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When Did Apple Become Popular? A Brief History of the Rise of Apple

Philip Bates Updated 19-06-2020

The rise of Apple perhaps lies in the company’s 1997-2002 slogan: “Think different”. While not always heralded as a success, it comes from great vision in the face of increasing competition.

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While many of us own Apple products, few know the company’s history. When did Apple start and how successful was the company at first? When did Apple become popular? And why did Apple nearly collapse completely? Let’s find out.

When Was Apple Founded?

Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ron Wayne founded Apple in 1976. It began in the garage at Jobs’ parents’ house, and Wayne sketched its logo by hand.

Wozniak invented the Apple I computer, which consisted solely of a motherboard, memory, and a processor—intended primarily for hobbyists. It’s no great surprise, then, that manufacturers and investors had little interest in the prototype Apple I and Apple II computers. Soon, Wayne left Apple, trading in his shares for a $800 check.

motherboard mac macintosh computers PCs
Image Credit: Ransu/ Wikimedia Commons

In 1977, Mark Markkula invested $250,000 into the company and held a one-third share. Apple Computer Inc. officially began, and the Apple II launched to the public at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire. Its VisiCalc—or Visual Calculator—meant the PC was a hit with businesses. The following year, Apple got its first real office.

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Apple became a public company in 1980 and share prices skyrocketed. Some staff members suddenly became millionaires and Apple entered the Fortune 500 as one of the fastest-growing companies in history.

What Caused a Downturn in Apple Computer Sales During the Early 1980s?

The company soon hit a stumbling block. Primarily, Apple failed to deliver a cost-effective follow-up to the Apple II in a decent timeframe.

Jobs was especially impressed by the Xerox Alto’s capabilities, notably its Graphical User Interface (GUI). He became determined to incorporate its best features into Apple’s Lisa. The Lisa (1983) ran behind schedule, and at $9,995, was so expensive that only affluent businesses could afford it.

The Apple III (1980) was a high-end machine with matching price tag. Fortunately, the Apple IIe (1983) became a popular household computer for the decade. But they weren’t enough.

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In the meantime, well-known firms decided to get into the PC market. IBM outsourced software to Microsoft, but didn’t stipulate operating system (OS) exclusivity. Users thus invested in an established company and developers targeted the successful Microsoft OS over Apple’s seemingly lethargic system.

Bill Gates announced GUIs as the future of PCs, but many years passed before Windows was released (Windows 1.01 was ultimately disappointing). Still, competition increased, with Microsoft releasing popular software such as Word and BASIC.

Apple and Microsoft eventually reached an agreement in 1985. This ensured Microsoft would continue to produce software for the Mac.

What Was Apple’s First Successful Computer?

Apple’s above Macintosh commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, was an instant hit. It was shown in movie theaters starting in January 1984, as well as at the 1984 Super Bowl. It’s still revered as one of the best ads ever made, although it was never aired on TV again after a cease-and-desist letter from the state of George Orwell.

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Nonetheless, this was the world’s introduction to Apple.

That year, the original Macintosh was billed as “the computer for the rest of us,” while the Apple IIc simultaneously received awards for excellence. The Lisa 2 was released, later renamed the Mac XL, as Apple’s high-end alternative. Sales tripled when its price dropped from around $5,495 to $4,000. However, CEO John Sculley suggested Apple would lose money by increasing production, so the company discontinued the Mac XL.

Jobs had poached Sculley from his former position as the CEO of PepsiCo. Jobs reportedly said:

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

The Fall of Apple

Steve Jobs became involved in internal politics, was stripped of his duties, and resigned in 1985. Following claims he’d start a new company, Apple filed a lawsuit to stop him using sensitive information about the firm while in competition. This was eventually settled out of court.

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Jobs launched NeXT Inc. with a computer twice as powerful as anything Apple had produced—and $1,000 cheaper!

The company developed high-end computers at competitive prices using the NeXTSTEP OS. In 1993, NeXT sold the hardware side of the business to Canon in order to focus on its OS. It stayed ahead of the competition by ensuring that the OS could run on the latest hardware, like the Intel x86 and Pentium processors.

Microsoft’s Windows 3.1 (1993) was a great success, and its replacement, Windows 95, became Mac OS’s major competitor.

Motorola and IBM began to develop PowerPCs, quickly taken on by software developers like Adobe and Aldus. Apple developed the PowerPC Upgrade card, and by 1994, the first Apple PowerMacs were released.

Without Jobs and Wozniak, Sculley was trusted to steer the company. The System 7 OS introduced color to Macs, while the PowerBook laptop also launched. 1993 saw one of the company’s highest-profile failures: the Newton MessagePad, a glorified note-taker—costing $700!

The Recovery of Apple

By 1996, Apple had begun to license Mac OS to Motorola and IBM, a move suggested by Jobs before he left the company. PowerPC processors moved into the third generation and looked promising for all involved.

Apple then bought NeXT to improve Mac OS and stay ahead of its competition. In 1997, Steve Jobs delivered an inspirational speech on Apple’s behalf, detailing the future of Mac OS, plus other popular Apple products. Microsoft was impressed enough to invest $150 million in the firm.

Mac OS 8 was considered a huge success upon release. Later that year, the PowerMac G3 came out and the first Apple Store opened.

Jobs was reinstated as CEO, and remained so until shortly before his death.

Microsoft agreed to continue developing Microsoft Office software for Mac OS, possibly the pivotal point for Apple. Microsoft even developed a business unit specifically for Apple software, greatly improving the Mac’s end product.

By 1998, the Apple iMac and PowerBook G3 were extremely popular, and Apple’s profits were huge. Apple was a force to be reckoned with. The iMac further helped solidify Apple’s place in the market, driven by a belief in aesthetics and design alongside functionality. Soon, iBooks and PowerBook G4s were on the market, as well as the wireless innovation of Airport.

Mac OS X (2001) was a gigantic step forward for Apple’s desktop OS. Mac OS X integrated FreeBSD and NeXTSTEP developments. The Unix base appealed to the IT sector, while consumers and businesses alike appreciated the improved GUI. Apple also began to open Apple retail stores in the US to help combat poor sales in third-party shops.

When Did Apple Become a Big Company?

Another Apple innovation was released in 2001: the iPod. Its 5GB hard drive was marketed as having a thousand songs’ worth of storage—an incredible feat for an MP3 player at the time.

To complement this, Apple opened the iTunes Music Store in 2003. This came off the back of iTunes, Apple’s digital music management software released two years prior. Apple released a version for Windows in 2003 and began rolling it out to the rest of the world in the coming years. The iTunes Music Store was a simple way for US residents to legally purchase music online; its name changed to the iTunes Store in 2006 when it began to sell videos too.

Apple computers integrated Intel Chips in 2005, meaning its machines could run Windows. iMacs and MacBook Pro promises that all Apple PC hardware would be Intel-based in the future.

Apple Computer Inc. became Apple Inc. in 2007, reflecting its wider product range.

When Did the iPhone and iPad Launch?

2007’s iPhone, using iPhone OS (later iOS), was a hardware and software revolution. The iPhone combined basic phone capabilities with iPod’s music and video libraries.

The iPhone 3G was released the following year, allowing users to access the internet via a 3G data plan. It was also a personal organizer, and thanks to the App Store, was innovative in introducing an app-driven internet-capable smartphone to the world.

New iPhones have released annually ever since, including the redesigned 4, 4S, 5, and, in 2013, 5S and 5C, with varying sizes and price tags. The 6 Plus was introduced in 2014: it was a bigger unit which opened the way for iPhones of larger screen sizes. 2015’s iPhone 6S catered to those who still wanted a smaller smartphone, but Apple soon abandoned compact designs. Apple effectively skipped a ninth model, opting to name its 2018 model the iPhone X.

Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, launched in 2011 and has been a mainstay of all subsequent models. Regular updates to iOS also introduced new functionality. And hardware upgrades allowed Apple to offer Touch ID in 2013, which let users unlock their phones with their fingerprint. In 2017, Face ID arrived with the iPhone X, which allows users to unlock their phone and apps using facial recognition 8 iPhone Apps You Can Lock With Touch ID or Face ID Here are 8 iPhone apps, including WhatsApp and Dropbox, you can lock using Touch ID or Face ID for additional security. Read More .

Apple launched the iPad in 2010: a tablet with the best features of the the iPhone (minus calling capacity), at the size of a small laptop. Like the iPhone, new models are released each year.

The iPad Mini then launched in 2012, while the bigger iPad Pro arrived in 2015.

Is Apple Running Out of Ideas?

This is the complaint frequently leveled at Apple. There are only so many ways you can reinvent the wheel.

When Steve Jobs died in 2011, many people believed Apple would fall again, having lost its visionary leader. So far, this has proven false and Apple has continued to succeed. Nonetheless, some see the company’s annual hardware tweaks as a sign of growing stale. Questions were certainly raised when the Apple Pencil was unveiled.

iPhones became thinner and bigger. The removal of a headphone jack forces users to adopt wireless earphones.

While camera capabilities have increased, the lenses remain just as large as previous units. This means that newer devices, like the iPhone 11 Pro, have unsightly blocks of cameras covering part of the units’ backs.

Then again, Apple stocks remain high. It’s a market leader that has innovated in such astonishing ways in the past. So do we hold Apple to a higher, and unrealistic, standard?

How Much Is Apple Worth?

Tim Cook took over from Jobs as CEO in 2011, and since then, Apple has become worth over $1 trillion.

But the more important question is how much Apple is worth to you. How much have you invested in the company’s products? Do you trust them to protect your data and keep providing useful services? If this historical glimpse has gotten you interested in Apple, find out when the best time to buy a new Apple product is Is There a Right Time to Buy a New Mac, iPhone, or iPad? Wondering when you should buy an iPhone, Mac, or iPad? Here are the best times to buy Apple hardware for maximum value. Read More .

Related topics: Apple, History, iPhone, Mac.

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  1. Carolyn Barnett
    December 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Apple is amazing at how far they have come and they will continue to grow and be even more amazing.

  2. Bernardo Delapasion
    November 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    fall they will , see you shall

  3. Saikat Basu
    November 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacsson is a recommended read. It is a fascinating look into the company and the man. Inspirational too, if one knows which behavior of his to avoid.

  4. Adam Campbell
    November 20, 2012 at 3:15 am

    My prediction is that Apple is going to run out of things to invent...
    They have pioneered technology at so many levels, but what is left? TVs

  5. Doc
    November 19, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    "Microsoft Windows 3.1 was released in the 1993, which was a great success. It was slowly replaced by Windows 95 and became a real competitor for Mac OS."

    Windows 3.1 was released in March 1992; Windows 95 was released in August 1995. Windows 3.1 was an "incremental" release over 3.0, which was released in May 1990, so you have over 5 years of Windows 3.x, which is why Win 95 didn't "slowly replace" 3.x, but was a quick-selling hit.

  6. Austen Gause
    November 19, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    i never knew steve jobs had to compete against apple with next thats really cool

  7. Pepetrueno
    November 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I can't wait for the second fall. Hopefully, for good this time.

  8. Ahmed Khalil
    November 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    are we really now in the second fall of apple company

  9. Tiffany Bailey
    November 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Two unique innovations:
    1) The SONY floppy disk drive that was motorized to accept and eject the disk. This feature allowed countless physically challenged people to use a computer.
    2) Developing an operating system with a unix core a more efficient and secure code.

    • Doc
      November 19, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      Linus Torvalds developed an operating system with a Unix-compatible core years before Apple did.

  10. Rajaa Chowdhury
    November 17, 2012 at 4:13 am

    When I was young, my father presented me John Sculley's Pepsi to Apple. It was an interesting read and therefore I am aware of the early history of Apple until the time the book was released. After that I have mostly been following their progress on the Internet pretty much. So yea, was pretty aware of the history of Apple I guess.

    • Angela Alcorn
      November 18, 2012 at 10:04 am

      I think that one would be an interesting read, too.

  11. Terafall
    November 17, 2012 at 3:55 am

    I'm sure Apple will be more successful if they reduce the price of their product

    • Daniel Escasa
      November 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      I believe they're defining success on their own terms, and market share isn't part of it. I'm referring to the Macs, not to the iOS devices, which are strong in the market.

  12. Ron Lister
    November 17, 2012 at 12:27 am

    I remember the old apple leaned computer on the old 128k machines and we thought that was hi tech. I remember copying the code for frogger at school from an issue of computer world durring a study hall. Wow its been a while hasn't it.

  13. Ter Shija
    November 16, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    @Franzen you are right.

  14. Mihovil Pletikos
    November 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    but still their stock lost 25% in last few months....

  15. Joshua Franzen
    November 16, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Powerbook G5 never happen. Last of the Powerbooks were the G4s, then became the Macbook Pro with the Intel CPU.