It was the year that Torvill and Dean won Gold at the Winter Olympics dancing the Bolero and the Miners went on strike, but 1984 is a notable year in the history of Apple because it was also the year that the Macintosh was launched. 

The thirty years that have passed since Apple's CEO Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh 128k on 24 January 1984 have bought countless advances and changes – in software, hardware design, operating systems and more – that make the Mac what it is today. But that’s the old news. More important is what your Mac will be like next year, or the year after that, or five years from now. How will Apple’s ongoing endeavours and other technological developments affect the devices you use in the near future? In this article, we take a look at how some of today’s trends are driving the technology of tomorrow, as well as how some of the significant events of the past 30 years have brought us to where we are today.  

The Mac at 30: how the graphical user interface has changed 

The Macintosh was the first computer to feature a graphical user interface, and even today Apple is redefining the way we interact with technology.

When it launched in 1984 the Macintosh was the first mass-market PC to feature a graphical user interface and a mouse. Back then the alternative was MS-DOS or a Unix command-line interpreter.

The inspiration for this more user friendly way of interacting with a computer came back in 1979 when Steve Jobs visited Xerox Park and saw the Smalltalk development environment with its overlapping windows and pop-up menus. On return to Apple, Jobs encouraged his team (working on the Lisa project) to start developing Apple's own graphical user interface.

The user interface that eventually appeared on the Macintosh in 1984 was based on graphical representations of familiar objects: a wastepaper bin, sheets of paper and files and it followed the metaphor of a desktop workspace and objects were selected and moved on this desktop by moving a mouse over the real desktop.

Also improving usability, the original Macintosh featured a built-in display. That display was black-and-white and had a resolution of 512x342 pixels. It was 9in (23cm) in diameter, which allowed for the desktop publishing standard of the time, 72 PPI, to be achieved. It was also big enough to display 80 columns of text. 

While the Mac operating system has evolved over the past thirty years, many of the same metaphors are still in use today, as are many other elements of this early interface. For example, there was a row of menu titles at the top of the screen on the early Macintosh, just as there are today. However, Apple has worked tirelessly to develop a more efficient, and more powerful, user experience, and over the years new features have been added to the Mac interface. The most recent update to the operating system, OS X 10.9 Mavericks actually removed some of the more skeuomorphic elements in favour of more simple design. Mavericks also saw an update to the Finder, which implemented new features designed to make locating documents, whether on your Mac, or stored in the cloud, easier.

Over the years the way we move the curser around our Macs has also changed – many still use a mouse, but the popularity of the laptop would suggest that the vast majority of Mac users are swiping away at their multitouch trackpad.

 
In the early days Apple''s mouse featured a single button and was about the size of a deck of cards

The Mac in the future: the user interface

One of the biggest interface changes in recent years was when scrolling in Mountain Lion switched to bottom-to-top from top-to bottom to be more like scrolling on the iPad and iPhone.

In this age of iPhones and iPad we are breeding a new generation of youngsters who think that they should be able to interact with a computer with a swipe of the screen. Will Macs gain touchscreens, like their iOS siblings?

While Steve Jobs once dismissed touch screen Macs, saying: "Touch screens don't want to be vertical", it is possible that in the future certain interface elements will be accessible from the screen.

Alternatively, we may not even need to touch the screen. An Apple patent published in September 2013 described a sensor-based user interface that could enable a user to interact with a display from a distance using hand gestures.

Other interface elements from the iPhone could make their way onto the Mac of the future. We expect there will come a time when we all log onto our Macs via TouchID, for example. And although Apple's CEO Tim Cook claimed that "You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not gonna be pleasing to the user" in the future we may see the Mac converge with the iPad in such a way that is pleasing to the user.

NEXT: The Mac at 30: how processors have changed

Apple’s chips are getting smaller, lighter and more efficient while in the background something amazing is taking place... Read on...

Also in this article:

The Mac at 30: How the graphical user interface has changed

The Mac at 30: how processors have changed

The Mac at 30: how storage has changed

The Mac at 30: how networking has changed

The Mac at 30: how portability has improved

The Mac at 30: how software has improved