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Photos: What should be crowned the king of Apple cool?

…fruity innovation and tasty design
By Seb Janacek, Contributor on
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1 of 10 Seb Janacek/ZDNET

…fruity innovation and tasty design

Apple's long history of innovative and occasionally quirky design was reinforced with last week's Macworld launch of the wafer-thin MacBook Air laptop. But could this new machine one day figure in the pantheon of Apple's greatest creations? Seb Janacek sifts out his favourite Apple products from more than 30 years of lemons, blind alleys and sheer genius.

1: Macintosh 128K

Arguably the computer that had the biggest influence on personal computing. The Macintosh was launched in 1984 and everything about it was revolutionary, from the consumer-oriented graphical user interface to the mouse - both firsts for a commercially successful computer. Even the history of its development has passed into Mac mythology. The Macintosh set a new paradigm for Apple and the industry as a whole. Without the Mac there'd be no Windows. It was rather cute too - an all-in-one case with a nine-inch monitor. It was also marketed via the famous 1984 commercial directed by Ridley Scott. It's interesting to speculate about where personal computing would be now without the original Mac - the computer for the "rest of us" that Steve Jobs promised would put a dent in the universe.

Photo credit: Creative Commons licence



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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2: G3 iMac

This was the computer that turned around Apple's flagging fortunes and marked Steve Jobs's ascendancy to the top of the company he co-founded. The Bondi Blue iMac was the first successful collaboration between Jobs and Jonathan Ive, a relationship that has borne much fruit and sales since.

The translucent iMac, which Jobs relished in unveiling to the world in 1998, was a huge commercial success. The distinctive all-in-one design and clear, coloured plastic inspired many imitators and many lawsuits. Over time, the form factor evolved into a sunflower - or angle-poise lamp depending on how you look at it - to a flat-panel all-in-one. However, it's the G3 iMac that history will consider a true design icon. Definitely Apple's sexiest product but missing out on the number one spot because of the lack of revolution inside the case.

Photo credit: Apple



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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3: iPhone

When Jobs announced the device he said it was a moment he'd been waiting two and a half years for. The iPhone, a brave new departure for the company, has barely been out of the headlines since it was unveiled in January 2007. A truly innovative product that eschews a physical keypad in favour of a soft, touch-sensitive interface. The converged device, incorporating a phone, iPod and web browser, will have a huge impact on the company's fortunes, for better or for worse. Over-hyped? Probably. Over-priced? Possibly. Over here. Definitely - and the Janacek kids' college fund will shortly be £269 worse off. The most significant Apple product launch in years, it might also prove a defining move for the company.

Photo credit: Apple



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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4: Mac OS X

The OS X operating system took its time emerging from the wreckage of the Copland project. But the next generation OS has won a new set of fans for the company. Although it took until version 10.3, known as Panther, to really come of age, Apple's crown jewels have won it plaudits for usability, design élan, stability and interoperability. Now on Leopard, version 10.5, it's hard to think of a more complete, fully featured operating system on the market. OS X is now inside the iPhone, too, and it's likely to underpin everything Apple does over the coming years. A recent personal reversion back to OS9 showed how far the company has come in just a few short years.

Photo credit: Apple



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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5: PowerBook

The company's first portable made its debut in 1991. The PowerBook 100 was followed in quick succession by a series of upgraded models. The company's pro laptop range, recently rebadged as the MacBook Pro, has been foremost in buoying Apple Mac sales in recent years. Always at the forefront of mobile computing power and slick design, standout editions include the curvy black plastic enclosures containing G3 chips from Main Street through to the Pismo, the slick titanium casings that first appeared with a G4 chip in 2001 and the more recent aluminium G4s. However, top of the tree is the PowerBook 5300, which was used by Jeff Goldblum, who later went on to do voiceovers in Apple ads, to bring down an entire alien invasion force in the 1996 movie Independence Day. It doesn't get much cooler than that.

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See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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6: iPod

Another design icon and the little device that allowed Apple to ride atop the wave of technological zeitgeist. The iPod is very much a sign of the times and the name itself has become synonymous with MP3 players. The pick of the bunch? For form-factor the original Nano in black is pretty good but the recent iPod Touch is simply divine.

Again, the success of the product is based as much on its value proposition of being able to carry your entire record collection in your pocket as its simplicity. The click-wheel makes it simple to navigate thousands of tracks and disparate system functions. As of this month, Apple had shifted more than 140 million units and is on track to eclipse the Sony Walkman in sales. The white ear-buds have become ubiquitous on the street and public transport and sales and form factors show no signs of abating. Even the Pope and HRH Queen Elizabeth are said to own one. Tony Blair couldn't work his, apparently. Shame on you, Tony.

Photo credit: Apple



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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7: iLife

It's not made of clear plastic, doesn't have a brushed aluminium finish and the box won't fit in your pocket. The iLife suite of programs for creating and managing digital media has been central to Apple's goal of turning the Mac into the digital hub for the person in the street. Originally launched separately but grouped together under the iLife brand in 2003, the applications offer an integrated, user-friendly but feature-rich tools consisting of iPhoto for managing photos, iTunes for managing your music collection, iMove for editing video, iDVD for making sexy DVDs, GarageBand for making music and iWeb for designing websites. The secret to its success? Integration, integration, integration.

Photo credit: Apple



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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8: The Cube

The eight by eight-inch Cube hung above the desktop in a clear Perspex stand. The Mac was almost certainly inspired by a similar black cube computer developed by Steve Jobs at his previous company NeXT - notably the computer used by Tim Berners-Lee to develop the world's first web browser. Perhaps more than any other Mac, the Cube was a product sold on Apple's aesthetic terms and while its design won plaudits its rather idiosyncratic feature set did not. It was expensive, not very expandable and called out to be accessorised with a matching display.

Cracks soon began to appear in the clear Perspex supporting the Cube and soon after in its commercial viability. The end came for the Cube in July 2001 when Apple announced that the computer was being put on ice. They still command a healthy price on eBay and are an enduring symbol of Apple's genius and lunacy. It was never officially discontinued, so it may return one day.



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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9: Newton

The long-lamented Newton. Apple's early PDA won it a legion of fans who have remained loyal to this day. The first model appeared in 1993 in a black case, featuring a large screen and handwriting-recognition software. While its technology was celebrated, it failed to make the grade commercially despite its six-year production history. It was expensive, some models were more than $1,000 and were slightly too big to fit into the average suit pocket. Its handwriting-recognition technology was also rather eccentric and famously parodied in the Doonesbury comic strip. The Newton still has a strong user following and the web is full of enthusiast sites eulogising the device and offering system software.

Photo credit: Alan Fleming



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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10: 20th Anniversary Mac

For its time, the 20th Anniversary Mac (TAM) was a futuristic masterpiece. Look at it. So sexy you'd be ashamed to show it to your mother. It had a raft of unusual features, including an integrated TV tuner, separate sub-woofer designed by Bose, leather palm rests on the keyboard and featured an active-matrix LCD monitor. At $10,000, it also cost a hell of a lot of money and sales absolutely sucked. Then again, it was never meant to be a mass-market device. The computer featured a concierge service that included personalised delivery and setup by a tuxedoed Apple technician who turned up in a limo. Launched in 1997 to celebrate the company's 20th anniversary, the TAM was a glorious but utterly preposterous bit of kit that was a pure celebration of design and cutting-edge technology.

Photo credit: Apple



See what Apple's got up its sleeve for 2008 at this year's Macworld

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