Apple Computers

In 1976, three enterprising young men founded Apple Computers, Inc, with the intention of creating and distributing personal computers. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne began with a dream of making super computers smaller and available to the public. They built their computers in Jobs’ parent’s garage and debuted the Apple I personal computer kit the year they founded Apple. Eventually, 200 of these computers would be built.

Jobs approached a local computer store, The Byte Shop, which ordered fifty units and paid $500 for each unit after much persuasion from Jobs. Jobs then ordered components from Cramer Electronics, a national electronic parts distributor. Using a variety of methods, including borrowing space from friends and family and selling various items including a Volkswagen Type 2 bus, Jobs managed to secure the parts needed while Wozniak and Ronald Wayne assembled the Apple I.

In 1977, the Apple II was introduced and quickly became much more popular than its competitors, the TRS-80 and the Commodore even though the price of the Apple was higher. One of the big advantages of the Apple was the development of the floppy disk drive and software.

The Apple II was chosen by programmers to be the desktop platform for the first “killer app” of the business world. This was a spreadsheet program called VisCalc. This created a market for the Apple. The corporate market attracted many more software and hardware developers to the machine plus it attracted home users in an effort to be compatible with their business machine.

Over the years, the Apple computer would release many more designs each one just a little better than the last. In 1989, Apple introduced the Macintosh Portable. However, this computer was actually quite bulky and cumbersome and was met with mixed reviews. At this point, Apple hired industrial designers to develop a better, more portable personal computer.

In 1991, the Apple Power Book was introduced. The Power Book would provide the layout and form for the laptop computers we know today. This solidified Apple’s reputation as a quality manufacturer of both desktop and portable machines. The success of this laptop led to increased revenues and growing popularity of Apple in the computer market.

While they have had their ups and downs over the years, Apple Computers, Inc. has remained a solid presence in the computer and laptop market. Their products have continued to evolve to meet the needs of both the corporate and individual user.

The biggest Apple story for 2007 is the phenomenal number of great products it released. OK, perhaps not every product was great. However, they were all still exciting and generated significant buzz. What other company can say that?

Here’s my look back at Apple’s year. I offer my brief assessment of each new product — with the benefit of end-of-year hindsight.

iPhone Calling

iPhone. The invention of the year. The gadget of the year. The you-name-it of the year. Could this product possibly live up to all this hype? Yes. Definitely.

Of course, it is not perfect. Where is voice dialing and built-in GPS, for starters? I am already salivating over the expected 3G iPhone 2.0 coming in 2008.

However, the 1.0 version is still as close to an out-of-the-park home run as anyone could wish for. For my money, it’s the most groundbreaking product Apple has created since the original Mac in 1984. It’s already hard for me to imagine how I managed without one. Whether I am looking up a location in Maps, checking movie times in Safari, listening to my voicemail with the incredible ease of its visual interface, sending a quick e-mail message, enjoying music (which I do more often now that I always have an iPod with me), or playing one of the games I added after hacking the device, it seems that I am always using my iPhone for something.
Leapin’ Leopards

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. A mixed bag. Yes, it has some intriguing new features. I am especially fond of screen sharing and Back to My Mac. Time Machine is also a plus.

However, the more I use Leopard, the more I find that it actually offers very little in the way of “must have” features. Indeed, if I was forced to revert to Tiger tomorrow, I wouldn’t object. Actually, I would welcome a return to the Dock in Tiger (with its hierarchical folder menus) or the firewall in Tiger (with its ability to turn individual ports on and off). Then there are the too-numerous startup and login problems in Leopard (see my recent MacFixIt column for exactly what I mean here). I have the sense that, with all the other stuff Apple had going on in 2007, Leopard was not given the attention it needed. It may take until around version 10.5.3 before Leopard is truly a “finished” product.

More Needed for Apple TV

Apple TV. I own one and I enjoy it. I have it connected to my home theater system in my living room. However, my major use of it is for playing music, not video. For streaming music from iTunes, it is a far better choice than the AirTunes component of an AirPort Express — because Apple TV offers a video interface and remote control. Even better, by syncing files to the Apple TV’s hard drive, you can play music without having to be connected to a Mac at all.

For Apple TV to live up to its name and be really useful as a “TV,” it needs a significant upgrade. An obvious starting point would be some sort of DVR-like capability.
AirPort’s Landing

AirPort Extreme. If you are thinking of upgrading to a new AirPort Extreme Base Station for the speed boost of the 802.11n network, you probably shouldn’t bother. In particular, if you use your WiFi network just for connecting to the Internet, your Internet speed is a bottleneck that will prevent you from seeing any overall speed gain as compared to 802.11g. Actually, the speed result can be even worse than no gain at all (as I detailed in the MacFixIt column months ago), due to problems with signal strength specific to “n” networks.

Still, the ability to add a networked hard drive to the Extreme is a plus. Of course, if you have no wireless router at all, the AirPort Extreme would make a worthwhile purchase.

Touch: Crippled iPhone?

iPod touch. I have done an almost 180 degree turn here since the initial release of the iPod touch. My first reaction was: Great! Here is the iPhone-less iPhone that users have been clamoring for. Now you can have the iPhone’s touchscreen interface without having to pay for a two-year phone contract.

My more recent reaction, however, is closer to “What’s the point?” I know I am showing my iPhone bias here but … the iPod touch does so much less than the iPhone that I keep feeling the touch is just a crippled iPhone. For US$100 more in initial cost, you can have an iPhone with the same 8 GB of memory, all of its added features and save yourself having to carry around a second device as an iPod. If you are willing to go with AT&T (NYSE: T) as your mobile phone carrier, the iPhone is the way to go.
New Nano, New Life

iPod nano. The new nano is a worthy successor to the previous generation nano. I was especially glad to see that it now plays video, even though I suspect most users will not be watching much video on it. On the downside, I am not a fan of the redesigned “fatter” shape.

iLife ’08. I still have mixed feelings about iMovie. It is definitely easier to make a quick movie now, but I miss the timeline controls that I now need to upgrade to Final Cut Express to get.

For iPhoto, its biggest new feature is Events. Personally, I don’t have much use for it. Indeed, it sometimes gets in my way, creating events automatically that I would prefer not be created.

The improvements in GarageBand are cool. I had fun with Magic GarageBand. The ability to easily make multiple takes of a recording is definitely helpful.

Overall, iLife ’08, a bit similar to Leopard, is a worthwhile but not essential upgrade. Still, if you are upgrading to Leopard, you’ll probably want to upgrade here as well. Of course, if you buy a new Mac, you get the new iLife included.

A Nicer Workplace

iWork ’08. Numbers gives iWork a spreadsheet, and it’s an excellent one, with Apple’s expected attention to visual appearance and interface details. Pages and Keynote have been nicely upgraded as well. The tracking feature in Pages is an especially big plus; animations in Keynote provide some fun new options. iWork ’08 may not be ready to replace Office for most users, but it keeps getting better with each new version. If you don’t absolutely need Office, iWork ’08 is a great alternative.

Those Mac ads. Finally, a word about those “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC” ads. Some may find them a bit irritating. Some may claim they overstate the advantages of a Mac. Some may feel they have begun to wear out their welcome. Not me. I still find them to be one of Apple’s best ever ad campaigns. I enjoy each new batch. I especially got a kick out of the special one that opened the WWDC this year (you can still see it here).

If nothing else, the ads are a fun way to feel good about the Mac, and why not? It’s been a great year for the Mac and all the rest of Apple. As I said at the outset, even if not every product was a complete success, you still have to be impressed by the sheer number of worthy products Apple put out. It’s hard to imagine Apple topping itself in 2008, but we’ll soon begin to see. Macworld Expo is just around the corner.

Apple Computer, having recently won a suit brought by Apple Rrecords, the company founded by the Beatles, was surprised to find itself immediately dragged back into court to face a challenge by an incensed New York apple farmer.

“What do these boys mean,” the farmer went on, “claiming they own a picture of an apple with a bite out of it?” Gesturing to his acres of apple blossoms, he continued, “My father started this here apple orchard over a hundred years ago, and we’ve had a picture of an apple with a bite out of it on the side of our roadside farm stand for nigh onto seventy-five years. As far as I’m concerned, these Silicon Valley slickers have infringed on my copyright and on the rights of apple growers everywhere.”

Apple CEO Steve Jobs responded, “I hope we can put this suit behind us, because we’ve always loved apple farmers. In all honesty, I admit we didn’t invent an apple with a bite taken out of it. It’s one of our least original ideas. That’s why we always have to defend it. If I had it to do over again, I would have picked a more unusual fruit, like a Kiwi or maybe a Start fruit.”

The farmer was not pacified, insisting, “When I get done with these cagy fellers, they’ll be sorry they ever set eyes on an apple.”