(Keep Feeling) Fascination (Part IV)

Sometime in the early to mid-1990s, computers became, for the most part, pedestrian and commonplace. Costs were brought down by efficiencies in manufacturing and scale to the point where computers were affordable by all. Like the VCR, the personal computer became ubiquitous. By then, there were only two mainstream personal computer operating systems left: Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Macintosh. Even I was succumbing to the feeling that computers were now blasé.

In less than four years during the ‘90s, Apple went through three CEOs and it seemed that its days were numbered as the only other major manufacturer of home computers that were not based on the Windows operating system. It became further marginalized when many of the Macintosh's unique features were copied and incorporated into Windows '95. Little by little, Apple's market share plummeted into the low single digits.

All that changed in 1998 when the colorful, egg-shaped, "Bondi Blue" iMac came on the scene. Steve Jobs was now back at the helm of Apple after being forced out by Apple's Board of Directors in 1985 and he was making products that stood out and grabbed people’s attention like the iMac. Like its 1984 ancestor, the iMac forced another paradigm shift in the ways computers were used. Gone were the standards Mac users have become accustomed to: SCSI hard drives and connections, proprietary serial cables, the ADB connections, etc. Replacing many of those connections was a new kind of port – the Universal Serial Bus port or USB port for short. Apple was late to the game in shipping computers with USB ports. PCs had been shipping with USB ports for a year or more but it wasn't until Apple came out with them on the iMac that peripheral manufacturers started making devices like printers, modems, scanners, etc. that could utilize these new ports. In short, if you wanted to be able to do anything with these new iMacs, you had to find a USB-based peripheral. Apple made sure there were plenty of USB-equipped printers and other devices early adopters could connect to their new iMacs. Microsoft that same year released Windows ’98 Second Edition which allowed Windows users to use many of the USB-based peripherals on its platform.

Many times since the iMac's introduction, Apple may not have been first in releasing a clever product but it always incorporated an easy-to-use interface with its products and the hardware and software worked in tandem to provide the end users with the best experience possible. We've seen this with the iPod, iTunes (Apple was the first company to show the music labels that it was actually possible sell legal copies of music online and make a profit doing so!), the iPhone and, most recently, the iPad. Apple wasn't first with most of these products – there were mp3 players before the iPod, there were all makes and model cell phones, and there have been many "tablet PCs." The difference is, though, Apple made them not only viable but successful and easy to use.

Nearly 30 years later, I am still fascinated by home computers, Apples in particular, and how they can enrich our lives. I can only imagine what the next 30 years will be like. One thing's for certain, however, I know that I will continue to be fascinated with computers just like I was back in 1982.