05. Apple II (1977)
In the year that Star Wars hit the big screen, Apple was taking strides in turning science fiction into science fact! You simply cannot underestimate the importance of Apple’s first mass-produced consumer product, the Apple II. It helped to kickstart the computing industry and of course it did the same for Apple as a company.
With colour display capabilities, a pleasing case design (for the time of course) and a built-in speaker, it was one of the first computers to offer a personal slant that was maybe only truly appreciated later on. It also offered everyone the first glimpse of what Apple as a company was about and where its focus would lie in the future, but no one at the time could have guessed what would follow in the next 40 years.
The price was high, which went somewhat against the personal focus of the product and which hampered the sales numbers, but there was more than enough potential here to spur the company on and to open the eyes of millions of potential customers.
04. iPhone 4 (2010)
The iPhone 4 was to phones what the Bondai Blue iMac was to computers. It was all about the design and Apple showed that smartphones could be thin, lightweight and most importantly visually desirable. Of course there were many technical enhancements over the iPhone 3 range such as the A4 chip, iOS 4 with multi-tasking and FaceTime, but ultimately it was the new Retina display that made people look at phones in a whole new way. Throw in a clever stainless steel frame, which was also the antenna, and a glass back and you have a phone design that has arguably never been beaten. Apple was riding high with the iPhone in 2010 and this was also the first model to feature a front-facing camera and a gyroscopic sensor that detected angular acceleration around the X, Y and Z axes, enabling the precise calculation of yaw, pitch and roll – data that would be crucial in ushering in a new procession of tilt-based gaming possibilities.
There was some controversy surrounding how the antenna worked and also the fragility of the glass back, which spurned the release of the now classic bumper accessory, but overall the iPhone 4 was a huge success which took the entire industry in a whole new direction. When we look back over the history of the iPhone, and indeed smartphones in general, there is little doubt that the iPhone 4 represented a sea change in terms of how personal phones could be and how they can be more fashionable than anyone would have dared to dream of previously.
03. iPad 1st Gen (2010)
Some called the original iPad ‘just a big iPhone’ and as close to the truth as that is, it is also the reason why it was and remains so successful. The first generation was big and heavy by today’s standards, but it took a genre that Microsoft has tried and failed at previously and made tablets accessible to everyone. The super-sensitive screen worked perfectly with the visually expanded iOS and all of a sudden millions of people saw a new way of doing things without the need for a PC or laptop. The device featured an Apple A4 processor and a 9.7-inch display that allowed users to play music, check their emails and browse the web anywhere – even before the advent of public Wi-Fi hotspots, a 3G version was available so that you could maintain a connection on the move.
While the prediction of doom for traditional computing has not come true, largely thanks to Apple’s work on the MacBook, it is true that the iPad has come to dominate the tablet industry and also the way millions of people browse the web and entertain themselves today. The iPhone’s big brother remains a hugely influential product that is still used literally everywhere.
02. iMac G3 (1999)
The Bondai Blue iMac, officially the iMac G3, was the first product to truly showcase the design skills of Jonathan Ive and the impeccable taste of Steve Jobs; but it was so much more than that. In a time when computers were bland beige boxes with no pleasing aesthetics at all, the G3 made people realise that they could actually offer visual personality.
The colour was the most obvious factor upon first look and this was supplemented by a handle to easily move the iMac around. USB ports were offered as standard, the floppy disk was dispensed with in favour of a CD-ROM drive and the ports were neatly hidden behind a colour-coded door. It was radical in every way and a huge risk at the time, but it paid off financially and also paved the way for how millions of people think of Apple to this day: not afraid to kill off current standards, innovative in design and technical ideas and able to push every boundary through different ways of thinking.
The ‘Think Different’ slogan perfectly exemplifies the iMac G3 and we would say that it is arguably one of the most important computers in history. Just like the iPod did to the music industry, the G3 introduced the world of computers to many more people and forced everyone to perceive them in a new way. It is arguable that the G3 kickstarted the huge rise in PC growth and that without it Apple may not have even survived.
The following year saw the introduction of the slot-loading iMac. This came in five additional colours (Blueberry, Grape, Tangerine, Lime and Strawberry) – a range that would go on to influence the colour scheme of countless other products at the time, including PlayStation controllers, such was their impact.
01. iPod 1st gen (2001)
When the iPod was introduced it entered a fledgling market that was dominated by average quality sound and impractical music management. Not only did it come to dominate digital music, but it actually completely changed the way we consume all music and had a much wider cultural influence than could ever have been reasonably expected.
A few key factors came together to make this groundbreaking product – iTunes was released only months before the iPod and was the first software that enabled people to access digital music in an untechnical way. The user interface was actually created by an outside company called Pixo yet was so incredibly natural to use thanks to its integration with the game-changing click wheel which changed how we thought about human interaction with tech products forever.
Add to this the ability to carry around thousands of tracks, excellent sound quality for the time and 10 hours of battery life, and it became an assured success which grew over time to make the white cables dangling from the ears of strangers a completely normal sight. It was the new Walkman for a new century which grew to be infinitely more influential to the point we would argue that without the iPod we would not have the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and perhaps even Apple.
Its importance to Apple at the time cannot be measured, just as we now cannot conceive the influence it has had over every tech and music-related product in the two decades since it was first released. You can look at the original iPod today and see signs of its age, but fundamentally it would still be just as usable and fun as it always was, and it still screams Apple in every area. A genuine cultural icon.
This article originally appeared in issue #200 of iCreate, a monthly magazine dedicated to all things Apple. For all the latest tips, tricks, apps and hacks delivered direct to your door every month, subscribe to iCreate.