Today in Apple history: Mac mania sweeps magazine racks


The Macintosh? It'll never catch on!
The Macintosh? It'll never catch on!
Image: Cult of Mac/Ste Smith

February 13: Today in Apple history: Mac mania sweeps magazine racks February 13, 1984: The arrival of the first Macintosh is met with enormous amounts of excitement by the tech press, as epitomized by InfoWorld magazine.

Given the pre-internet lead time delay with the print media, it takes a few weeks after the January 24 release of the Macintosh for the computer to appear in magazines. When it does, it’s a pretty immediate hit.

Looking back on the Mac launch

There’s something weirdly fascinating about looking back at iconic product launches to see how they were received at the time. In the 1980s and 1990s, InfoWorld was one of the top sources of tech news.

“We all believe it’s a fantastic machine,” Ken Lim, a Dataquest analyst, told InfoWorld as he testified about the Mac. “It’s certainly the best price/performance ratio of anything that’s on the marketplace. It’s an excellent value for the consumer.” Lim went on to suggest that the Mac would sell in similar quantities to the Apple II, which had then sold 1.5 million units.

Other interesting and amusing (from a later perspective) tidbits in the ensuing articles, such as the question, “Is 128K enough RAM?” That must seem virtually impossible to anyone who doesn’t remember further back than the iPhone.

(For the record, columnist Doug Capp’s answer assures us that 512Ks are on the way, which would solve all our RAM needs for the foreseeable future.)

Another line in a separate report notes that, “Apple says nearly 100 software companies have been working on software for the Macintosh.” That number seems tiny today, when you can find millions of apps in the App Store.

InfoWorld goes on to add that, “One of those companies, Microsoft, has been working closely with Apple for more than a year.” Just a year later, Apple CEO John Sculley signed a disastrous deal with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to keep Microsoft software on Macs, in return for pretty much giving Microsoft carte blanche to create its Mac-styled Windows operating system.

The one other thing which is likely to come as a shock to modern fans is just how expensive everything was. The Mac cost $2,495, which today is almost $5,800. That’s not so bad, but the price of software — which now ships for free from Apple, and tends to be reasonably priced from third-party devs — was also high.

MacPaint and MacWrite, two of the best-known pieces of Mac software, didn’t come bundled with the machine, but rather cost $195 ($450 today). MacTerminal would set you back another $99 ($229), while everything else cost somewhere between $99 and $125.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for modern Apple fans, though, is that despite InfoWorld’s almost unequivocal support of the Mac (although it does note that its inability to run IBM software is a negative), Apple in 1984 was far from the proven hit that it is today. As InfoWorld notes, referencing both the Apple III and Lisa failures, the company releases the Mac at a time in which it has been, “humbled by two unspectacular computer introductions in three years.”

You can check out the magazine in full here.

How things have changed

One of my favorite things about writing these “Today in Apple history” posts is how much they reveal about what’s changed in tech. Some of it, like paying massive fees for software that came in a physical box, was totally commonplace at the time, but seems crazy when you explain it to younger fans today.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen since you bought your first computer? What seems unthinkable from a 2018 perspective, but was normal at the time? Leave your comments below.