I discovered today that Apple is only five years older than me.
It feels older, in the nicest possible way, but it is indeed the case that one of the world’s most recognisable brands was started 45 years ago by three chaps called Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne.
It’s now the most valuable brand on the planet and continues to be one of the most divisive.
I’m a big fan of Apple. I love reviewing and using its products. And, yes, I enjoy disliking its products just as much as I do admiring them; as I’ve noted several times previously, I’ve never really understood the platform wars, at which Apple arguably sits at the heart.
I haven’t been an Apple user my entire life, either. I used to build PCs and spent my formative computing years welded deep within the Windows ecosystem.
But Apple’s big birthday got me thinking back to my first ever Mac experience.
Like so many people, it wasn’t mine
I suspect that most people get to experience a Mac for the first time at someone else’s expense.
They’re not cheap. They never have been. If you want a Mac, you’ve either got to save up, have plenty of disposable income to hand or be the owner of a business that genuinely requires a premium computer.
That’s what Apple stuff is, on the whole – premium. And it’s defined almost entirely by price, build quality and brand kudos; we all know that you can buy an awful lot more power for less elsewhere (although, arguably, the introduction of the M1 has shaken things up in that regard).
Up until the late 90s, I’d been a Windows user. I’d spent years building PCs and cursing the ever-present challenge of encouraging components from different manufacturers to play nicely with one another. It was rarely fun. On the rare occasions everything worked swimmingly for a few weeks, I’d put my DIY machines to use for gaming and music production.
I’d encountered Macs before. Most notably during a brief period of work experience at a local newspaper. That’s where I first saw an Apple Mac being put to use in a commercial environment. I can’t be sure, but I think they were Macintosh SEs.
They didn’t excite me at all.
But when I first laid eyes on the Power Mac G3 during my A-Levels (it’s a UK thing), it was a different story entirely.
Hello, Power Macintosh G3
The Mac you see at the top of this blog post is a Power Mac G3. My school invested in two of them for Media Studies lessons and they were about as exclusive as a school device could be.
You could only use them if, like me, you were studying A-Level Media Studies and they were hidden away in a secret room within the library. In fact, I’d wager that few people knew they were even there.
It still surprises me that the school decided to buy them. I doubt it would have had a huge IT budget, and the rest of the infrastructure back then (this was the mid-90s) was badly in need of a refresh.
But something drew them to these G3 Macs. Clearly, someone at that school was smart enough to realise that they would be genuinely inspiring tools for anyone wishing to take their Media Studies lessons beyond an A-Level qualification.
I unwittingly became the chief user and support operative for both G3s. I used them with fellow students to edit the videos we were tasked with making (I wish I still had copies of those – we had a real Hitchcock vibe going on), and was regularly called into action when either machine exhibited an issue. I even remember demonstrating what they were capable of during a parent’s open evening.
Those G3s made me want to stay at school beyond closing. They enabled me to do things that simply weren’t possible at home; I could edit video, play around with graphics and even dabble in audio production without the computer in front of me breaking a sweat. They were mesmerising.
It was also my first experience of Apple’s design philosophy. The G3 was like no other tower computer I’d seen. The plastic, translucent outer-casing was adorned with a huge Apple logo and slightly blurred the even bigger G3 moniker sat behind, and the unusual carry handles (I assume that’s what they were) on all four corners were both over-engineered and delightfully aesthetic.
I couldn’t tell you what spec those G3s were. Looking at the potential options, my guess is that they’d have been base levels models running 233Hz PowerPC CPUs and whatever the least amount of RAM would have been. I do remember that, while mesmerised by them, I was acutely aware even back then that they were probably sold largely on their design and narrow use case as opposed to the speed, flexibility and value for money offered by Windows-based PCs.
But I didn’t care. They were so cool.
I knew back then that, one day, I’d own my own Mac. Little did I know that it’d take another ten years before I would (that was a G5, and I’ll save that story for a future article).
Happy birthday, Apple
My Mac history isn’t particularly exciting. I don’t sit within the right generation to remember the days of the Apple II or Lisa. My first encounters with these expensive, mystical computers happened right when, ironically, Apple was going through something of a turbulent period.
I had to look back at Wikipedia’s timeline of Macs to find the exact Mac I used at school, and the sheer number of models they released during that time paints the picture of a company with no clear direction. Indeed, the launch of the G3 was the start of a consolidation process in which Apple hoped to clear up the options available to both consumers and professionals.
They’ve hit turbulent times over the last few years, too. But the gradual move to their own chipset and a renewed focus on the professional market paints an exciting new era ahead for Apple.
Happy birthday, Apple. I hope your current bunch of Macs are inspiring kids in the same way that G3 inspired me twenty-five years ago.