45 ways Apple put a ding in the universe

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Apple-45
Happy birthday, Apple! The company turns 45 today.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Today marks 45 years since a little outfit called the Apple Computer Company was founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. Apple set out to build and sell personal computers. Since then, it’s risen from a hobbyist startup to a tech giant valued at more than $2 trillion.

In the last four and a half decades, Apple changed the tech world in all kinds of ways — some big, some small. Here, in no particular order, are 45 of the most notable ways Apple put a ding in the universe.

45 ways Apple put a ding in the universe

1. The Mac’s startup chime mesmerizes us all

It’s gone through a few iterations over the years, but the Mac’s signature startup sound remains memorable. Most famous of all is the mesmerizing chime created by former Apple engineer Jim Reekes. Because users often hear startup sounds during resets following a computer crash, Reekes came up with a calming, almost meditative sound. Who could be angry hearing that? — Luke Dormehl

2. Multitouch interface wows the world

Apple designers spent countless hours perfecting the multitouch interface that lets users unlock the joys of the iPhone and iPad. When the first iPhone launched, some foolish observers mocked its lack of a physical keyboard. However, Apple’s supremely talented propeller-heads had spent countless hours perfecting the multitouch user interface. It might be hard to remember now, but there was a time when smartphones required styluses. Apple’s brilliant touch interface made styluses completely optional — backward, even — and delivered a fantastic user experience that we’ve all become accustomed to at this point.  — Lewis Wallace

3. MagSafe charger stops the other kind of computer crashes

Providing power to your computer was never more satisfying than with the double-sided MagSafe charger. Debuting in 2006, MagSafe offered an ingenious solution to the trip hazard posed by power cables. The innovative magnetic connector put an end to accidentally yanking a charging MacBook off a table. Instead, it simply disconnected. Apple ditched the MagSafe connector in 2019, although it reportedly will make a comeback this year— Luke Dormehl

4. Retina display woos our eyeballs

Super-sharp displays are now considered essential in all high-end smartphones, tablets and laptops. And we have Apple to thank for that. The 2010 launch of the iPhone 4 kicked off the Retina display revolution, and now all Apple devices (with a built-in screen) offer super-sharp resolution. Rival products from every Apple competitor, such as Samsung and Google, followed suit. — Killian Bell

5. Mac icons make computing fun

The original Macintosh icons by graphic designer Susan Kare remain masterpieces today. Instantly recognizable, intuitive and fun, they are, in a very real sense, iconic. Traces of the artist’s brilliant designs persist in Apple products in 2021. — Luke Dormehl

6. iPhone sets high bar for smartphones

There were plenty of smartphones already on the market in 2007 when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. But they were niche products that didn’t appeal to a broad audience. Most people carried tiny flip phones, which they only used for texting and voice calls. Apple’s offering changed all that, enticing people to use the mobile web, apps, etc. The iPhone was such a landmark that every phone sold today — including every Android — is just an improved version of that first Apple model. — Ed Hardy

7. Keynotes transform into events

Fancy coming around to my house to check out some press releases in your free time? Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, that would have sounded like an absurd proposition. But Apple managed to make it into a thing. By turning product unveilings into theater, Apple persuaded millions of people to tune in to watch what are, in essence, adverts. A combination of great products, personable presenters, amusing moments and high production values made Apple product events not just acceptable, but — in some cases — highly compelling. Moments like the unveiling of the original iPhone are remembered like episodes of classic TV shows. By redefining product intros, Apple prompted the rest of Silicon Valley to follow. — Luke Dormehl

8. VisiCalc: Rise of the killer app

Spreadsheet app VisiCalc was a true game-changer. It was considered so compelling in the early 1980s that it was worth buying a computer (in this case, an Apple II) for. Prior to this, personal computers were products in search of a purpose. They appealed to hobbyists, but the most useful application most folks could think of was storing recipes. VisiCalc changed that. It paved the way for other software that allowed people to more easily run businesses from their homes. — Luke Dormehl

9. App Store opens up the world

Today, there’s plenty of scrutiny about how Apple runs the App Store. Is it right that it doesn’t allow sideloading of apps? Should it be able to charge developers a commission? Is it fair that Apple makes apps, but also gets to distribute apps made by competitors? These are valid questions. But there’s no getting away from what a game-changer the App Store was when it arrived in 2008.

Previously, buying software was a mess. The App Store changed that. It allowed all developers to sell their apps in the same virtual store, regardless of whether they were a Facebook-size giant or a teen coding out of their bedroom. Meanwhile, from a user perspective, third-party apps allowed people to customize their iPhones with whatever “killer apps” they chose. No, Apple didn’t launch the first app store, but its App Store (complete with capital letters) changed the game in a big way. — Luke Dormehl

10. Apple stores transform tech retail

When the first Apple store opened its doors in McLean, Virginia, in May 2001, it transformed the way computers were sold. At the time, online retail was going mainstream. Physical computer stores were typically large warehouses, selling virtually everything, located in out-of-town retail parks. Apple zigged while everyone else zagged. Apple stores had more in common with high-end fashion boutiques than contemporary computer stores.

Located in upscale areas, the established a high-end aesthetic and showed off just a few choice products to entice customers. Revolutionary concepts like the Genius Bar, a product demo theater, and internet-connected computers that gave customers a chance to hang out and browse their favorite websites made Apple’s stores stand out from the crowd. — Luke Dormehl

11. The ‘1984’ ad wins the Super Bowl

Ridley Scott’s hammer-tossing ad for the original Macintosh 128K isn’t just one of the best Apple ads ever, or one of the best computer commercials of all time. It’s one of the greatest adverts ever created. Period. It helped establish the Super Bowl as a home to truly creative, game-changing advertisements. — Luke Dormehl

12. MacBook Air ushers in thin and light tech

Remember when heavy, unwieldy laptops ruled the day? Apple started the trend toward thin-and-light laptops with the MacBook Air, which Steve Jobs memorably showed off in 2008 by pulling it out of a Manila inter-office envelope. The “world’s thinnest notebook” wowed the world, and the ultraportable laptop category was born. Apple’s unabashed love for thin, sleek designs lead to some compromises over the years — like vanishing ports and underwhelming batteries — but today, thin is still in when it comes to tech.  — Lewis Wallace

13. Apple Pencil proves everyone’s wrong sometimes

OK, sure, there’s that infamous Steve Jobs quote about never wanting to see a stylus on an Apple product. But the Apple Pencil justified that decision. As someone who loves drawing on their iPad, it remains one of my all-time favorite Apple accessories. The Apple Pencil 2, with its magnetic connection to the iPad, is even better. — Luke Dormehl

14. iPad takes tablets to the masses

The idea of a tablet computer goes back many decades — you can see see them being used on Star Trek back in the 1960s. While other computer manufacturers released Windows tablets, those early models proved huge and expensive. The original iPad changed all that in 2010. It weighed relatively little, looked great and, most importantly, cost only $499. It was the beginning of Apple making tablets into a viable type of computer. — Ed Hardy

15. iPod puts other MP3 players to shame

In the 1990s, lots of people wanted a small device to carry around their MP3 collections, but nobody could get it right. Then Apple released the iPod in 2001. Unlike its predecessors, it was easy to use thanks to the clickwheel. Apple went on to sell millions of them. All others — like the Microsoft Zune — were only poor imitations. — Ed Hardy

16. WYSIWYG for all

What You See Is What You Get is now so ubiquitous that most people are unaware of what a huge transformation that type of user interface was. In the early days of computers, word processing was done with markup tags. These had to be written into a document to format text, so what was being written looked very little like the final result. WYSIWYG changed all that. It made word processing into something even a child could do. To be clear, Apple didn’t invent WYSIWYG. It was dreamed up by brilliant minds at Xerox PARC. But software for early Macintosh computers used it, and popularized it. — Ed Hardy

17. Apple stresses the importance of privacy

Privacy is a rare commodity in today’s tech landscape. Unless you’re Apple, that is. Whether it’s Tim Cook’s famous “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” proclamation, going to war with the FBI over creating an iPhone backdoor, or battling Facebook over the App Transparency feature coming to iOS 14, Apple’s been an advocacy of privacy in an industry that, frankly, rarely is. — Luke Dormehl

18. LaserWriter fuels desktop publishing

Desktop publishing was revolutionary, and it couldn’t have happened without Apple’s LaserWriter, a high-quality printer that small businesses could afford. It used Adobe PostScript to accurately transform what was on a Macintosh’s screen onto paper. And it printed in high resolution. Before the LaserWriter, consumers could only afford low-resolution dot-matrix printers. Top-quality printers were huge and priced so that only large enterprises could afford them. Apple changed all that. — Ed Hardy

19. Apple puts you in control of your health data

There was a time when you had to ask your doctor if you wanted to know anything about your health. Fortunately, those days are long gone. Apple Watch provides real-time feedback on your cardio health — information that literally saves lives. Meanwhile, the Health app provides unprecedented access to medical records from care providers, enabling you to make informed choices about your health and treatment options. — Graham Bower

20. Apple kills the headphone jack

Apple doesn’t always change the world in positive ways. The iPhone 7 in 2016 was the first iOS handset without a headphone jack, and there have been many more since then. Since Apple started the trend, Samsung dropped the headphone jack from its flagship phones, too. That leaves lots of people with a choice between going wireless or getting a USB-C headphone adapter. — Ed Hardy

21. Apple sets out to kill the microSD card slot

Apple made the controversial decision to never put expandable storage in iPhones or iPads, even though microSD card slots abounded in Android, BlackBerry, Windows tablets and other rival devices. But those competitors are starting to follow Apple’s lead: The Samsung Galaxy S21 series does not include a removable memory card slot. Whether this trend is positive or negative depends on who you ask. — Ed Hardy

22. GUI conquers the computing world

The 1984 Macintosh sparked a revolution in computing thanks to its graphical user interface. At a time when rival computers offered just a blank screen with a blinking cursor, the Mac boasted beautiful icons that let users see their files and applications — and easily work with them. It’s such an intuitive system that virtually every computer today uses a GUI, from smartphones to soda machines. We can thank the brilliant minds at Xerox for inventing the GUI, even if all the the company did with the idea was license it to Apple. — Ed Hardy

23. Apple Pay lets you pay all the things

A payment platform doesn’t sound all that exciting. But if there’s one bit of Apple technology I’ve used every single day since its launch, Apple Pay is it. No more fumbling around with wallets or desperately trying to remember your PIN. With Apple Pay, payments are as simple as tapping your iPhone or Apple Watch onto a terminal. — Luke Dormehl

24. iBook turns us on to Wi-Fi

It may be hard to believe now but there was a time when Wi-Fi wasn’t everywhere. In fact, back in the day, some people even questioned the need for it considering that Ethernet was faster and more secure. But in in 1999, Apple released the iBook, the first mass consumer product with Wi-Fi. Everyone quickly saw the advantage of a computer that could be easily moved around while still connected to the internet. These days, people seem to depend on Wi-Fi like they do oxygen. — Ed Hardy

25. Mouse is in the house

It’s hard to think of desktop computers without the mouse, but the Apple Lisa (and, more famously, the Mac) gave rise to this ubiquitous accessory. There are still plenty in use, even if trackpads and touchscreens have eroded some of the mouse’s dominance. — Ed Hardy

26. To be or not to USB

USB was a standard without much industry support until the 1998 iMac came along. Apple made the first USB-only computer, dumping legacy parallel and serial ports. PCs soon followed Apple’s lead. Now, few people remember the days when the world was full of incompatible accessories. — Ed Hardy

27. iTunes saves the music industry

iTunes began in 2001 as a simple tool to sync your iPod, but soon revolutionized the music industry with the introduction of the iTunes Store in 2003. It made it easier than ever to purchase music (and later movies and TV shows) digitally, and then enjoy them on any Apple device. It definitely contributed to the iPod’s incredible success. During the first 18 hours of the iTunes Store’s introduction, Apple sold more than 275,000 tracks. By 2010, users downloaded more than 10 billion songs. — Killian Bell

28. Apple shows optical media the door

Apple has never been scared to eliminate aging technologies from its products — even when those technologies remain incredibly popular. In 2008, with the introduction of the MacBook Air, its primary target became the optical drive. Apple decided it was time we all downloaded our software instead and, by late 2016, the built-in CD/DVD drive was gone from all Mac models. Even in 2021, however, Apple does still offer the USB SuperDrive, an external peripheral, for $79. — Killian Bell

29. Apple rolls past financial milestones

These milestones probably don’t matter to you unless you’re an Apple inventor, but they certainly changed the perception of what a tech company could achieve in terms of market cap. Over the past several years, Apple successively became the first publicly traded $700 billion company, the first $800 billion company, the first $900 billion company, the first $1 trillion company and the first $2 trillion company. That’s quite the string of records. — Luke Dormehl

30. Apple Watch takes smartwatches mainstream

Before the Apple Watch, smartwatches were niche products. Even though Apple eventually downplayed the wearable’s fashion aspect, the idea of offering beautiful, customizable watch faces and a wide array of bands definitely helped make Apple Watch mainstream. Continually advancing the hardware, and a neat alignment with the Apple ecosystem, didn’t hurt anything, either. As of 2021, Apple Watch continues to dominate the wearables industry.  — Lewis Wallace

31. Apple II sustains success

In the early days of Apple and home computing, the Apple II lineup, designed by Steve Wozniak in 1977, became the company’s most successful. So successful, in fact, that Apple didn’t stop producing them until 1993 — nine years after the introduction of the Macintosh with its revolutionary GUI. The Apple II helped make computers more accessible to everyone, and grew Apple’s annual sales to more than $100 million by 1980. — Killian Bell

32. Newton MessagePad arrives too early

In many ways, the Newton MessagePad, introduced in 1993, was a flop, selling just 50,000 units. But the device is significant not only because it was one of the very first PDAs, but also because it paved the way for many of the mobile technologies we still rely on today, such as touch interfaces and handwriting recognition. It also gained a cult following that’s still alive and well in 2021. — Killian Bell

33. Apple enables the podcasting boom

Before Apple, podcasts were just audio blogs. But with the release of the iPod and iTunes, Apple made podcasts accessible to the masses. A few years later, the iPhone enabled on-demand podcast access and created a massive market for podcasts. Now, thanks to Apple, you can find podcasts about nearly any topic and start listening in seconds. — Ian Fuchs

34. Apple deletes the ‘meep’ from computing

Rob Janoff, designer of the iconic Apple logo, once told me that Steve Jobs’ main instruction was to avoid crafting a logo that looked too “meep.” This was a reference to the way that, in science fiction movies and books, robots and computers said “meep.” It was a shorthand to describe the kind of geeky, technical aesthetic Jobs wanted to move away from. Today, Apple doesn’t dwell on technobabble in its advertising, instead showing how its products will affect everyday people. This smart strategy helped make Apple seem like a friendly, approachable tech company. — Luke Dormehl

35. Apple makes switching CPUs seem easy

Just as Apple was never afraid of eliminating old features, the company never shied away from switching processor technologies for the good of its products. It ditched Motorola 68000 chips for PowerPC, and dumped PowerPC for Intel CPUs in 2006, and has already begun moving away from the latter in favor of custom Apple Silicon chips based on the same ARM architecture found in iPhone and iPad. These changes have always made its machines faster and more capable, and Apple is likely the only company who could pull off such drastic transitions so seamlessly. — Killian Bell

36. Siri serves up everyday AI

Apple didn’t invent Siri. The ever-evolving digital assistant started as an app that spun out of the research organization SRI International and a military artificial intelligence project. Today, Siri is widely considered to lag behind rivals like Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. But, for many people, the experience of using Siri on the iPhone 4s in 2011 gave them their first glimpse at a revolutionary new type of voice-controlled computing. (The idea also traces back to a 1980s Knowledge Navigator project at Apple.) Like the GUI on the Mac, Siri didn’t start at Cupertino. But Apple certainly helped popularize it. — Luke Dormehl

37. The ‘Think Different’ ad gets inside our heads

What do you advertise when you have virtually no exciting new products — and you just obliterated large chunks of your existing product line? You advertise your company itself — and, more specifically, what it stands for. Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” ad campaign started endless debates about grammatical correctness, but it also articulated a vision for the company at the start of its late-’90s comeback. How many other tag lines are still remembered fondly almost a quarter-century later? — Luke Dormehl

38. Apps become the dominant form of software

Before the App Store, “apps” weren’t a thing. Only wizened computer nerds called software packages “applications.” Now, the entire computing world has jumped on the app train. Whatever you want to do on your smartphone, tablet, computer or smart TV, there’s an app for that.  — Lewis Wallace

39. You got your camera in my smartphone

By steadily increasing the capabilities of the iPhone camera, Apple started the trend toward pro-level photography on mobile devices. The incredibly canny “shot on iPhone” marketing campaign effectively communicates just how capable the iPhone camera is. Now, the best camera really is the camera you have with you all the time.  — Lewis Wallace

40. Cupertino makes green operations look doable

As an increasingly environmentally conscious company, Apple has made amazing strides converting its manufacturing juggernaut into a green operation. The company pledged last year to make its operations and its entire supply chain 100% carbon neutral by 2030. Think of the ripple effect of a commitment like that from a $2 trillion company with so many international suppliers. Sure, Apple’s astonishing cash pile makes just about anything easier, but if Cupertino can make its massive manufacturing operations green, anything is possible.  — Lewis Wallace

41. Apple inflicts butterfly keyboards on the world

The butterfly keyboard, introduced with the 12-inch MacBook in 2015, is one “innovation” Apple will be desperate to forget. Designed to help make the company’s notebooks thinner than ever before, it became infamous for its poor typing experience and disastrous reliability. It was so bad that Apple launched a dedicated repair program in 2019 for MacBook models with butterfly keys. A class-action lawsuit currently in the works could prove incredibly costly for Cupertino. — Killian Bell

42. Earbuds become easy on the eyes

First, Apple made those outlandish white EarPods and their stringy cabling an iconic image capable of selling iPods by the millions. Then, it cut the cord. Apple execs called killing the headphone jack courageous, but really, it was a genius way of creating a new revenue stream. Apple’s first-gen AirPods looked weird when they launched, but now we’re all wearing them without skipping a beat. The convenience of wireless earbuds can’t be beat, and the army of AirPods competitors and clones show just how right Apple was.  — Lewis Wallace

43. Apple makes fitness wearables actually wearable

Launched in 2006, the Nike+iPod Sport Kit made fitness tracking simple and accessible by hiding a special wireless sensor in Nike running shoes. You just pressed play, went for a run, and your iPod did the rest. Today, Cupertino continues to lead the fitness wearable sector with Apple Watch and its iconic Activity Rings. — Graham Bower

44. Touch ID and Face ID make biometric authentication safe and seamless

Other technology companies implemented biometric authentication before Apple. But none did did it with the ease, sophistication and security that Apple delivered, first with Touch ID and then with Face ID. Now, we’re all used to accessing our iPhones, iPads and Macs seamlessly, either with a quick fingerprint or thumbprint or a wide-eyed stare. — Lewis Wallace

45. Apple makes tech sexy

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he laid waste to the company’s current lineup. “The products suck!” he said. “There’s no sex in them anymore!” The following year, Apple unleashed the iMac G3, a colorful computer that jolted a beige and boring industry. It also marked a crucial turning point for Cupertino. From that point on, Apple designers — led by Jobs and his likeminded colleague, Jony Ive — strived to inject fun, creativity and a certain amount of sex appeal into the company’s hardware. As the new approach matured, the Rubenesque iMac G3 gave way to increasingly model-thin designs, with each new product carefully engineered to appeal to users on an emotional level. The millions of Apple fans who still thirst for each new product testify to the soundness of this strategy.  — Lewis Wallace

Moments we’ve missed?

Inevitably, in a company with almost half a century of history, there are moments we missed here. What do you think are Apple’s most notable contributions to the world? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.