Apple Marks 30 Years of Innovation

On Saturday, April 1, Apple Computer will mark a nostalgic milestone -- the 30th anniversary of the company that has been a pioneer in the personal computer revolution and is still evolving today.


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Before personal computers dotted corporate desktops, speeding business transactions, communications and sales... Before laptops and desktops helped people file their taxes, date and trade stocks...

Before the revolution, there was Apple Computer.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company was a pioneer in the advancements of the personal computer back in the 1970s, changed the way the world used computers with the Macintosh in the 1980s, and is driving a music revolution with the iPod and iTunes today. For three decades, Apple has unleashed a string of innovative, usable and cool tools, creating a legion of Mac zealots who follow the company with a religious fervor.

And Saturday, April 1, Apple hits a nostalgic milestone, marking its 30th anniversary in an industry where many companies are gobbled up by bigger players or close their doors before the first product can even hit the streets.

''I think anybody who's been in the industry for a while would echo that everybody has a soft spot in their heart for Apple,'' says Julie Craig, a senior analyst with Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates. ''The company has seen the industry through from the very beginning... It wasn't the very first desktop but it was near the beginning. There was Atari. There was Commodore and there was Apple. The fact that they're still going 30 years later, under their own name and evolving to offer products like the iPod shows the creativity behind this company.''

Pioneer. Innovative. Tough. This is how users and industry analysts often describe Apple. It's not that the company hasn't had its share of missteps, poor quarterly earnings reports and missed opportunities. It's definitely gone through some tough times -- losing marketshare and mindshare to early rival Microsoft Corp., losing hold of the enterprise, going through a string of executive leaders, and struggling through a dry spell of fresh ideas.

But Apple came back, reinventing itself and offering up new business ideas, new products and new ways to drive customers to the Mac.

''If you go through 30 years, whether you're a person or a company, everything isn't always going to be easy,'' says Craig. ''But the fact that they've been able to reinvent themselves in the handheld market says a lot about their staying power.''

Mark Margevicius, research director of Gartner, Inc., an industry analyst firm based in Stamford, Conn., says much of Apple's staying power is based on staying true to its initial philosophies.

''Apple is in tune with its roots,'' says Margevicius. ''If you think back to the original days, Apple was about individuality to the extreme. It was about the computing experience for the person and not so much about corporate clients or PCs as part of the network. Apple hasn't lost that. It's about style and fit and finish and the computing experience for the individual. That's their mantra. They're trying to do something unique and different that has some sizzle to it -- something that leaves customers wanting more. And that's a recipe for success for that company.''

And that drive to create a computer that was uniquely user friendly at the time made the early Macintosh a big hit with people who wouldn't have otherwise thought of themselves as 'computer types' or geeks. People weren't asked to type in lines of code. They could drag and drop. They started to leave their typewriters behind and join the computer age.

''There was a logic to it,'' says John Welch, a unix/ppen systems administrator for Kansas City Life Insurance and a Datamation columnist who writes about Apple in the enterprise. ''My first experience was with the Lisa. It came out in the early '80s. My whole reaction to it was, 'Duh. This is how it needs to work.' At the time, I owned an Atari 800... but when this came out, there were things about it that worked pretty much like my brain does.''

Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple and one of the three founders of the company, gets much of the credit for the system's intuitive nature, according to Welch, who bought his first Apple computer in 1991 when he got a 2Ci. ''He's got an eye for what people want to use and he knows how people use stuff in the real world. I think he spends time watching people and observing people. Things had to work right and it had to look good. How things worked had to be obvious.''

Apple Gets Started

Jobs was right there from the very beginning. Thought of as the marketing guy, Jobs teamed up with his friend Steve Wozniak -- the engineering guy. (Ron Wayne, another friend, was in on it with them, but left after two weeks.) On April 1, 1976, they filed partnership papers.

That year, they unveiled the Apple I at the Homebrew Computer Club. A year later, came the Apple II, which was the first PC with color graphics. For $1,298, consumers got 4K of memory, game paddles and a demo cassette. Not the first personal computer, the Apple II, though, quickly became a hit outside the typical engineering crowd, drawing in home users. Some analysts credit the Apple II as the seed of the personal computer revolution.

Later in 1983 -- one year after reaching $1 billion in annual sales -- Apple came out with the Lisa, an investment at $9,995. The Lisa offered users a mouse-based Graphical User Interface (GUI), replacing text-based systems. The price, though, kept Lisa from being a huge commercial success and many users turned to rival IBM Corp. for cheaper solutions.

Slow sales of the Lisa didn't slow Apple down much, though. The company joined the ranks of the Fortune 500 that year.

In 1984, Apple released the Macintosh. It heralded the desktop publishing age, allowing users to create printed materials, articles and newsletters.

Read on to find out about Apple's struggles and the innovative way the company worked its way back...

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