Before / Apple / After: How Apple Has Led The Tech Industry Every Step Of The Way [Gallery]



For the last thirty five years, time after time, Apple has revolutionized the way we look at technology and dragged the rest of the industry kicking and screaming into the future. If we listed all the ways in which Apple has changed the way we interact with technology, we could fill a book, so here are some of our favorite examples of how Apple has led the tech industry every step of the way.

Apple didn’t design the first consumer PC: that was the Altair 8800, a computer that was sold as a DIY kit in the back of  Popular Electronics magazine in 1975. Apple’s first computer, the Apple I, tried to mimic the Altair 8800’s DIYer success, but it wasn’t until 1979’s Apple II that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak truly revolutionized the world of home computing by releasing the world’s first consumer PC designed for amateurs instead of hobbyists and engineers: a device that resembled a home appliance and came pre-assembled and working out of the box. Less than a year later, the competition was already catching up, with Commodore releasing the popular (and Apple II-like) VIC-20 in 1980 and following it up with the Commodore 64 in 1982. To this day, the impact of the Apple II is felt… while a few holdouts still build their machines from scratch, the computer industry is dominated by consumer-oriented, prebuilt machines.

These days, we take the pretty graphical user interfaces of OS X and Windows for granted, but getting there wasn’t intuitive. The blinking cursor of operating systems like DOS is the most obvious interface for a computer, because what could be more intuitive than telling a computer what you want it to do in English?

The only problem is that computers weren’t smart enough to understand English and to work out what users wanted them to do, so computers had to have their own language and syntax to accept commands… and what had started out as an intuitive idea became a very high barrier to entry to most amateurs.

With Macintosh OS, Apple changed all of that by using visual metaphors to imagine a virtual space, with files as real objects that you can open to manipulate their contents, and a mouse pointer working like a finger tip tracing along a desktop.

Apple’s desktop model was such an amazing success that the graphical user interface has been the default way we interact with our computers and gadgets ever since. First released in 1984, Macintosh OS was followed almost immediately by the first version of Windows just a year later. Sure, any one on a Mac can still drop to a Unix shell to input commands if they want to… but even then, they have to go through OS X’s GUI first.

The shift from compartmentalized machines to all-in-ones isn’t to everyone’s liking. It makes PCs harder — if not impossible — to upgrade, and it means if one component breaks — a graphic card, or the display — the whole thing’s got to be hauled in to repair.

But there are a few  big advantages to all-in-one PCs. First of all, they are easy to set up. Second, they can be designed to be more consistently attractive than traditional tower PCs. Finally, because the manufacturer has control over every component going into their PCs, well, “they just work.”

Guess which company loves to make products that just work? Yup: Apple, who revolutionized the all-in-one PC with the 1998 iMac G3.

Tower PCs haven’t gone anywhere — Apple still makes one with the Mac Pro — but they’ve become increasingly niche since the iMac’s debut. While professionals and tech heads might want a machine they can build themselves and replace components easily in, most consumers just want something that is fast, looks good in their home or office and works without any problems. No wonder towers are increasingly being pushed to the sidelines.

  • Speech_Geek

    This is why I buy Apple products.

  • ccwoods

    It’s one thing to say Apple changed everything, we know it intuitively, but it’s another thing to lay it all out there. That took some work. Very cool.

  • Mike Rathjen

    I’m with you on everything except the last one. DVRs perform a substantially different function than AppleTV and Roku.

    I would love it if Apple TV got a tuner and a hard drive in order to add DVR functionality, but it won’t happen.

  • pangeomedia

    Excluding the iMac, all-in-one PCs haven’t exactly taken the world by storm, now have they? 

    You could have used an example of the original PowerBook 100 models to highlight what notebooks would become. There’s not much difference between a PB 100 circa 1992 and MacBook Pro model today. Most notebooks on the market owe their heritage to those Sony-built models of the early 1990s.

  • Ed_Kel

    Good article

  • Humberto Rivera

    Great article. Though I would have mentioned the Palm pdas and smartphones. I think they did a better job than most PocketPcs.

  • jbelkin

    You really should note the important distinction of pre apple PowerBooks. Laptops had the keyboards at the edge so your palms rested on the table awkwardly. Apple figuredout that if you moved the keyboard in, you had a ready madepalm rest – that was huge …

  • supertino

    Here is one that I did:

  • Honyant

    Might I suggest that the Popular Electronics magazine that sold the DIY Altair 8800 kit was probably 1975 and not 1985.

  • Connor Mulcahey

    you should do smart phones, tablets (PCs), and portable music players too
    they have revolutionized more than just the computer industry

  • Hampus

    Check the rest of the pages, all those you mentioned are on page three…
    Yea, splitting it in to pages is stupid but it gives the more ad-views you know…

  • Hampus

    Yea, I thought of that too, manufactures do make a few All-in-ones but they really aren’t that common.

    Also, saying that the all-in-one model is good because the manufacturer has control over the hardware and stuff therefore just works is stupid. Guess what, unless you change the hardware yourself (which few “normal” users do) any normal desktop computer will come with the exact hardware that the manufacturer put in there too.
    Besides, as long as you’re not putting in 10 year old components just about every piece of hardware you can put in a “modern” PC will “just work” with windows 7 as it’ll detect it and get drivers from windows updated rather quickly, just saying…

  • ByteOfView

    I love these comparisons… although multipage galleries are just awful. At least give readers a choice to view as a single page.

    That Commodore 64 looks an awful lot like a Commodore 128.

  • Ictus75

    While companies like Sony, Motorola, Microsoft, etc. were once visionary, they seemed to all have lost a lot of that vision. Apple has had the added advantage of not only being visionary, but being able to shift the paradigm behind such things as smart phones, MP3 players, tablets, etc. Who really needed a tablet before the iPad came out? Critics were quick to jump on it saying, “No one will buy these.” Now everyone wants one.

  • wilburg

    I assume the author made a typo in the statement which says, “Apple didn’t design the first consumer PC: that was the Altair 8800, a computer that was sold as a DIY kit in the back of  Popular Electronics magazine in 1985”.  The year was actually 1975 when Altair made the 8800 available to the fledgling computer hobby community.

  • Taylorpowell4


  • Dave

    That’s because it’s a Commodore 64C–the redesigned-to-look-like-a-C128 (and Commodore’s Amiga line) C64.  In the photo are a a C-64C, 1541 II disk drive, and what looks like a 1080 monitor.

  • Adrian Werner

    It’s weird. None of the examples show anything innovative. Others did it before Apple did, but in most cases only after Apple did it others started to copy it.

  • Sam

    And the pre-Apple laptops had the keyboards at the front. When Apple’s PowerBooks put the keyboard at the back, creating a palm rest at the front, PC people hated it and said it looked awful. But now look at where all laptop keyboards are located…

  • ByteOfView

    I completely missed that model (I bought a C128 to replace my C64 from Europe). I did own a Commodore 1080 monitor (had one from my Amiga 500)… paired up nice with my Toshiba BetaMax machine and the colour was amazing :D

    The good ol’ days!

  • Frodolives88

    Great article. One of my favorites for sure on cultofmac. 

  • Vincent Bowry

    You do have a choice. Use Reader in Safari; it usually loads all the pages in a multipage article in one go and cuts the ads.