw away?
It is a ghost. If you eat your apples whole, you are a hero to this ghost. If you do not, you are barely alive. Come experience vitality.
Earlier this year, in “How to Eat Apples Like a Boss,” a video by Foodbeast, the Internet was promised the gift of confidence in apple-eating. Elie Ayrouth ate an apple starting at the bottom, proceeding to up to the top, and finishing with a wink to the camera, as a boss does. Eating as such, Foodbeast said, the core “disappears.”
I do them one better and say that it never existed. The core is a product of society, man. There is a thin fibrous band, smaller in diameter than a pencil and not bad to the taste. If you eat your apple vertically, it is not noticeable to taste.
Being a utility executive used to be a sweet gig.
State regulators told you how much you could charge your customers for electricity and dictated your profit margin. Your job was to build big power plants, or buy energy from those that do, and distribute it your customers. And those customers weren’t exactly going anywhere. After all, you owned the transmission lines that delivered your electrons to their homes. In other words, it was a bit like sitting in the corner suite of AT&T, circa 1981, when Ma Bell was the only game in telephone town.
Those days are over. Regulators now want you to obtain a growing percentage of the electricity you sell from wind, solar, and other renewable sources that are carbon-free but intermittent, which plays havoc with the power grid. And your customers? They’re increasingly generating their own electricity from rooftop solar arrays, fuel cells, wind farms, and self-contained power systems called microgrids. The rapid expansion of this so-called distributed generation deprives utilities of revenues while leaving them liable for maintaining the grid. And increasingly severe weather spawned by climate change is raising doubts about the wisdom of relying on a centralized power system.
Read more. [Image: Alexis Madrigal]
On October 23, 2001, Steve Jobs convened a group of tech reporters and Apple fans at the company’s Cupertino headquarters to announce a new product: the iPod. It was a launch that would lead the company, six years later, to drop the “Computer” from “Apple Computer.” It was a launch that would change ”the destiny of Apple.” It was a launch that would, as one slightly melodramatic analyst puts it, ”reshape society completely.”
But on October 23, 2001, if you didn’t happen to be Steve Jobs, you might not have seen the iPod’s society-reshaping potential. You might have seen the iPod, instead, for the other thing it was: just another MP3 player. On the day of its release—when the iPod was simply a consumer electronics product in search of its consumers—reactions to it were decidedly … mixed. (“Apple’s iPod spurs mixed reactions,” reads a CNET summary of the launch.) The iPod, after all, wasn’t the first portable jukebox. Its software and FireWire ports made it available, in its first iteration, only to Macintosh users. (At the time, only about 7 million people owned iPod-compatible Macs.) The iPod, from that perspective, was a small step forward, not a leap. And, at $399, it was an expensive little step.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
It was the biggest launch in company history. But can Apple really be high-margin and high-growth at the same time?
What hath the gold phone wrought?
The release of iOS 7, the software that powers iPhones and iPads, wasn’t the only major update from Apple yesterday. The company also released iTunes Radio, a Pandora-like feature which will play a stream of music inspired by a given song, artist, or album.
Which got me thinking: What is iTunes? The software dates back to 1999, when it was conceived by two independent Mac developers as Soundjam MP. Apple secretly purchased and adapted Soundjam, then released it as “the world’s best and easiest to use ‘jukebox’ software” on January 9, 2001. Since then, the software has been made to sync with iPods, released for Windows, and turned into the iPhone’s and iPad’s central connection to the computer.
Apple’s desktop operating system, Mac OS, is built on UNIX code. UNIX is an old, open-source technology, and it carries certain ideals and traditions. Early UNIX programmers developed a philosophy for the system, a preferred method of writing software. One of its tenets? “Make each program do one thing well,” wrote a UNIX pioneer, Doug McIlroy. “To do a new job, build afresh rather than complicate old programs by adding new features.”