Apple's History: A Product Strategy Roadmap | Cult of Mac

Apple’s History: A Product Strategy Roadmap



Too often, we dissect minute details of a company’s everyday actions looking for signs of health or strategy. Unfortunately, quarterly reports and individual actions can be totally misleading. That’s why I’ve created the above map, which charts, near as I can tell, the evolution of Apple’s entire product family from the Apple I to the iPhone. I was inspired to do it by this chronological sort done by Edwin Tofslie that Fake Steve linked to last night. The images involved are of every major design revision, not necessarily model revision, that Apple has made in its 30 year history. So I decided to chart how various products superceded others in Apple’s history, and start to think about new implications.

I’m tired, I haven’t done much thinking, other than to notice that Apple’s four product lines really came together perfectly in 2001, just in time to launch the iPod from a position of strength. The above image is tiny, so head to Scribd to see it in full, especially as a PDF download. There’s a lot to take in, but I’m dying to know what you think. Do my connections make sense? Does a pattern emerge that implies where Apple will go next?

See the full map!


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60 responses to “Apple’s History: A Product Strategy Roadmap”

  1. ohcyt says:

    is it me or is the text on the chart (over at scribd) hardly legible?
    I like the effort though, I think we’ll see that the next Apple product will fit in this chart perfectly. I like that you already can see the iPhone branching off from iPod, with room for the next gen iPod (TBA) above iPhone… can’t wait!

  2. J. says:

    The Cube dot connects to xServe? Uhhh… you sure?

  3. Mark says:

    I think the Mac Mini should spring up from the Power Macintosh Cube. Except for that very well done tree :)

  4. Alan says:

    At AppleTV is in the iPod category — not in the Mac category. Perhaps you might re-consider your link from Mac Mini to AppleTV since Apple markets the AppleTV more as a screenless iPod which connects to an external (TV) screen — “If it’s on iTunes, it’s on your widescreen TV”.

  5. Mark says:

    I think the Mac Mini should spring up from the Power Macintosh Cube. Except for that, its a very well done tree :)

  6. Electroboy says:

    Really interesting analysis. I think the connections make sense. As for where Apple will go next…….I’m not sure it’s so obvious. The iPod kinda came out of nowhere (in relation to previous hardware) and has spawned an entirely new family of products. Perhaps the Apple TV will do something similar. It’s hard to tell.

  7. JetPlaneSky says:

    The only missing link is from the Newton over to the iPhone. Let’s just say it jumped through time but they are relatives . . . sort of.

  8. D. Scott says:

    “every major design revision, not necessarily model revision”

    Interesting linkages, but I suppose it depends on what aspect of the design you are focusing on. For instance, I wonder about two links: Duo to Newton and TAM (starting its own line) to the Cube. Arguments could be made that the Newton started its own line (design, function, technology) while the TAM’s design was essentially a laptop display on a desktop machine (and thus followed more closely by the 2002 iMac than the Cube) so it’s predecessor could either be a PowerBook or an all-in-one desktop. Just a thought. DS

  9. Marc says:

    This is a great display of how screwed up Apple was in the mid 90’s. All those criss-crossing lines say to me that Apple’s strategy was to throw anything at the wall and see what stuck — not much.

  10. ohcyt says:

    Something I hadn’t noticed before, why do the Anniversary Mac’s end in the rack mounted servers (Xserve)?
    And by the way, in the main blog index, the reaction count for this article shows 1 less than the actual number. I suppose it’s a glitch of the new site (which looks great by the way), but I fuigured you wanted to know.

  11. Pete Mortensen says:

    I just realized that I didn’t explain the difference in lines. If it wasn’t obvious, the dotted lines are fairly logical line extensions, while the long dashes represent products that were either radically different but meeting the same kind of needs or a line extension that went really far afield.

    Your analysis is spot on as well, Marc. The thing that’s most apparent in 1993 is that Apple didn’t know why they were building what they were building. So many new product families, so few of them succeeding…

  12. splorp says:

    It’s an interesting infographic, to be sure. Sorry to be a nitpicker, but… there are some glaring omissions and a bunch of outright errors. To imply that the original Newton MessagePad (actually labeled as the Newton NotePad upon release) has a dotted-line ascendency from the PowerBook Duo is pure folly. The Newton platform should be represented as ‘coming out of nowhere’ just as the iPod did. Following this theme, considering that all iterations of the iPod are represented, there should be an additional four revisions of the Newton shown between the MessagePad 110 and the eMate (120, 130, 2000, 2100). Also missing from the timeline is the Apple II+ (between the original II and the IIe), which sported floating point BASIC in ROM, as opposed to the integer BASIC of the original Apple II. The Mac XL descended from the Lisa after the Mac was launched, and that’s missing as well. The Apple III should be related to the Apple II line, not as a precursor to the Lisa. The Lisa should also have at least two versions represented, the original Lisa with the Twiggy drive, and the later dual-drive Lisa 2. Also, what’s with the dotted lines between the TAM, the Cube and the Xserve? That makes no sense whatsoever. There should be references of the Apple Network Server and Apple Workgroup Server connect to the Xserve, if nothing else. The straight line between the eMac (originally aimed at education) and the Mac Mini is tenuous at best, whereas the indirect connection between the Mac Mini and the Apple TV should be much more obvious. Sorry to vent, but there’s a lot of inaccuracies here.

  13. Noah Iliinsky says:

    Interesting diagram!

    I’d make a few changes.
    – You’ve omitted Apple’s earlier A/UX based servers, which are the natural precursors to the xserve line.
    – I’d link the Cube and the Mini more closely; the Cube was sold as a higher-end model, but the design lineage seems natural.
    – It looks like Tom left out the IIvx/vi/650 form factor, which was used with slight variations for several years. I’d argue that was a relevant desktop generation.
    – If you really want to get fancy, you could make the vertical axis meaningful, dividing out portable, desktop, server, and entertainment lines into clear rows where possible. You could also label the x axis with years.
    – There are a few other changes you could make, but those are the major ones.

    If you’re interested in a deeper explanation of the diagramming issues, check out my thesis on how to draw good diagrams at

  14. beeDevil says:

    Nice chart. Neat to see all this together.

    couple of opinions/suggestions:
    1) I think the Mac Mini is more an evolution from the cube than from the eMac
    2) I think the eMac should come off the 2001 iMacs and be end of line.
    3) i don’t see a strong connection between the cube and X Server 1U, except for shrinking of form factor. I see the Xserve as being more of shrinking of form factor of the Power mac servers.
    4) add a long dotted line between Newton and iPhone?

    Question: What is the device coming off the Newton end of line for 1997?

  15. extra88 says:

    I get the connection between the 20th Aniversary Mac to the Cube but from the Cube to the Xserve?! The Xserve follows from PowerMacs marketed as servers and weird, server-only hardware like the Apple Network Server. Even if you don’t want to include the latter because it didn’t run the Mac OS, the Xserve should still follow from the PowerMac, starting with the B&W G3 because of their well laid out and accessible innards (vs., say, the PowerMac 8550. Curse it!).

    I think the AppleTV follows from the iPod, not the mini. It doesn’t matter what the geeks can make the AppleTV do, as delivered, it’s not a computer. And shouldn’t the Newton get a little love from the iPhone?

    The Mac mini itself also deserves some kind of line linking back to the Cube. If the 20th Ani. and Cube were moved below the PowerMac row, that would make for less line crossing.

  16. iDave says:

    Nice work – it’s neat to see all the Macs through the ages. PowerMacs seem to be all over the place!

    I would’ve done things a bit differently:

    – The iPhone and iPod seem more of an offshoot of the Newton, not merely in their own category (especially the iPhone).
    – The Mac Mini seems to me more of a cousin to the Cube (square, compact design), and the eMac stems more from the G3 iMacs (with a G4 flat screen).
    – I would argue that the Newton clamshell could have a connection with the first iBooks.
    – Maybe more of a closer link between the SEs, Classics, and iMacs – and throw a link to Quadras and LCs with the iMacs, too.
    – I think Apple TV is the one that stands alone, like the iPod does on your chart now. MAYBE a connection with the mini, design-wise.

    …I guess we could debate forever, right? Either way, what a fun trip.

  17. Alexander says:

    Good work, helps me understand the family relations of Apple products a lot better! Some things you might want to consider, though: Do you really see the Mac mini as an evolutionary step of the eMac? I’d rather draw the eMac as a dead end and put the Mac mini as a continuation of the Mac Cube. Both are consumer-oriented devices. The xServes, on the other hand, are new product lines, I don’t see them evolving from any prior models. Any thoughts on that?

  18. Mark says:

    Interesting. I’m curious to know why the XServe is the descendent of the G4 Cube. Similarly, why is the Apple TV the heir of the Mac Mini? They have a similar form factor, but a radically different function. I would think that the G4 Cube would lead into the Mac Mini, and the XServe would be on a level all its own (since no such product had existed before). And why doesn’t the iBook G3 lead into the iBook G4 in the same way that the iMac G3 leads into the iMac G4? Naturally, I’m not complaining; this is a great map, but I’d like to know why you chose to put things where you did.

  19. Chris Schommer says:

    Am I the only one who sees the iPhone as great grandchild of Newton? Even though for years and years they said “Never again!” to such a device, well here it is again. If some one were to create a Newton of 2007 in 1997, it might have looked like iPhone but with handwriting recognition (ick) instead of a key pad. But I don’t think your dotted line could reach that far!

    Also, that jumble of the early-mid 90s is painful to look at as some one who owned a Preforma 6200 AND 6300 for some reason.

  20. J. says:

    All I’m saying is that the Apple Network Server seems a better precursor to xServe than the Cube (even if it was a total flop)-

    Thanks for the chart… the early 90’s was a mess. I remember at first thinking it was great that all these new models were coming out. Then it got to the point that I couldn’t even remember what model was what.

  21. Matt says:

    I have to agree with the statements above. Interesting and a great display of how they floundered in the mid 90’s. One thing I did want to point out was I think what you have listed for the Power Macintosh 6100 (1994) and Performa 6400 (1996) need to be swaped. I owned a Performa and it was a desktop model and if I remember correctly they were all desktops. Was a low rent model for them at the time. And, most “Power Macs” were towers. Also, and this is sorta nit picking, but the 1997 Power Mac was actually the first G3. Again, cause I owned one. Actually I still have it and the original box which has Power Mac G3 on it.

    Very interesting to see how, for the most part, everything is so streamlined from about 98 on. It would be really funny to see some things in the mid 90’s that were not really released i.e. Pippin and all of the different models they came out with for those Performa models and Power Mac’s an such. Just to show how many ways they were going and how many changes they made to their line up during that time.

  22. Gorbag says:

    You forgot that iPhone is more the logical successor to the Newton.

    I’m not sure the market for the Apple TV is really the same as the Mac Mini.

    And I really don’t think the servers stem from the 20th anniversary mac, which was never a server. (we’re linking markets, here, right, not technologies – if technologies there are a lot of links missing). Servers really go back to the II in some sense (we used a couple as servers when I was in school), and Apple has had one form of server software or another since around then.

  23. Pete Mortensen says:

    Hi guys, excellent notes, all. If you’ll look at the link directly above, I’ve made an editable version of the file available on SlideShare, so feel free to download and rearrange and add elements. I’m well aware that I’m an amateur infographic artist (only took the Tufte course a few months ago…).

    On one specific point, I will say that the reason I connected the TAM to the Cube to the XServes is that they occupy a unique high-end niche, and, arguably, have never really found a home in Apple’s overall product line. The A/UX devices aren’t there because I was working from the other file, which omitted them, but they’re quite obvious predecessors to the xServe, as noted.

    Many other omitted models aren’t there because they occupied identical form factors to other models represented here.

    I will argue stridently that the Apple II and the Apple /// should be totally distinct. Apple /// was meant to be a computer for business while the II was seen for home and education. They also ran different OSes. Being inconsistent, I then had the Lisa succeed it, as it was Apple’s next great attempt to make a computer for business. The Newton shooting off from the PowerBook Duo is inaccurate, but it did mostly mark the end of the Duo line, and it was Apple’s new “You don’t need a whole computer!” device that was dependent on syncing to function at peak performance. In that regard, the iPod and iPhone families owe a lot to both families.

    And yeah, I totally forgot to draw a long, dotted line down to the iPhone from the Newton. The DNA is definitely there.

  24. Jody Wheeler says:

    I think you should also stick the NeXT machine in there. I know you could then go hog-wild and attach stuff from Xerox PARC to the early Mac designs, but I don’t think that is as much the case. The NeXT machine influenced everything after Steve came back.

    If nothing else, it should be considered as the sperm-donor for everything else that followed…

  25. Bush -- not related says:

    a) eMate was DIRECT ancestor, design-wise, to the clamshell iBooks.

    b) Cube is same dimensions — ‘cept taller — as the macmini, that’s some obvious connection, no?

    c) Anniversary mac -> current iMac, nearly a straight line, even if the “iMac” line, itself, took awhile to get there.

    d) I want my 10″ macbook!!

  26. doesnotcompute says:

    It seems pretty obvious to me that Apple TV is a descendant of nothing other than the Airport Extreme where AirTunes has evolved into AirVideo.

  27. parikka says:

    Great chart!

    As a former 12″ PB user I would like to remind that even though it is part of PB line, the internals are identical to 12″ iBook. So the correct place for it would be between PB and iBook lines…

    Keep up the great work!

  28. Charlie says:

    As I recall, the LC was sort of a descendant of the Mac II. By that I mean it had pretty much the same guts as the original Mac II, but miniaturized and reduced in cost.

    My LC was a darn fine machine that lasted many years before being replaced by a PPC 604e tower…

  29. Naoki says:

    Why you don’t specify NeXT?

    It is the real father of the current Macs.

    It is better to categorize Steve Jobs’ Macs and others.

  30. bw says:

    you forgot the iPod Photo, or as it’s now called the iPod w/ color screen.