The original Mac: Hints of mobile tech to come, 30 years ago

The original Mac: Hints of mobile tech to come, 30 years ago

Summary: When you think of the original Mac that was ushered in by Steve Jobs 30 years ago, you don't tend to think of mobile tech. Given my obsession with mobile, that's exactly what entered my mind.

TOPICS: Mobility, Apple
(Image: Apple)

Steve Jobs and Apple ushered in a revolutionary product 30 years ago. The Mac was a beige box that would have a profound affect on the computing industry. I recommend reading Harry McCracken's excellent article on Time to get an idea just how profoundly that affect was on the industry.

The Mac of 1984 wasn't powerful by today's standards, not even close. But it captured the attention of a lot of folks given its all-inclusive design, the handle, and its windowed GUI. That was enough to get folks' imaginations working overtime.

I saw all of those innovations too, but the overriding thought that struck me about the original Mac was how portable it was. More than any other feature of the Mac, the fact you could pick it up by the handle and take it anywhere was a powerful feature in my eyes.

See also: The Mac's 30th: What's your story? | Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of the Macintosh by a true believer | I used a Mac before you did

It's obvious I was obsessed with mobile tech even back then, when there wasn't such a thing. I had a mental image of a very portable computer that could be taken, and more importantly used, anywhere. 

In its early form the Mac was certainly not that device, but it was a clear indicator of Apple's focus on mobile. Decades before real portable computers would be a reality, Apple and Steve Jobs gave us the Mac. This computer in a portable case would set the stage for fantastic things to come from Apple in the mobile world.

I was living and working in Caracas, Venezuela when the Mac was introduced. I regularly travelled back and forth between Caracas and Houston for my job. I used a Columbia Data Products VP, a 30lb monstrosity that I regularly carried back and forth between the two countries. It ran DOS and frankly couldn't do very much.

I ran Framework by Ashton-Tate on the VP, an office suite that allowed using four apps onscreen at once. Each ran in a window on the green phosphor screen that only displayed text. It was a whopping 5-inch screen so those four windows were pretty tiny. I grokked how powerful having multiple applications on the screen at once could be, so I soldiered on.

Then came the Mac, at about half the weight (16.5lbs) of that barely transportable VP I lugged around. The Mac had a windowed interface that set the stage for what was to come in PCs. It displayed black text on a white page, a big advancement over the amber and green text on black of that time.

I used the new Mac heavily, learning every trick of the few apps of that time. I carried it back and forth between Caracas and Houston, a much easier feat than with the beast of a transportable I used before it. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Macs evolved into the MacBook Air I use today. PCs evolved into the Windows hybrids now common. The iPad started the tablet craze that is generating billions of sales for the mobile industry.

It all started with the original Mac 30 years ago. The first true mobile computer, in my view.

Topics: Mobility, Apple

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  • Mobile?

    I'm not sure I'd call it the first mobile computer, but its portability was a selling point. Apple even sold a case that you could toss the machine into to make it easy to throw it into the car and take over to your friend's house. Certainly, going off to college with a Mac was easier than packing up one of the early PC compatible desktop machines.

    What's funny is that when Apple released a true "potable" machine, the "Mac Portable" it weighed an astonishing 16 lbs!!!!

    Years after the Mac Portable was raeleased I bought my first Mac, a Powerbook 100. It was basically the Mac Portable (with the same 68000 processor) but shrunk down to about 3 1/2 lbs. Loved it!
  • "Decades" before?

    "Decades before real portable computers would be a reality, Apple and Steve Jobs gave us the Mac. "

    Really? 1984 was "decades" before 1983 when Tandy gave us the TRS-80 Model 100, a portable computer that sold six MILLION units worldwide? Come on....I was an undergraduate and wrote many papers at the library/student union/bar on that REAL computer, that came with word processing software, communications equipment and a reasonably powerful programming language.

    Oh. More memory? Needed a "real" screen? Or a spreadsheet? How about the Tandy Model 200 that came out the SAME YEAR as the Mac.

    I think a realistic assessment of the lineage of portable computing would require one to admit that today's portable computers owe a great deal more to the vision of the folks who created the Tandy Model 100 than to the folks who stuck a handle on the case of the first Mac.
    • I was thinking about that little Timex computer that came out

      that was sometime in 1981 or so...can't remember the name of it, but remember it being quite small.
      Also...poor Woz...not even a mention, only Jobs...Woz always did get the "Rodney Dangerfield Treatment".
    • you expect James to lose his Apple bias?

      because it happened 30 years ago, ha ha.. not a chance. He perfectly ignores all the failures of Apple, while the truth is every company has its own share before making a success.

      I am surprised he is not giving credit of touch to Apple, the sensation of touch itself and not the interface.
  • The original Mac wasn't mobile technology and the only revolutionary stuff

    came from Xerox.
  • I always remember the 1995 commercial

    The Martinetti's bring home a computer. Wow that Mac sure brought happiness to that family.

    Full disclosure: I just replaced my old win7 desktop with a refurb iMac.