To call Apple a “trailblazing company” would be an understatement. Much of the brand’s history is practically folklore in the tech world. You probably already know of Steve Jobs and his iconic black turtleneck. You may even be familiar with one of his better-known sayings, such as:
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
But when and how did Apple go from a company that practically ignored design in the late ’80s to the revolutionary candy-colored tech powerhouse that we know and love today?
Let’s take a look.
There wasn’t as much of a strong design and marketing component to Apple products until Steve Jobs returned as CEO of Apple in 1996. With Jobs back at the helm, the company succeeded where they had once failed – recruiting young upstart product designer Jonathan (Jony) Ive, who came on board in 1997 to redesign Apple computers.
At this point, industrial design was barely a consideration for most tech manufacturers. Jobs drew upon the Buddhist principle of simplicity to create intuitive technology that anyone could use.
The iMac: Bondi Blue VS Technicolor
Jobs understood the untapped potential of incredible design. The design team faced the challenge of making computer usage more widespread and designing “must-have” technology. At this point, computers were white, grey, or black and clunky. The iMac would change all of this.
The iMac was originally launched in a translucent shade called “Bondi Blue” in 1998. At the product launch, Jobs famously said that while he loved the iMac, it was the wrong color.
The iMac was then released in five different bright colors that looked good enough to eat: Strawberry, Blueberry, Lime, Grape, and Tangerine. It was a computer designed with color and personality. Thus began Apple’s long history of designing products and interfaces that told a story.
A New Kind of Retail Store
Apple products were originally sold at “stores within a store” concepts at big box stores. But the company wasn’t getting the traction they needed by selling within other retail stores. Most people still weren’t comfortable working with technology in the late ’90s. The team recognized that to create something truly revolutionary they would need to build a new kind of retail outlet — one that encouraged an immersive, hands-on experience. In 1999, Apple’s retail store team began to conceive building upon the iMac’s success with Apple-exclusive retail stores. The idea was to create stores that were hubs for customers’ digital lives. Apple only had a few products at this point. Still, Jobs has a vision: he wanted to build large Apple stores that rivaled apparel retailers such as Nike in size. This meant using negative space in a way that was never before seen in a tech store.
The first two Apple stores were opened in 2001 in Fairfax County, VA, and Glendale, CA. The stores were a totally different technology experience — one that was welcoming and invited customers to touch and feel Apple products. Apple’s Genius Bar allowed customers to get hands-on product support from tech experts. The ethos of the stores was also different. Instead of the cold, take it or leave it approach that surrounded tech sales to that point, Apple stores became synonymous with human support, kinesthetic learning, excitement, and creativity.
Interestingly enough, Apple is now returning to the store-within-a-store concept for its new collaboration with Target. Target will double Apple’s in-store footprint. This could prove to be a strategic move to maintain the availability of Apple products if retailers deemed non-essential are once again shut down.
The iPod: A Digital Hub Strategy
Apple first launched the iPod in 2001. It came in white with a rotating scroll wheel and was only compatible with Apple products. Quite a few other tech companies — Google, Sony, Microsoft — launched portable MP3s around this time, and the scroll wheel wasn’t enough to make the first iPod an industry leader.
Microsoft dominated the MP3 market in the late ’90s and early aughts. Jobs understood that for the iPod to become truly competitive, it would have to be Microsoft compatible. This was no easy feat, and Apple couldn’t swing it alone. Hewlett Packard helped create a unified product and gained licensing rights to a run of iPod+HP in 2004.
In 2004, Apple also released the iPod Mini, a thinner iPod that came in a wider variety of colors. But it wasn’t until the release of the iPod Nano in 2009 that the company hit its stride with handheld devices in the delectable candy colors that made the iMac a success.
The iPhone: A Shocking Mobile Device
In January of 2007, Apple launched the iPhone. It was a revolutionary mobile device. The iPhone was touch-activated with no physical keyboard. While it wasn’t exactly the first phone of its kind — IBM had released a touch-activated mobile phone in 2004 — IBM’s take was large and heavy. The iPhone’s unique, compact design, on the other hand, made it the trailblazing product that has changed the way we live today.
Size was another difference. Up to this point, mobile phones came with keyboards and a stylus. While IBM’s mobile phone was touch-activated, users still had to use a stylus to send messages with the phone. But consumers could operate the iPhone with their hands alone.
The hardware and software were tied together to create a connected hub. Visuals and animation were intuitive. And, for the first time, mobile phone ownership wasn’t relegated to the elite. Incredible design was made accessible to the masses, and Apple’s retail outlets provided free, hands-on training for any novice interested in trying out the tech.
“Designed by Apple in California”
Since the launch of the iPhone, phones have gotten larger, and phones have gotten smaller, according to the trends of the time. Right now, Apple is taking two different paths with its offerings. There are compact, affordable phones like the iPhone 12 Mini and large screen digital hubs like the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
An innovative, minimalist aesthetic has made Apple products both a cult phenomenon and a household name. The company continues to incentivize innovation through events such as the Apple Design Awards, the annual celebration of intelligent hardware and software design.
Did we miss anything?
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