Adrian Weckler looks back at some of the ground-breaking devices launched by the tech giant – and the ones consigned to the graveyard
So it’s farewell to the iPod.
More than any other Apple gadget, it was the one that convinced the world Steve Jobs, and then Tim Cook, would dominate our digital and tech lives for decades.
But the iPod wasn’t the first of Apple’s hits. And it also lived among a few Apple misses, too.
1. The Macintosh (1984)
I remember, as a kid, my mother bringing one of these into the house in Dublin. She was a journalist and her office had paid the thousands it cost.
It was a small beige box with a built-in nine-inch monochrome screen. It had an accessory called a “mouse” that controlled a floating arrow on the screen.
This was fully six years before Microsoft introduced Windows.
My neighbour across the street was still trying to figure out whether F8 or F11 was the button they needed to press to get something done. But in our house, we could do things like “drag and drop” folders.
We could “double click” to open files and use different fonts to write letters or school projects. I was utterly in love with it. It was the future.
And so it proved to be: every popular computer built since then basically copied what the Macintosh had done.
2. iMac (1998)
It wasn’t until 14 years later that Apple really had its next giant hit. Steve Jobs had been kicked out of Apple in the early 1990s, leading to the company’s malaise. Then he returned in 1997 — the result was immediate and a huge hit.
The iMac (above) was like the company’s other Macintoshes in some ways, but it was repackaged in a choice of colours and with a carrying handle. It sparked people’s imagination and creativity, selling tens of millions of units worldwide.
3. iPod (2001)
This, to me, was Apple’s most important and seminal product.
Yes, the iPhone has been its biggest overall product in sales. But the iPod was the first truly mass-market, pocketable digital gadget that Apple made. It also completely changed the music industry and, indirectly, the internet and ecommerce industries.
I remember being one of the first in Ireland to get my hands on one as a recently hired working journalist covering all things tech-related.
Up until that point, we had mostly been messing around with CD Walkman devices, as regular tape-playing Walkman clones were fading due to tapes being obsolete.
The one I had — a 5GB model — could fit something like 1,000 songs. It’s hard to imagine it now, but this was mind-blowing for an era where CD-changers were still considered a luxury in a home hi-fi set-up.
Equally as important was the accompanying software for it, called iTunes. This was the first system that legitimately let you buy individual songs (for 99p each), as well as albums. It also let you easily digitise your own CD collection.
4. iPhone (2007)
“It’s an iPod, a phone and internet communicator.”
Steve Jobs’ launch spiel has gone down in the history of great marketing pitches. And not without merit. This is not just Apple’s biggest imprint on the world, but the most important, impactful invention so far in the 21st century.
The iPhone utterly upended several industries at once.
The accompanying App Store has been almost as important as the iPhone itself to world culture: without it, there would be no TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook.
5. MacBook Air (2008)
It can get lost in the lists of Apple products, but the impact that the MacBook Air had on what we define as a laptop can’t be underestimated.
Typically, it was another Steve Jobs hit: an impossibly thin laptop that you could fit in an envelope but that had enough power to house a decent engine to run almost anything for work or pleasure. Every other computer company quickly copied the device with their own “ultra thin” laptops.
6. iPad (2010)
I remember the sniggers when Steve Jobs announced the name on stage: Apple’s 10-inch iPhone lookalike seemed to have sanitary connotations.
However, the iPad quickly became a hit, racing to tens of millions of sales in the first two years. Having seen what the iPhone had done, some industries rushed to remodel their businesses around the iPad, with mixed fortunes.
The news publishing industry, desperate for an antidote to the internet’s battering of print products, thought that the iPad might be their saviour and created apps en masse to try and entice readers.
The results were modest, by comparison to other services on Apple products. Since 2010, the iPad has gone through mixed sales cycles. People hang onto them a lot longer than phones or computers, meaning lower replacement sales. And while the iPad Pro devices have gained some traction, they’re not monster-sellers.
7. Apple Watch (2015)
Of all Apple’s hit products, the Apple Watch is arguably the most under-appreciated.
While it’s not talked about in the same way as the iPod, iPhone or Mac, it has nevertheless been an industry-upending, seminal sale hit.
For the last three years, it has been the best-selling watch — of any kind, digital or non-digital — in the world.
If you wear a watch, there’s a better chance it’s an Apple Watch than anything else. That has also created a halo effect for other smartwatches and fitness watches. In general, they now vastly outsell analog watches.
8. AirPods (2017)
It’s hard to credit it now, but there were no mass-market wireless earbuds before AirPods made their debut in 2017.
In those short five years, AirPods have become a juggernaut of a business.
If spun off from Apple, AirPods would be one of the larger tech companies in the world off their own sales.
As is the norm for Apple hits, the AirPods have spawned a raft of copycat products from everyone ranging from Samsung to Bose, Sennheiser and umpteen budget brands.
1. Apple Newton (1993)
It was supposed to be Apple’s Palm Pilot, a personal organiser that would integrate the simple user interface of an Apple computer with your daily work and lifestyle schedules.
But despite being the gadget with handwriting recognition, Apple’s Newton was mishandled by the (Steve Jobs-less) company and had a price that few were willing to pay.
It was discontinued in 1998, a year after Steve returned to the company.
2. Pippin (1996)
Apple’s internet-connected games console was just a flop from the outset, with no one taking any interest in it. It was discontinued a year later.
3. G4 Cube (2000)
Despite his triumph with the iMac, Steve Jobs’s G4 Cube was plagued with practical problems. It looked spectacular but was prone to forming cracks in the clear casing, cost a fortune and needed too many external accessories (such as speakers).
4. iTunes Ping (2010)
This was a weak attempt by Apple to create a social network, of sorts, from people’s iTunes usage.
It failed, partly because Apple and Facebook couldn’t agree to work together, meaning that finding your friends via the dominant social network of the era wasn’t possible.
5. iPhone 4 (2010)
This was actually a hit product except for one thing: its antenna. The phone would drop calls because of the placement of the antenna. It led to Steve Jobs infamously telling people to “just hold it a different way”.