Hiltmon

On walkabout in life and technology

Apple at 40

Apple turned 40 this week, and it got me thinking about the past 40 years of our individual computing experiences.

In many ways, my own journey to now parallels that of Apple.

And I’m willing to bet your journey is the similar.

The 1980s - Youthful Experimentation

In the early 1980s, Apple was young, surrounded by a wide range of competitors and the Apple II was it. Everybody who could, had one. They used them to work, to play, to learn programming and to experiment.

When the Apple Lisa project was announced and plastered all over Byte magazine, we all devoured each word written about it. We argued whether the Apple III or the Lisa was better (I was a Lisa), but both disappointed.

In 1984, Apple released the Macintosh. And changed the world.

In 1987, Apple released the Macintosh II. If there was ever a computer I wanted in the 1980s, that was it. That plus the LaserWriter recreated the entire publishing industry.

I view the 1980s Apple as a time of youthful experimentation. They experimented with several new platforms, took major risks, created unique products (some great, some horrible) and set out to change the world. The world fell in love with the GUI and the mouse.

In parallel, I was doing the same. I had Sinclair computers back then (talk about a unique platform) which were the only ones we could afford. When I went to university, I built my first PC clone, ran MS-DOS to learn programming using Turbo Pascal, and Xenix (later Minix) for everything else. I fell in love with computing and UNIX.

The 1990s - Suit Wearing Corporate Life

The 1990s were Apple trying to be corporate and becoming quite miserable about it. Time after time, Apple produced the same boring beige boxes, boring updates to the operating system, and struggled to complete against IBM compatible systems and the Microsoft juggernaut.

Apple was trying, as all young folks do in their first jobs, to fit in to a society they did not understand and felt powerless to change. They simply did what they thought the world expected of them. They tried to act like grown-ups and play the corporate game against older, powerful, entrenched interests, and had their spirits crushed.

It’s not that Apple did not create great things in the 1990s, its just that they were few and far between. The Powerbooks of 1994, the Newton and System 7 (IMHO) stand out in my mind.

In parallel, I started programming, managing projects and consulting — and wore a business suit every day. Since the corporate world was on PC compatible systems, that’s what I used. MS-DOS at work, Minix at home, Windows 95 at work, System 7 at home. I did this because I thought that was what was expected of me. To act like a grown-up, settle down, suit up and play by the rules of others. It crushed my spirit, and I was miserable.

By the late 1990s, Apple was doomed. Something needed to change.

By the late 1990s, I was miserable. Something had to change.

The 2000s - Finding the Bliss

The return of Steve Jobs via the reverse acquisition of NeXT was the trigger for Apple to Think Different again. Its moment of change had come. The new iMac design language took hold, from the Bondi blue model in the late 1990s, through the beautiful iMac G4 lampshade model to the current slab design on the desktop, the powerful PowerMac G4 Quicksilvers with their unique handles leading to the amazing all-metal G5 models, the new Powerbooks G4s and later MacBooks.

And more. OS X was introduced and blossomed. The Intel transition happened. And the iPod became the most iconic, must-have product for our generation.

Apple’s products became Apple’s again. They had found their bliss. And the market found it with them. Apple changed to doing what it wanted to do, what it loved and that showed. It found its market wanted the same and shared their love of great design, music, experience and reliability.

In parallel, so did I. I replaced the suit and meetings and Windows PC with jeans, an IDE and a Titanium PowerBook G4. I changed countries (twice) and worked on the products that I wanted to work on and make great.

I had found my bliss. I was doing what I loved and was free to also live my life surrounded by people I loved doing fun things at work and especially at play.

By the late 2000s, Apple was a successful and confident organization. It had proven itself to itself and the world and was surrounded by friends. It was ready to expand its reach. And it did so in the most incredible way, by launching the amazing iPhone. No other firm could have done it, it required the unique kind of creativity and operational chops that only a happy, confident Apple could delver. The iPhone became the one icon to rule them all.

As was I, well, successful I mean. Its because of this bliss that I was able to move to New York, do the work I wanted to do, creates some of my best product and run my own consulting business here.

All using Apple products.

The 2010s - Living the Life

By the start of the 2010s, Apple was confidently living the life. The passing of Steve Jobs and the handover to Tim Cook did not change who or what Apple was. Apple had gotten better at things it traditionally was terrible at, like services, even better at things it was good at, like design, manufacturing and innovation. Yet it was still finding more bliss. The iPad, Apple TV and Apple Watch may not be seen as super-successful products compared to the iPhone, but each on their own would be a Fortune 500 company!

Apple has gotten confidently comfortable with who they are, what they do and how they go about it. They continue to innovate in other areas, continue to press forward, continue to enjoy what they love. They have not stagnated or settled down. They continue to youthfully experiment yet deliver like a mature firm.

In parallel, so have I. I live where I want to, do what I love to do, use the products I love to use. I am continually working on becoming an even better software designer, programmer and person. And finding more bliss. Like writing and traveling again.

I am confidently comfortable with who I have become, what I do and how I go about it. But I am not ready to settle down. I continually try new tools, languages and approaches. I continue to youthfully experiment yet deliver like a pro.

Onwards and Upwards

Apple at 40 (and in parallel, myself a few years older) is a master of many things, it has put in its 10,000 hours. But being a master of one, two or even ten things is not good enough for either of us. We continue to experiment, to try, to put 10,000 more hours into new ideas, experiences and technologies.

I cannot see Apple slowing its pace of innovation, change and expansion. It’s who Apple is now and who Apple always wanted to be. The path to here was long and winding, and full of bumps. The path forward will be too. And because Apple Thinks Different, it will always be different and misunderstood and underestimated. Apple at 40 does not care what others think, it has found its bliss and will continue to push forward, writing its own story.

I intend to do the same. Et vous?

Follow the author as @hiltmon on Twitter.

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