When I was a kid, I used to stare at the Apple logo on my sister’s hand-me-down Macintosh LCII and dream about the future. That half-bitten apple was a symbol, a vision of a different world: a world where renegades and upstarts took crazy ideas and turned them into reality.
The funny thing is that the Macintosh LCII was a terrible computer. Honestly, it was one of the worst Macs ever made. But I didn’t know any better. What I was able to do on that first Mac, and on so many Macs afterwards, was create: first in Kid Pix, then in Microsoft Word 5 (still the best version of Word to ever exist), then in PageMaker and Photoshop and Garageband and Pro Tools, and ultimately on the web. That Apple logo was a siren call for people who saw computers as something more than a business tool or a productivity device — Apple’s fiercely devoted customers and fans became a community, a fanbase devoted to the idea that computers could make culture.
In 2016 Apple has become a very different kind of company — the most valuable company in the world, it so happens. Over the past 40 years, Apple has gone from a struggling upstart challenging IBM and Microsoft to being a dominant platform vendor. A company founded by two friends who bonded over a love of hacking the long-distance phone network has become a major economic gatekeeper engaged in historic policy fights with the government. It is a remarkable, improbable success story.
But that fundamental notion — that technology should enable culture — has remained a core piece of Apple’s mission. Apple's success is often chalked up to marketing, but that marketing has always reflected the idea that technology should be deeply personal. And Apple’s string of culture-defining products means that almost everyone has a deep-seated memory of an Apple device or service that traveled through a particular personal moment. There are albums that trigger deep emotional memories for me, and there are iPods that make me think about the dreams I had in college. I can't look at a photo of the original iPhone without thinking of the insane, early days of gadget blogging that changed my career and eventually led us to start The Verge.
It is almost impossible to think of another tech company that has had that kind of sustained impact on our lives and our culture over the past 40 years.
We’ve collected our favorite personal memories of Apple products below. Here’s to another 40 years.
A young Dieter Bohn, doing computer stuff
I don’t remember when the Apple II came into our home — and I barely remember getting the Apple ][+ and the Apple //e that followed it. I obviously knew nothing of their history or importance to computers, I just knew that we had an entire room — the computer room – dedicated to the Apple. There was a plastic box with a hinged, smoked cover filled with 5.25-inch floppy disks alongside it, each one carefully protected by a waxed paper sleeve and identified with a sharpie-marked white sticker. In retrospect, it’s obvious that my older brother had engaged in rampant piracy to fill out our library of software.
And something about using those floppy disks made sense. They were fragile, so you had to keep magnets far away. Their very fragility mirrored the preciousness of what they contained. One disk was one piece of software, just like there was one cassette tape or LP per music album. You’d shuffle through them, find the one you wanted, load it into a super loud and finicky whirring disk drive, and play.
Always play — to me the Apple was mostly a games machine. Sure, I learned some incredibly basic coding so I could push that turtle around in Logo. Later I did some writing (though I’ll be damned if I know what program I used to do it) — but mostly I played games.
All hail Brøderbund, which gave unto me: Choplifter, Lode Runner, Karateka, and Prince of Persia. I played Adventure and a hellaciously bad text game based on The Living Daylights. I learned absolutely terrible lessons about sex from a clandestine copy of Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Despite (well, because of) my name, I never learned German, but I did know what "ACHTUNG" meant, thanks to the bleepy shouts in the original Castle Wolfenstein.
I can still see that Apple //e now, set up on a card table in our suburban house in a neighborhood where the local kids were not at all friendly. But though it’s easy to say that I got into computers because I was aggressively teased, the truth is that it’s the Apple //e that brought me to my first real friends. We would "go play computers" and planned our weekends based on who had the best, latest thing: me with the Apple, Chris with the Tandy, Les with the Commodore 64.
I’m incredibly lucky, too, because that Apple //e was the last computer I ever used that wasn’t connected up to the wider world. We got a PC with an Intel 286 processor in the late '80s, and we picked up a 300-baud modem I could use to dial in to Bulletin Board Systems. RIP Dragon’s Nest, NintegA, and most of all Abiogenetic. I traded disks for phone numbers, made new friends, and published my first stories "online."
But even then, with the ability to talk to anybody anywhere through the magic of that proto-internet, I still lobbied for (and eventually won) the right to have the Apple //e placed in my bedroom. Because it was a reminder that the best use for a computer wasn’t playing Ultima, it was connecting with other people.
Michael Verdi (Flickr)
I never owned an Apple I (few did). I had to wait until 1991 to buy my first Apple computer: a Macintosh Classic II. I bought it used from a friend who wanted to get rid of it because he’d grown tired of the limitations of the 512KB memory and 2MB of RAM. I thought that sounded like more than I’d ever need. So I wrote out the check and became the proud owner of a small, beige box with a tiny, black-and-white screen, a huge mouse, a clunky keyboard, and a ton of floppy disks in plastic sleeves.
I loved my Mac. I didn’t care that its tiny screen meant proofreading took ages as I read by the square inch, not by the full sentence. I didn’t care that my glorious new digital world came only in black and white. I didn’t care that the Mac was slow and underpowered compared to cheaper machines available at the time. I didn’t care one bit; I simply loved my Mac.
I could do so much with it! I could write letters. I could balance my checkbook. I could even play a monochromatic Star Trek game that was only marginally better than watching Mac Paint dry. But yes, I thoroughly loved my Mac — until I didn’t.
The day eventually came when that surprisingly heavy, pale beige box simply couldn't deliver anymore — a day when the novelty of typing a letter in quadrants became a chore, and watching black-and-white fireworks became seemingly absurd.
So my Apple Macintosh Classic II was retired to a the dark side of a closet in a rarely used corner of a back bedroom in my parents’ house. There it stayed, languishing, until it, along with most of the contents of my childhood, burned in a house fire in 1997. My Apple Macintosh II ended up a twisted, molten box dumped unceremoniously on a mound of damp and foul-smelling ash in a destroyed front yard. Forgotten.
Until now. Happy anniversary.
Final Cut Pro
Final Cut Pro was my gateway drug to Apple products, and I’m probably not the only one.
My first experiences with PCs were on Windows machines, but then I took a video production course in 2002. Final Cut Pro had launched at NAB in 1999, and at $1,000 it wasn’t cheap, but it was more accessible than big ol’ legacy editing systems. Oh, and it only ran on Macs.
After that initial course I didn’t use Final Cut Pro for a few years, mostly because the TV networks I worked at relied on bigger, more expensive Avid editing systems, manned by very experienced video editors. But when I joined the Wall Street Journal’s digital video team in 2008, it was back to Final Cut Pro on Mac, by then in its sixth version. There was a learning curve again, but mostly I remember how much I wanted to re-learn the software. Final Cut Pro was, as my Verge coworker Loren Grush says, a lifeline.
That doesn’t mean Final Cut Pro was perfect (or that I was particularly good at it). In the early days, the time it took to render effects meant a lot of late nights in an edit room. The software sometimes froze during batch captures, or crashed entirely, usually before I had the chance to hit save. That ominous, spinning beach ball would appear, and then, nothing — everything gone. I may have cried in front of Final Cut Pro. I may have cried in front of the blank screen where Final Cut Pro had been before it closed unexpectedly.
But Final Cut Pro, and Final Cut Pro Studio, was still unbelievably valuable software for multimedia producers. It was, for a long time, software that was definitively Apple: simple but powerful; intuitive for novices but with enough granular control and keyboard shortcuts for professionals. It was software that opened up a whole world of creative pursuits while also insisting that you work within Apple’s walled garden.
And then, in 2011, Apple introduced FCP X. Some people called it Final Cut Pro "Ten," others pronounced Eff-Cee-Pee-Ex, but no matter what you called it, people seemed to agree on one thing: it was not a worthy successor to Final Cut Pro 7. It was rebuilt from the ground up, made rendering super fast, and automated a bunch of functions. But it was missing enough stuff — like backwards compatibility with old projects — to cause a backlash, despite a new low price of $300. Some people adjusted. Others insisted FCP X was not pro-grade software, and circulated a petition demanding a return to the old software. A lot of people switched to Adobe Premiere.
Apple didn’t cave, but has released a lot of updates to FCP X that addressed some of the complaints. It just put out another small update to FCPX last month. And for what it’s worth, FCP X did claim a million customers a few years after it launched, in a fraction of the time it took Final Cut Pro to hit two million downloads.
But I really don’t edit videos anymore. And most of the video producers and directors I work with now use Premiere. I recently asked a few former colleagues whether they still use FCP X, and responses were mixed. Final Cut Pro’s moment, and its grip on video workflows, had passed. But long before there were so many video editing options, before people were manipulating video on touchscreen phones, before people stopped editing video at all and just threw some raw video clips up on the internet, Final Cut Pro and I had a thing. And it was a really fun thing.
The iMac G4 I never owned made me love computers.
I was a sophomore in high school when the G4 caught my eye. I remember the time vividly: the 2002-2003 school year had one seriously snowy winter, so I spent a good portion of it inside, watching anime and videos on Newgrounds. And It was around then when I first watched the ad.
It was perfect. Charming, futuristic, and unlike any computer I’d ever seen before. Up until then computers were just beige boxes you stuck in a corner before getting to work or playing Counter Strike. This computer, on the other hand, was weird, even alien. That screen, bobbing up and down like a Pixar lamp. That base, white and sleek but soft-edged enough to be inviting. More than wanting to touch it, I wanted to toy with it. There was something thrilling about it. And I remember thinking you had to be special if you had one of those things in your house.
Now, I couldn’t exactly ask my parents to buy a new computer just for fun. So, being a broke 15-year-old, I just researched as much as I could. I pored over the specs. I absorbed as much as I could about OS X. "Who needs Windows?" I said to myself. This bizarre computer would be my window to an exciting new world.
That window never quite opened. At least not in the way I expected. One day, after months of begging, my father went down to the mall to pick up a new computer. But instead of an iMac, he got an eMachines PC. I wouldn’t feel any kind of real heartbreak until a few years later, but that was as close as I had gotten to the feeling until then.
But after all that time reading and obsessing, I found solace in just saying, "Screw it!" and putting as many flavors of Linux onto that stupid eMachine as I could. At least it wasn’t Windows! It was an awakening, and it made up for the sting for a few years — all the way up to finally getting a MacBook for college.
Somebody stole that laptop three months into my first semester. Life is unfair.
I don’t mind never getting that G4 these days. Everything I learned about computing — things like figuring out how to program a kernel — I learned because I never got it, and I wonder if I’d have ever been as curious about how computers work if not for that experience. Still, anytime I see that ad, I feel a swell of nostalgia. And I want it all over again.
It frustrates me to no end every time the Apple Watch is called "Apple's most personal device ever," because there's just no way it can possibly be true. The Apple Watch is a gadget — a fine, almost stylish one, at that — but I can't imagine a world in which it's ever a part of me the same way my iPod was.
My iPod didn't just store my music — it stored a part of me. In high school, it was me, a reflection of myself told in a thousand song titles. Want to really get to know someone? Want the cheat sheet for whether you and another person you were bound to get along? Just swap iPods and scroll through the artist section to see where you overlap.
Sure, it's a crude, superficial way to get to know someone, but hey, it was high school. And that made the iPod my tiny act of rebellion. Where others' iPods would show The Black Eyed Peas and Kelly Clarkson, mine would be open to The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, which made me feel SO COOL even if no one else has ever agreed.
Those moments when a person handed me their iPod became core memories of them — a friend playing a favorite White Stripes song, or a cute classmate introducing me to The Decemberists with "July, July!"
Okay, technically she had a Dell MP3 player, but the point is, that song and that device became every bit as much a part of her as any real personality trait. It's the reason, over a decade later, I can still pair specific iPods with specific people.
People like to reminisce about making mixtapes for friends and significant others. I never did that — I just swapped iPods. And it's hard to imagine there ever being another gadget, so singular in focus, so all-at-once innocent and yet filled with insight, that you could just hand to another person to say, "Hey, this is who I am. I hope you like it."
I loved my iPod Hi-Fi so much that I couldn’t get one sentence into writing this without ordering a second-hand unit online. Although it was derided for its critical and commercial failure, I can’t think of a product more emblematic of Apple at its best and worst; in-your-face austerity and uncompromising design decisions are all there in an audacious iPod dock that feels like it was carved from a single piece of plastic.
As one of the largest products Apple has ever built, the iPod Hi-Fi is one of the strongest examples of the company’s dedication to minimalism. With the speaker grill on, there’s almost nothing to it: a white brick with a black front and a place to plug your iPod in up top. It feels like it could fall down a thousand flights of stairs. There are chunky handles cut into the side, and a large, grey rubber foot emblazoned with the "iPod" legend on the bottom. That’s it. In use, the iPod stands up tall awash in a sea of stark white resin.
Okay, so maybe $350 was a stretch. And maybe Steve Jobs kind of oversold it. "I’m an audiophile," he said at the launch event. "I’ve had stereos costing... well, I won’t say, you’d think I was crazy, but a lot! And I’m actually getting rid of my stereo."
That does not really describe my experience with the iPod Hi-Fi. The iPod Hi-Fi was a boombox for your iPod. A punchy, room-filling boombox that you could crank high without distorting, but a boombox nonetheless.
But a boombox for your iPod was a pretty great thing to have in 2006. Especially a boombox so gorgeous. The iPod was the most important object in my life back then, and the iPod Hi-Fi was an inviting companion. Jobs called it "home stereo reinvented for the iPod age," which might also have been a stretch, but I know I never needed anything else until I upped sticks and moved to Japan. The iPod Hi-Fi is, if not a world-beating audiophile system, pretty much perfect for setting down in a corner and blasting the room with reasonably good sound. Its quiet, unobtrusive design said nothing and everything at once.
I was back in the UK this past Christmas, and I visited the apartment that my sister had just moved into with her fiancé. There on a shelf in her living room was my old iPod Hi-Fi, dock connector unconnected, grill removed, and the speaker itself not even plugged in. "Why is this here if you’re not using it?" I asked, seven years after lending her the thing. "I don’t have the power cord," she replied. "But doesn’t it look great?"
I bought my first iPhone at the Apple Store Chestnut Hill in Newton, Massachusetts. It was June 29th, 2007 and I was one of the first dozen in line. I remember how excited I was to spend $600 (!) on that first 8GB model. This was the future.
I sat in the comfortable leather armchairs outside the store, carefully opening the sleek black box. I connected the phone to my MacBook and went through the activation process. A photographer for the Associated Press sat across from me, looking through his photos of the launch, before realizing he didn't have a picture of an actual iPhone.
I offered mine as a model and my iPhone landed on the AP wire.
Since then, I've owned nearly every model of iPhone, and it's become a nearly indispensable part of my life. I'm far from the only one. It's hard to imagine life without our smartphones now. It's how we book reservations for hotels and planes, check the weather, stay in touch with friends and family, and keep track of finances. Nearly everything we do in our day-to-day lives involves our phone. And whether you have an iPhone or an Android or something else, you can likely trace its lineage to that first iPhone, launched back in 2007.
In the nine years since the first iPhone launched, Apple has sold more than 900 million iPhones, bringing in some $600 billion in revenue. Those are astonishing numbers. But for most people, it's not about how many iPhones have been sold — it's about the iPhones that have been sold to them. Each one has a story.
Like my iPhone 3G, the only screen I've cracked. Or the iPhone 4, the first one I used a case on — a nearly indestructible OtterBox Defender — because I was nervous about the back glass shattering. My last few iPhones have been encased in the TwelveSouth BookBook, a wonderfully useful wallet case.
Perhaps the most useful thing about my iPhone is the camera. The best camera is the one you have with you, and I’ve taken thousands of pictures with my iPhones. That might be the best thing about my phone — I have a visual record of the last eight years of my life that I might not have had otherwise. I wonder how many more adventures I’ll have with my iPhone?
The MacBook Air did for laptops what the iPhone did for smartphones: it revolutionized its category and set a template that is still being followed today. The first generation of this laptop family compromised too much in the pursuit of thinness, but when Apple unveiled its Air redesign in late 2010, it rectified all of its mistakes and released an instant classic.
I remember being in the Regent Street Apple Store shortly after Apple’s launch event and marveling, mouth slightly agape, at the engineering feat that was the new MacBook Air. Every laptop I’d handled prior to that day had weak points, areas where the casing or keyboard would flex or creak or give way. Even the famously durable ThinkPads had some such flexible parts, but not the Air. The MacBook Air seemed hewn out of granite, with every surface, contour, and edge conveying strength. Apple completed the impossible task of simultaneously slimming down the laptop and making it more durable and longer-lasting.
If your vision of the ideal laptop today is a densely-packed, aluminum-clad, do-it-all machine that is nevertheless extremely thin and light, it’s the MacBook Air you have to thank for leading the way. Even in Apple’s vaunted product history, the Air stands out for being so far ahead of its time and competition. For a long while, it even overshadowed Apple’s own MacBook Pro, with media professionals in particular embracing the effortless lightness and longer battery life of the Air. Not too long ago, Twitter posted some photos of its development team as they were celebrating the launch of Moments, and all the laptops in sight were MacBook Airs. That might be one of the unacknowledged cultural imprints of this particular laptop line: the fact that much of the software and code that defines our web experience today was first synthesized on Apple’s lightweight classic.
The sun is now setting on the MacBook Air, which is being succeeded by Apple’s rebooted MacBook line. Like the original Air, the new 2015 MacBook has had its issues and limitations, but if Apple’s track record is anything to go by, the second generation will once again raise the bar of expectations for portable clamshell computers. For me personally, however, that 2010 MacBook Air will remain an unrivaled high point. It shook laptop manufacturers out of their cheap plastic haze and, I believe, directly led to such excellent computers as the current Dell XPS 13, Chromebook Pixel, and Microsoft Surface Book.
Here's a fun game if you own an iPhone. Go to the App Store, go to the Updates tab, then Purchases. Then start scrolling all the way down, as far as you can go. I still use the very first app I ever downloaded: Facebook. The next 20 or so represent a graveyard of bad ideas and haphazard cash grabs (no offense, Crazy Penguin Catapult FREE).
I came to the iPhone in late 2009, a year after the App Store’s launch, with the 3GS, having held onto a Samsung Blackjack as long as I could. I bought the iPhone because it was "cool" and because the web browser seemed a lot easier to navigate, but I didn't really put much stock into the apps themselves. After all, it was still just a phone — a thing for text messages, mostly, and maybe look up a piece of trivia when arguing with a friend at a bar. Maybe I'll find a fun game or two when I can't bring my Nintendo DS with me, I thought.
You know where this is going. You're a smart reader, and I'm not exactly being coy here. But also, you've probably been alive long enough to see what's happened in the intervening years. Apple didn't make the first app store, but it did create the first viable market for mobile apps — a market that could sustain multimillion-dollar companies while simultaneously giving small independent developers equal opportunity to find an audience.
The wild west of software distribution has largely coalesced around app stores across all platforms. It's not a stretch to say the iPhone's prolonged success is because of its App Store — an App Store that grew because of a handful of good ideas and a multitude of fart machines and Farmville clones.
The graveyard that is my miles-long app purchase history is rife with embarrassments. But scrolling through, every 20 bad apps or so, I stumble upon something I still use years later. The Kindle app — the only way I read. IMDb. Instagram. Google Maps. Dozens of games that'd best anything on a dedicated console. It wasn't the iPhone that consumed my life. It's the marketplace that now defines it.
Somewhere along the way, people got it into their heads that the iPad is a disappointment. Its sales tapered off a couple years into its existence, its design has barely changed in the last two and a half years, and apps are much slower in coming to it than the iPhone. What's an iPad even for , we asked when we reviewed the iPad Air 2. Well it's time to stop all the hand-wringing — the iPad is just about perfect, and it has been from the beginning.
Tech is my life, but I'm not the earliest adopter. I didn't buy the first iPod, or iPhone, or Apple Watch. But as soon as I saw Steve Jobs demonstrate the iPad onstage, I knew it would be mine. The first day it went on sale, I drove to an Apple Store to buy one. Even then, the iPad looked like an underachiever: there were maybe seven other people in line, far fewer than would show up later that year to buy the latest iPhone.
But I loved mine from the start. I curled up on the couch and watched Netflix on it. I used it to keep one eye on Twitter while I watched TV. I bought a bunch of novels on the iBooks store and read them on planes, relishing a screen that to this day remains better-looking than the Kindle's. Before I got a laptop for work, I hooked up a Bluetooth keyboard to my iPad and used it to take notes and write articles.
Nearly every complaint people have about their phones, the iPad seems to address. The screen is big enough to do nearly anything you'd do on a laptop. The battery can last for days. And the device will serve you well for years — there are still six-year-old, first-generation iPads rattling around, gingerly serving up web pages and emails.
Now I have an iPad Air 2, and it sleeps under the pillow next to mine. It's the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing I look at before I fall asleep. It's a marvelous integration of Apple's hardware and software — and on the company's 40th birthday, it's time to stop taking it for granted.
Apple Music isn’t perfect. It can be slow, clunky, and befuddling. I still don’t quite trust it to complete basic tasks like downloading music for offline use or syncing playlists. (Don’t get me started on iCloud Music Library, that mysterious song gobbler.) It doesn’t have the simplicity or intuitiveness on which Apple’s prided itself for so long. But I keep coming back to it anyway, and that’s because it articulates a vision of digital music ownership — or rentalship, rather — that’s warmer and more familiar than the ones presented by its competitors.
I missed the boat on physical music libraries, largely because of age. Receiving music for my birthday or for Christmas meant gift-wrapped or stocking-stuffed iTunes cards, not discs; the bulk of the CD stores in my hometown shuttered before I made it halfway through high school. Vinyl’s resurgence doesn’t change the fact that a tangible music collection is little more than an indulgence in 2016.
All of the borderline-compulsive fastidiousness I would’ve poured into perfectly preserving fickle LPs or alphabetizing rows of CDs went into my iTunes collection instead. I fussed over genre tags, over consistency in naming conventions — the great "ft." vs. "feat." debate remains unsettled — and over finding JPGs of sufficient quality to serve as album artwork. I was proud of that maintenance and its results, even if I was the only one who ever saw it.
Streaming services don’t have much wiggle room for maintenance; they’re mostly uninterested in maintaining the illusion of ownership. You can "save" albums and slap them into virtual libraries, but the terms of the agreement are always clear: you’re paying for access to millions upon millions of files living on a server somewhere far away, and it can vanish in a second if you decide to stop.
I’m not naïve enough to think Apple Music is any different, but its insistence on personality and integration — the phrase "My Music," the robust library functionality, the ability to make edits, even the dreaded iCloud Music Library — helps me maintain that façade. They’re small details, but they make the service feel more human, and it turns out that still matters.