Apple's 11 Most Intriguing Computer Designs

From the first Apple to the MacBook Air, Macs have been regarded as technologically innovative, beautiful in product design and, over time, become just plain cool.

Apple's Most Intriguing Designs

For many computer users, Apple has defined the personal computer industry, driven technology innovation, and changed the perception of personal computing. The company reinvented itself several times over, as it developed and enhanced the Macintosh, affecting the world of computing every time it did. Apple fans have defined their own culture and follow the metamorphosis of the company, its products and its software with passion. Apple made waves with its historic 1984 commercial, its rivalry with Microsoft and its retail megastores. Even Forrest Gump got in on the action when he "bought" stock in 1994. But although iPods and iPhones are perpetually cool to obsess over nowadays, it was really Apple's computers -- particularly the Apple -- that started it all.

Join us for a trip down memory lane, and learn how the Mac evolution led to the Apple revolution.

The Original Apple: The Mother of All Mac Motherboards

This single circuit board computer, introduced on April Fool's Day in 1976, wasn't a prank. While a mere 200 Apple units were sold in its year on the market, the very first of its kind given to a junior high math class in Windsor, CA gave Apple a competitive edge in the educational realm.

Image credit: René Speranza,

The Apple II: A Computer for the Consumer

The Apple II, released in April 1977, spurred mainstream acceptance of the microcomputer industry. It was the first computer marketed to consumers, not to tech savvy nerds or corporations. While it only supported typing of upper-case letters, the Apple II sported color graphics, BASIC, VisiCalc (the first spreadsheet) and the much-loved educational game Oregon Trail.

Image credit: IDG News Service

Lisa: The Personal Computer Comes with a (High) Price

The Apple Lisa—formally "Local Integrated Software Architecture" but believed to be named after Steve Jobs' daughter—is now remembered as one of Apple's most disappointing products. Maybe it was the drama between the development team over revolutionary UI changes, or perhaps it was incompatibility of the Lisa OS with existing Apple II software, but the Lisa didn't survive long after its 1981 release. However, the Lisa introduced early-adopter users to a GUI (Graphical User Interface) and an integrated mouse. Too bad Lisa's price tag was $10,000.

Image credit: Steven Stengel,

Mac 128K: The Original Macintosh

Apple introduced the Macintosh in a famed 1984 Super Bowl commercial, giving the public an alternative to IBM compatibles and Microsoft operating systems. Also dubbed "Mac 128K" (named for its RAM), much of the Lisa GUI code was used in this pioneer Mac model. Large volume sales within the first 100 days of its release gave Apple a strong -- and more affordable -- foothold in personal computing than what Lisa offered.

Image credit: Steven Stengel,

Mac II: Expandability Optional

The Mac II was kept secret from Steve Jobs during development because similar products were stopped dead in their tracks at this stage—but it was publicly loved after release. The Mac II, released in March 1987, was a revolution. The first open, expandable Mac, options included two 800K floppy drives, a hard drive, and 8-bit/256-color video at 640x480 (really, that was a Wow! at the time). The Mac II let users turn on the computer using the keyboard's power key; that, too, was a first.

Image credit: René Speranza,

Macintosh Color Classic: The End of the Compact Era

Many collectors call the Macintosh Color Classic, dating from 1993, their favorite Mac, largely because it signified the merging of two eras. It was the last of the small-footprint compact line, the first with a color screen, and introduced the smiling icon that appears during every Mac start-up. This boxy treasure also featured the first under-the-screen controls for volume and contrast. It still had its imperfections though, such as the combination of a 16 bit data bus and 32 bit processor.

Image credit: Jeremy Mehrle,

Mac Portable: 15 Pounds Light

Complete with ergonomic keyboard, trackball and lead-acid battery, the Macintosh Portable had easy usability, was portable (obviously) and had 10 hours of battery life. By today's standards, this 1989 10-inch-screen beauty seems a bit heavy, as was its price tag of $6,500. Compare it to Apple's more recent MacBook line, at 4.5 pounds, 6 hours of battery life and a list price of $1,299.

Image credit: Steven Stengel,

The 20th Anniversary Mac: Top Coat and Tails

Any computer model delivered by an Apple rep wearing a tuxedo must be special. And the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, affectionately called "TAM," was so cool that it appeared in the Batman and Robin movie. Although, technically speaking, it was similar to prior models, the TAM had a Bose sound system and a remote control. Too bad the buzz about it wasn't all good; some buzz came from its speakers.

Image credit: Jeremy Mehrle,

iMac: Apple's Light at the End of the Tunnel

One year after Steve Jobs' 1997 return to the company, Apple introduced the iMac in Bondi Blue. It sold like hot cakes, earning Apple $414 million of its previously lost $878 million in just one year. Though its storage wasn't anything to brag about and Jobs "sold out" by including Microsoft's Internet Explorer on every Mac, this computer essentially turned the company around.

Image credit: Infoworld

Mac Mini: The Mini Me

Carting around an entire computer wasn't necessary after Apple released the Mac Mini in 2005. Without a mouse, keyboard or monitor -- you have to add your own -- this 2-inch-tall by 6.5-inch square computer was about as tiny as you could get. Its power supply was a third that of a standard Mac, but at an entry price of $499 it was also the least expensive.

Image credit: Apple

MacBook Air: Lightweight, Yes. Weakling? Certainly Not

When the three pound MacBook Air was released in January 2008, it was touted as the "world's thinnest notebook." This "light as a feather, stiff as a board" computer is great for packing, but not so much for packing in information. Despite sliding into a manila folder, the MacBook Air has limited connectivity, is slower than "regular" MacBooks and the battery isn't user replaceable.

Image credit: Apple

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