As the 2000 decade began Apple was getting off its knees and starting to stand on its own two feet, following the return of messianic company founder Steve Jobs three years earlier. In that time Jobs had cut back Apple’s product line from a sprawling mess to one that included the industry-changing iMac – that odd-shaped, translucent PC that allowed Jobs to quip: “The back of our computer looks better than the front of anyone else’s”.
Steve’s vision was not conservative or cautious. The only way Apple was going to once again dominate the industry was by creating great new products and technologies: “The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”
2000 Though developed through the 80s and 90s at NeXT and Apple, it wasn’t till the 21st century that we got to see the future of Apple’s Mac operating system. And, boy, did it look good. Introducing the Mac OS X Public Beta Steve salivated: “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them”.
Apple was stamping its mark on beautiful product design not just in software but in hardware, too. Check out the Power Mac G4 Cube: “Simply the coolest computer ever. An entirely new class of computer,” raved Jobs, before dumping it in…
2001 This was the year we got not one but two versions of Mac OS X (10.0 Cheetah and 10.1 Puma). In hardware we saw two sides of the Apple aesthetic. We got the PowerBook G4, a laptop design that Apple hasn’t crawled too far away from since, and an iBook that didn’t look like it was designed by Fisher Price. But we also reeled back at the eccentric Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power iMacs.
More significantly, Apple changed the way we listen to music with iTunes (“A turning point for the music industry. This is landmark stuff. I can’t overestimate it!”) and the iPod (“There are sneakers that cost more than an iPod”).
2002 Mac OS X got its first properly stable version, 10.2 dubbed Jaguar, that could be considered more than just a colourful plaything. And to celebrate Apple gave us surely its oddest-ever looking computer, the anglepoise-like iMac G4, and bulkiest, the education-only eMac.
2003 Version 10.3 Panther was another step forward for OS X. For laptops Apple went to extremes, releasing the tiny 12in and giant 17in PowerBooks. As with the PowerBook G4, the Power Mac G5 came in a case that Apple hasn’t bothered to redesign since.
“People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
2004 Mac OS X was now so stable that Apple didn’t bother with a new version this year. But Steve shared some of Apple’s forthcoming technologies with its developers: “We used to dream about this stuff. Now we get to build it. It’s pretty great.”
If no one else was going to grow the MP3 player category, then Apple would just have to do it itself, and it did with the release of the iPod mini. A family was born.
And with the iMac G5 Apple again had found its design template for all iMacs to come after it – although sadly it wasn’t at all odd looking.
2005 The year of Small. While Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger boasted hundreds of new features, Apple’s hardware went micro, with the iPod shuffle and nano, and the boxy Mac mini. Apple shocked its Pentium-bashing fans by moving processors from Motorola/IBM to former arch-enemy Intel. Steve explained: “Mac OS X has been leading a secret double life for the past five years. We’ve had teams doing the ‘just-in-case’ scenario; and our rules have been that our designs for OS X must be processor independent, and that every project must be built for both the Power PC and Intel processors. Just in case.”
2006 Intel chips popped up in the new MacBook Pro (“Everyone wants a MacBook Pro because they are so bitchin’”) and the Mac Pro. (“The workstation Mac users have been dreaming about”).
2007 Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard hit the shelves and Apple had become the largest developer for Windows, due to the popularity of its iTunes software (“It’s like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell!” said Steve, sitting right next to Bill Gates on a technology panel). Now Apple began looking outside the PC sector for new areas to innovate.
“If you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next,” said Steve. “I wish developing great products was as easy as writing a cheque. If that was the case, Microsoft would have great products.”
Three years earlier Steve dismissed TV as boring: “You watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.” But along came Apple TV anyway, a product that still feels half loved.
But the big one was the iPhone. “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. It’s very fortunate if you can work on just one of these in your career... Apple’s been very fortunate in that it’s introduced a few of these,” boasted Jobs.
2008 The year of Thin, with Apple releasing the MacBook Air and a newly slimmed-down iPod nano. But it wasn’t just Apple’s hardware that was skinny. Steve Jobs was looking so gaunt that Bloomberg inadvertently ran his obituary.
2009 This was a year of consolidation without Steve Jobs, who was forced to take extended leave from his company in order to have a liver transplant. Even Mac OS X took a breather, with 10.6 Snow Leopard introducing just minor amends to the 10-year-old operating system.
And 2010 looks like it’s going to be another killer year for Apple, with hype for the rumoured Tablet Mac promising to change the technological and publishing landscapes just like the iPod and iPhone did in the past decade, and the Mac did many years previously.
“I make 50 cents for showing up... and the other 50 cents is based on my performance,” said Steve, discussing his famous $1 a year salary as Apple’s CEO. On the basis of the past 10 years he’s worth a whole lot more. He’ll be richer, too, if he follows his own advice to “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”.