Apple's Greatest Hits Under Steve Jobs

12 noteworthy innovations rolled out under Jobs' leadership at Apple.


Here is Computerworld's list of the 12 most notable hits Apple has produced under CEO Steve Jobs, from his first tenure (1977-85) to his successful return from 1997 to today. These weren't always the biggest sellers or the best-designed, but they made a splash when they were unveiled and often pointed the direction for the rest of the computer industry. With Jobs now out on another medical leave, we thought it a good time to look at the innovation that has been the hallmark of his leadership.

Apple II Forever

The Apple II was the first product released from Apple Computer Inc. after incorporation in 1977. Unlike the Apple-1, this computer came with a monitor, keyboard, case and power supply, making it a machine for the masses, not just homebrew hackers. More than eight models and five million units were sold before it was discontinued in 1993.


Think Different

First previewed in a landmark Super Bowl commercial, the Macintosh was launched in 1984 to great acclaim. What the Apple II did for hardware accessibility, the Mac did for software, with an easy-to-use graphics user interface (GUI) and a multitude of fonts, making it an ideal tool for graphics and desktop publishing work. The Mac remains Apple's flagship product to this day.

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There is no step three

The iMac was the first Macintosh released after Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997. Similar to the original Mac released in 1984, the iMac was an all-in-one unit, with the computer built into the monitor. The iMac touted instant connectivity with the emerging Internet and was the first Mac to include a USB port, exclude a floppy disk drive and come in multiple colors, making it a functional and aesthetic hit.


A work of art

The Power Mac G4 Cube, released in 2000, was not a commercial success. Marketed as a small, affordable Mac, it was nonetheless more expensive and less expandable than equivalent desktop models and lacked the inbuilt monitor of the iMac. These limitations were compounded by flaws in its manufacturing that led to cracks in the case.

Nonetheless, the G4 Cube was an essential step toward development of the Mac mini. It also represents Apple's focus on revolutionary design: a G4 Cube resides in the New York Museum of Modern Art.


Mac OS X

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, it was as part of a package deal that included NeXT, a software and hardware company Jobs founded after his 1985 ousting from Apple. The operating system he developed there, NeXTSTEP, became the basis for Mac OS X, the first from-the-ground-up rewrite of the Macintosh operating system ever. Mac OS X, released in 2001, introduced a new aesthetic known as Aqua; the Cocoa development API; and Unix underpinnings, offering faster, easier and more secure multitasking. A decade later, it is the second most popular consumer OS.


Music in your pocket

When the iPod was released in 2001, it was not the first portable digital music player, nor did it have broad appeal, as it could download music from Macs only. But the innovative click wheel interface made the iPod easier to use than many of its competitors.

In October 2003, Apple made the iPod part of a devastating larger strategy when it released both iTunes for Windows and the iTunes Music Store, offering listeners an affordable and legal way to get music off the Internet. Seven years later, Apple sold its ten billionth song, as well as more than 220 million iPods, including such models as the Mini, Nano, Shuffle and Touch.

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In 2002, the second-generation iMac abandoned its predecessor's egg shape in favor of a monitor attached by a swing arm to a quarter-sphere base. Due to its similarity in appearance to the mascot of Pixar, another Steve Jobs company, the iMac G4 was unofficially referred to as the iLamp. It again bundled convenience and design into an all-in-one package.


Size matters

With the 2005 introduction of the Mac mini, Steve Jobs realized the vision that he first sought with the NeXTcube workstation, then with the Power Mac G4 Cube. Of the three models of desktop Macs (the others being the iMac and Mac Pro), the Mac mini is the smallest and most affordable. Though not traditionally a top seller for Apple, the Mac mini nonetheless serves a niche purpose as an affordable option for converts from Windows, who already have their own mouse, keyboard and monitor; while the Mac mini server, launched in 2009, is a low-end server option.


Touching is believing

With the Internet-ready iMac, Apple declared its intention to be a major player in telecommunications; and with the success of the iPod, Apple positioned itself as a developer of personal, portable technology. In 2007, Apple combined these experiences in its first cell phone, the iPhone, offered exclusively with service from AT&T.

The iPhone's almost entirely touch interface was a year later paired with the App Store, inviting a flood of creative and independent applications. The iPhone's success prompted Apple Computer Inc. to formally change its name to Apple Inc., acknowledging a broader portfolio.



In 2008, Apple expanded its laptop line with the MacBook Air, a thinner, lighter alternative to the MacBook and MacBook Pro. With a tapered design that's just 0.16 in. thick at the front, weighing 3 lb. and with an optional solid-state drive, the MacBook Air was pitched as a laptop for frequent travelers. Just as the iMac ditched the floppy drive, the MacBook Air lacked a disc drive, an Ethernet port, FireWire, and maxed-out CPU and memory, making it a poor primary computer but an ideal portable one.


There's an app for that

As with cell phones and MP3 players, Apple rarely invents new product genres but instead perfects and popularizes existing ones. Such was the case with the iPad, a tablet computer released in 2010 that ran the iPhone operating system, rechristened iOS.

Compatible with iPhone apps and iTunes songs, the iPad further popularized the idea of an "app store" while redefining what it means to be a tablet. Previously, tablet computers were simply portable Windows machines with a stylus-driven interface; after the iPad, almost all tablet computers offer touch interfaces powered by mobile operating systems such as Android.

The second generation iPad is already one of the most anticipated products of 2011, while iOS's App Store has already made its way back to the Mac with the recent launch of the Mac App Store, one of the key features in the upcoming eighth iteration of Mac OS X, Lion.


Changing everything. Again

After the original iPhone launched in 2007, Apple released new models annually, following with the iPhone 3, iPhone 3GS and, the iPhone 4 — which made headlines before it was even released, due to a misplaced prototype that landed in the hands of a Gizmodo editor.

The latest iPhone added a front-facing camera as well as video chat with other iPhone and (eventually) Mac users using the FaceTime app. It also doubled the resolution of its three predecessors, courtesy what Apple dubbed the Retina display.

However, the feature that earned the iPhone 4 the most headlines was the "death grip": holding the iPhone a certain way interfered with its antennas, causing a loss of signal strength. For this reason, despite glowing reviews from Consumer Reports, the publication could not otherwise recommend Apple's cell phone. The problem is expected to be addressed in the upcoming Verizon iPhone.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.