The Apple Mac turns 30


, Last Updated: 3:58 PM ET

The impact of the original Apple Macintosh, billed as the first computer "for the rest of us," and the effect it continues to have on consumers' lives cannot be underestimated.

It's hard to believe that the Mac is 30 years old but it was on Jan. 24, 1984 that Steve Jobs took to the stage at the Flint Center in Apple's hometown of Cupertino, Calif., and reached into a bag. What he pulled out, a small, all-in-one PC called the Apple Macintosh, changed the world of computers and our relationship with them forever.

"At the time, few outside the industry understood its wide-ranging implications; today, it's easy to look back and see the many ways this 'insanely great' little machine has transformed our world," said Daniel Kottke, one of the original Macintosh developers.

The first personal computer with a mouse and the first to feature a graphical user interface (GUI), the Mac offered a new and intuitive way of navigating around a PC's various features. Where typing a command line or scrolling through lists of text had been the order of the day, now consumers could point a mouse cursor at an icon and click on it to start word processing, painting or using spreadsheets. What's more, it was also the first computer launch to be supported by a multi-million dollar TV commercial -- directed by none other than Ridley Scott.

"The Mac made the computer accessible to the average consumer and so opened the floodgates for a new generation of technology innovations," said Kottke, whose sentiments are shared by fellow Macintosh team member Andy Hertzfeld. "Nowadays, it's obvious that computers are part of the everyday lives of virtually everybody; and the Macintosh was the turning point," he told the San Jose Mercury News.

But the true reason the Macintosh was revolutionary and the real reason why its impact continues to be felt up to this day is that it was the first personal computer conceived to be an object of desire, a gadget that would enhance a lounge or bedroom, rather than detract from it.

And of course, like all truly revolutionary products, it initially failed to catch on. The Mac may have wowed audiences and consumers alike but at $2,495 US it was a "premium" affordable product and for the first year after its launch there was very little in the way of compatible software available for the machine.

Then the inevitable happened. Microsoft radically overhauled its Windows operating system and in 1990 launched Windows 3.0, its first OS with a graphical user interface, and one of the Mac's biggest killer applications was no longer so unique.

As well as influencing computer interface design -- to this day icons and images are the order of the day on everything from desktops to smartphones -- we have the Macintosh to thank for technology companies upping their game in terms of physical design. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the all-in-one PC segment that Apple essentially created, where computers are moving closer to sculptures and further away from beige boxes with flashing lights and where, 30 years on, Apple is still at the vanguard, thanks to its latest-generation iMacs.

The other thing that the original Mac spawned was the tradition of Steve Jobs' now legendary Apple keynote speech/launch events. Sadly, this particular trend came to an end with the launch of the iPad 2 in March 2011. Jobs died in October that year due to complications arising from pancreatic cancer.

However, his legacy and in particular his focus on creating products that people actually want and that enrich their lives continues apace. All of which begs the question: in 30 years' time, will we be celebrating the launch of Apple's first smartwatch?