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



Remember how ugly laptops used to be? Bulky plastic behemoths that did the job, sure, but looked just terrible, and were fragile to boot. Apple’s shift to using aluminum to make their laptops’ chassises not only made their notebooks sturdier, they made them sexier. Laptops became fashion accessories for the first time, and Apple began to cultivate an aura of prestige, minimalism and class. The advantages of Apple’s approach to laptop designs only continued over time as Cupertino adopted a unibody construction system that allowed them to carve a MacBook’s case out of a single block of aluminum, making them run cooler and be less likely to break than before, not to mention amp the sex appeal further. Look around at Windows notebooks today and you can see Apple’s influence: while Cupertino still leads in design and sex appeal, Apple proved to notebook makers that they could no longer ignore the aesthetics of their devices.

It’s hard to believe, but before 1999, the music industry just couldn’t figure out how to make money off of MP3s. Instead, the most popular music service out there was Napster, a file-sharing service that allowed users to indiscriminately trade songs to their hearts content.

According to the RIAA, Napster caused billions of dollars in losses… so when Apple came around and said they were going to come out with an online music store called iTunes where each track cost $0.99, the music labels were pretty happy to sign .

They’ve grumbled since about that deal, but it isn’t a stretch to say that iTunes not only saved digital music by making it mainstream enough for even your grandmother to enjoy. And while there are many complaints to be leveled at iTunes in regards to being bloated, it is still a remarkably elegant program, capable of cataloguing all of your media and getting it on to other devices, easy as a breeze.

iTunes is such a juggernaut in the digital music arena that there are few real competitors. Amazon MP3 duplicates the media buying capabilities of iTunes, but not the device syncing or the library management aspects. In fact, the only real alternatives to iTunes these days are streaming music subscription services like Spotify.

Now that Apple is preparing to roll out their iCloud service, iTunes is likely to become a less important program as time goes on, but there’s no doubt it changed  —and arguably even saved —  the digital music industry.

The PC industry has been playing around with the idea of pint-sized ultraportable laptops for years, but when Asus released its first Eee PC in 2007, they finally found their model: netbooks. Using low-voltage Intel Atom CPUs, netbooks had great battery life and attractive prices… but bad performance, cramped keyboards, tiny screens and cheap designs.

For years, everyone asked Apple when they’d get in on netbooks, but Steve Jobs held firm: netbooks suck. “Netbooks aren’t better than anything, they’re just cheap laptops,” he said.

In late 2010, Apple finally showed the industry how the ultaportable notebook should be done with the second-generation MacBook Air. Starting at just $999, these entry-level machines were more expensive than netbooks, but had incredible displays, fantastic battery life, full-sized keyboards, real processors and blistering fast speeds thanks to Apple’s adoption of solid state memory instead of traditional spinning hard drives.

In releasing the 2010 MacBook Air, Apple basically killed netbooks overnight. Now the competition is only talking about ultrabooks, which are just clones of the MacBook Air. Even so, the competition is finding that it just isn’t easy to undercut Apple on price, thanks to Cupertino’s manufacturing clout. It’s going to take them awhile to catch up.

  • 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.