Apple has the Mac to thank for its next generation of devices

Thirty years later, the Mac's journey is far from over. It's had an even greater influence on the company's touch devices than the Apple II did on the Mac.

When Apple introduced the Mac 30 years ago, it was already a successful computer company with the Apple II, a product that would continue to be successful for years after the launch of Apple's new darling. If it had taken the approach Microsoft had with Windows 1.0, and later Windows 8 and Surface, it would have grafted a graphical interface onto the Apple II -- something that actually eventually happened toward the line's decline with the Apple IIGS -- and perhaps provided a more limited number of expansion slots.

Instead, the Mac was almost a complete break from Apple's first hit. It had an integrated monitor, eschewed color, said farewell to its ProDOS interface, and seemed to offer a keyboard only reluctantly, omitting cursor keys to push people toward the mouse.

As the company has pointed out at its product introductions over the years, its stubborn commitment to match tailored user interface experiences to devices has been shown in the iPod's click-wheel and the iPhone's multitouch display. Indeed, unlike Microsoft, which is pushing hard to conflate laptops and tablets, Apple sees its user interfaces as a defining difference between them.

The Mac's journey is far from over. When the company introduced its Mavericks operating system, it noted that it wanted a naming scheme that could serve for the next 10 years of OS X. That said, when Apple began the tablet explosion with the iPad, and even at iOS' debut in the iPhone, we saw more of the Mac in Apple's touch devices than we did of the Apple II in the Mac. These characteristics include:

Icons and the dock Unlike the Mac, which departed completely from the Apple II's user interface, the iPad has some strong similarities to the Mac. While there's no desktop, windows, or menus, the iPad features icons and a dock. Apple has even brought the iPad's Launchpad interface and full-screen apps to the Mac, though veteran users mostly ignore at least the former.

A closed box Like the first Mac, the iPad was designed to be minimalist and unobtrusive. One of the great debates in Mac history was about how open the Mac should be toward expansion. Jean Louis Gassée, former head of Macintosh development, argued that the Mac should be open to expansion and advocated for the powerful Macintosh II line of PCs. (His license plate read OPENMAC.) With Steve Jobs' return, though, the Mac again reverted to a closed box limited to external expansion, a journey that has culminated in the now small, but mighty, Mac Pro. Similarly, the iPad has minimal expansion and, unlike other tablets, lacks onboard support for USB, HDMI, and microSD cards. And Apple still has a proclivity for its own connectors -- Apple Desktop Bus on early Macs and Lightning on the iPad.

Single-tasking With the arrival of iOS 7, Apple added full multitasking to the iPad and iPhone. But the first iPad, like the first Mac, had limited multitasking. Curiously, one of the reasons for justifying such a limitation in iOS' early days -- power consumption -- had little relevance for Apple's famous beige box.

Over the next few years, tablets are likely to displace clamshells further as the go-to device for many casual computing tasks, particularly those that Jobs emphasized at the iPad's introduction -- e-mail, Web, video, and books. Samsung even recently introduced a 12-inch Galaxy Tab Pro, and rumors are that Apple may break the 10-inch barrier as well. This will enable tablets to further encroach on the turf of the Mac and traditional PCs. But regardless of the Mac's trajectory, its tradition of breaking with convention and focusing on new user experiences -- even if it means giving up competitive features -- has carried through to Apple's next generation of devices. Deep within, the iPad has the soul of an old machine.

 

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