Today in Apple history: Mac’s first 100 days prove a roaring success

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Mac 128k Beauty Shot
The original Mac was a smash hit. Sort of.
Photo: iFixit

May 3: Today in Apple history: Mac's first 100 days prove a roaring success May 3, 1984: Apple marks the all-important first 100 days of Mac sales, signaling whether the product is a hit with customers.

The results outstrip even Steve Jobs’ most optimistic targets. Unfortunately, not everything is as positive as it seems following the successful Mac launch.

It’s easy to forget today, but when Apple launched the Macintosh in 1984, the company was coming off a couple of high-profile failures. The Apple II remained a big seller. However, attempts to produce a successor in the form of the Lisa and the Apple III had proven to be busts.

Beyond a doubt, the Mac represented an immense technical achievement. However, the first-gen Macintosh 128K was also slow and underpowered. In addition, Apple still faced the threat of the IBM PC — a more serious, “respectable” choice for many people shopping for their first personal computers.

On top of this, the Mac cost a lot. Although much cheaper than some Macs that Apple would later produce (even adjusted for inflation), it still cost $2,500 in 1984 dollars — the equivalent of $5,000 today. This stood in stark opposition to the way the Mac project started under Jeff Raskin, with the idea of producing an everyday computer for $500 or less.

Nonetheless, Jobs remained confident. He predicted that Apple would sell 50,000 Macs in its first 100 days after the introduction. Apple smashed that number by April 6. By May 3 — or day 100 — Apple had sold 72,000 Macs.

We could have sold 200,000 Macintoshes if we could have built them,” Apple product marketing manager Barbara Koalkin told USA Today.

Mac launch sales fool Apple

Buoyed by this early success, Apple began building up a massive inventory of Macs. The company ramped up manufacturing to a rate of 110,000 Macs per month. Sadly, it turned out that early adopter sales did not accurately reflect mainstream public demand for the new computer.

Sales slowed, and Apple did not hit the 1 million Mac mark until March 1987. Far from a repeat of the Apple III failure, the Mac nevertheless became an early setback for the company.

In the aftermath, Apple CEO John Sculley dreamed up the “Test Drive a Macintosh” campaign. The goal? Encourage average customers to give Apple’s revolutionary new computer a chance.

Before too long, Jobs was forced out of Apple. He went on to run two companies, NeXT and Pixar, that produced even more expensive computers.