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

on August 15, 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.