6 Ways Apple Has Influenced the Last 30 years of the PC Industry

by Tim Bajarin   |   August 15th, 2011

On Aug 12th, the industry celebrated the birthday of the IBM PC and its impact on our world of information. But we would be remiss if we did not also point out some of the key technologies Apple brought to the PC industry and how some of their pioneering technology and decisions actually pushed the PC industry towards stronger growth.

Credit: Austin Computer Museum

The first technology was the Mac and its graphical user interface. When the Mac was introduced in January of 1984, the IBM PC had been out for three years already, and its UI was still text based. But Apple shook up the computing establishment by introducing the Mac with its GUI, mouse and voice feedback and forever changed the man-machine interface for good.

The second major thing they did is toss out the 5 ¼ inch floppy disk and move to what quickly became the next major storage medium for PC’s. Jobs and company decided that the Mac should have a 3 ½ inch disk. At the time, the computing establishment smirked at Apple’s bold move, but soon after realized that this smaller disk size allowed them to create smaller PC’s and by 1986 this smaller floppy became the mainstream industry standard.

Their third major decision was to introduce a Postscript laser printer at an affordable price. This was a huge industry breakthrough. Most laser printers at the time cost well over $50,000 and took up a large space in an office. Not only did Apple bring this laser printer in at a price under $10,000, but also their laser printer actually sat on a desktop. Then, they were smart enough to link Aldus’ Pagemaker to the Mac and this laser printer and desktop publishing was born. From a historical perspective, you cannot underestimate how much this desktop publishing solution has impacted the world of publishing, graphics and even movies.

The fourth major thing they did was introduce Mac’s with CD Rom drives. Again, this was a revolutionary move at the time and in fact, this ushered in the era of multimedia computing. I had the privilege of being a part of the first multimedia roundtable held at UCLA in 1990 that was co-sponsored by Apple and saw first hand the potential that a CD ROM would have on computing by allowing a PC, for the first time, to deliver a storage device that could integrate text, images, audio and video into a storytelling medium. Again, the traditional PC vendors smirked at Apple’s move and said it was just another unneeded expense. But within two years they got the message and started to integrate them into mainstream PC’s as well. And, with the CD rom in PC’s, for the first time, the PC garnered serious attention from mainstream consumers. If you know your PC history you know that it was multimedia computers that finally got the PC into homes and the consumer PC market was born as a direct result of the role the CD ROM played in bringing multimedia content to the PC experience.

The fifth major influence on the traditional PC market came with the introduction of Apple’s colored Mac’s not long after Steve Jobs came back to run Apple in 1997. In fact, this major move to make industrial design a cornerstone of all Apple Macs has, over the last decade, forced the PC industry to completely rethink what a PC should look like and again, it took Apple to lead the way and help them see the future of the PC.

And now they have introduced the iPad. While Jobs likes to say that this is product of the post PC era, I beg to differ with him on one point. If you open up an iPad, it has a motherboard, CPU, memory, IO’s, screens, etc. In my world, that is a PC. And in that sense, Jobs and team again is influencing the PC market in an even more dramatic fashion.

While over the 30 years of the IBM PC, Apple did not achieve the type of market share of the HP’s, Dells, Acer’s etc. And during much of this time, the company actually struggled to remain relevant. But nobody can deny their impact during this period and now, it is the Dells, HP’s et all who are all chasing Apple.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • Tmitra

    Another point that you could have mentioned is that the original Apple computer in 1977 was at the forefront of the personal computing revolution… Apple may have been among those responsible for the term “personal computer” or PC.

  • http://twitter.com/dmkraig Donald Michael Kraig

    Although the IBM PC came out before the Mac, Apple’s “Apple II” computer can arguably be described as the first complete desktop computer from a single company. Before the Apple II, if you wanted a computer you had to assemble it yourself using parts from various companies. Without the Apple II there wouldn’t have been an IBM PC which was designed (using off-the-shelf parts) to counter a perceived threat to IBM’s “big iron” computers.

    When the Mac came out, a popular book was “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” IBM, after the Mac came out, passed out buttons saying “Real Men Don’t Use Mice.”

    Apple’s LaserWriter didn’t just come in at “under $10,000,” it came in at under $7,000.

    Apple’s iPhone revolutionized the way the internet industry, closely affiliated with the computer industry, worked. Now, major websites were redesigned so they could be read on phone-sized computers.

    Apple’s iTunes not only revolutionized the way music was stored and played on computers, it moved the record industry away from a one-hit-and-11-pieces-of-junk album focus to a single focus and eliminated most record stores. It went on to change the way software was distributed allowing designers to change from high margin relatively low sales to massive success via internet distribution, massive sales and low margin.

    Although USB was invented elsewhere, it didn’t become popular and then ubiquitous until it appeared on the iMac.

    The drive to HTML 5 has massively increased since Apple supported it over Adobe’s Flash on the iPhone and iPad. As a result, Adobe has not only been designing new software, but is grudgingly changing Flash into a design tool rather than a format.

    Although others have used touch interfaces, it has only become popular thanks to the iPhone and iPad, and now all manufacturers and designers are including touch interfaces.

    Your six ways are pretty accurate, but what you didn’t focus on is why you chose those six rather than the many other ways Apple revolutionized the computer and allied industries.

  • Rick

    I don’t remember a 2.5-inch floppy, hmmm.

    • Tbntx

      You’re correct. It was a 3.5″ drive.

  • Rich

    The new Mac mini has a Thunderbolt I/O and no optical drive.

    • Tbntnx

      Just as Apple was the first to introduce 3.5″ drives, and CD ROM drives, it also wa s the first to abandon floppy drives when the industry outgrew their capacities. LIkewise, Apple has begun discontinuing the include of integrated CD or DVD drives, in favor of direct downloading from the web. These options are still available as external drives (including USB floppy drives, CD drives and DVD drives) for very low cost, and by removing these components, the money saved is put back into faster processors, better video and new innovation.

      It is also worth mentioning that the MacBook Air has no built-in floppy, CD or DVD drives whatsoever, and it remains a top seller.

  • Tim

    The Apple II did start the ball rolling in PC’s but it was these 6 products by Apple that had the greatest impact on the future of the PC. As for the other items, these are good points. But I was trying to catch the key issues related to the IBM PC itself in this piece. Thanks for the comments.

    • bbrewer

      PC was arguably a quick one-off of Woz’s ideas, about 3-4 years later. Hard to imazine that the computer that forced IBM to finally reneg and introduce a personal computer had no real effect on the ‘PC’ industry.

      There would simply not have been an IBM PC at all (at that time) had Apple not shown them the way. The IBM shareholders went ballistic when Apple made millions overnight! That was the ONLY reason IBM did the PC, and the same reason they basically GAVE UP the entire game to Gates, et al…

  • Roby

    Tim, clear, concise, informative. Nice post!

    However, you did leave one *major* innovation out–the iPhone!! That is what led to the iPad and what has changed 21st century computing forever.

    I’d agree with the comment, too, about the Apple II. One might want to mention Apple Talk, the easy to use serial networking. Even more interesting would be the Newton (which led to Palm’s PDA and eventually the iPod Touch and iPhone) and the digital camera! Of course, one has to stop somewhere and those move us into areas other than simply PC.

  • Anonymous

    Apple was to the PC what Mercedes-Benz was to the automobile. The technologies existed, but not as a single, well designed package. To begin the story with the Macintosh is to miss an (arguably) even more important contribution from Apple to early “personal” computing in my opinion.

  • Anonymous

    What about QuickTime? I remember it was considered magic when it first came out because no one thought a computer could play movies with software only – it was a long held belief the only way you could play video was to install specific hardware to do so.

  • Anonymous

    What about Hypercard? It helped propel the world wide web as an inspiration to Tim Berners Lee.

  • Anonymous

    What about Mac OS X? If you told someone in 1998 that UNIX would be a commonly used system by consumers, they would have thought you bonkers. Especially since Linux had been out for eight years and not so hot, except with the geeks. Now they have it in their pocket as a iPod or iPhone.

  • Brandon

    Pretty sad when you have to list things like ‘We colored the cases!’ as one of the major ‘innovative’ steps taken by Apple. I remember my friends and myself painting computer cases long before Apple released anything in 1997. Another thing this list is missing is that circular mouse that was incredibly hard to handle.