40 years of Apple: Apple’s most innovative products

Since the 1970s, Apple has been at the front of the new technology pack. Here’s a look at 18 of its most influential and impactful products.

Apple’s most innovative products
Apple’s most innovative products

Recently TIME Magazine issued a fascinating list ranking the 50 most influential gadgets of all time. Not surprisingly, Apple’s iconic iPhone appeared in the top spot, while two other Apple products—the iPod and the original Mac—also managed to crack the top 10.

In light of TIME’s ranking, not to mention the fact that Apple last month celebrated its 40-year anniversary, we felt it was time to dust off the history books and take a look back at Apple’s most influential, impactful and important products throughout the company’s illustrious history.

While Apple today is typically associated with the iPhone, the company’s track record for innovative products stretches all the way back to the 1970s.

That said, the following slides highlight Apple’s most important and revolutionary products over the past 40 years, from the original Apple I all the way through the iPhone 6s.

1 bondi blue imac
Bondi Blue iMac

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the future of the company was not entirely certain. Apple was famously saddled with a convoluted and confusing product line. More than that, the company lacked direction and a true sense of purpose. As a result, there was a lot of pressure during the 1997/1998 timeframe for Jobs and Apple to deliver something special.

The original Bondi Blue iMac was the first major product released under Jobs’ second tenure at Apple, and it delivered in a major way. Released in 1998, the iMac featured an all-in-one design along with an elegant translucent blue shell. To put it mildly, the original iMac did not look like other computers, thus embodying Apple’s ad slogan at the time—Think Different.

The iMac was an eye-catching machine that quickly became a hit. More broadly, it signaled that Apple was a force to be reckoned with in the tech industry again. Notably, the original iMac shipped without a floppy drive and introduced the world to the ‘i’ product branding scheme that still defines the company’s products today.

2 ibook g3
iBook G3

Much like the Bondi Blue iMac, Apple’s 1999 iBook G3 stood out with a colorful and original industrial design. But what makes the iBook G3 such an important computer is that it was the first consumer laptop to feature 802.11b Wi-Fi networking built right in. Though most of us take Wi-Fi for granted today, wireless networking was far from ubiquitous in the late 1990s.

Without question, the iBook G3 was a forward-thinking machine that helped introduce many users to the joys of Wi-Fi. Also notable, if not downright quirky, is that the iBook G3 featured a colored plastic handle for easy transport.

3 original mac
Original 1984 Mac

Apple’s 1984 Mac helped usher in a computing revolution and is today considered one of the most iconic and influential products ever released. Featuring an all-in-one design, the Mac was the first mainstream computer to ship with a mouse and the first computer to introduce the world to a graphical user interface (GUI). Suffice it to say, the Mac revolutionized the way we interact with and use computers by making the entire computing experience much more intuitive and inviting. As a point of interest, Apple’s 1984 Mac was originally priced at $2,495.

4 original ipod
Original iPod

If the Mac changed how we interact with computers, the iPod completely and forever changed how we listen to music. Much more than just an advertising slogan, “1000 songs in your pocket” was a reality that was every music lover’s dream come true.

Instead of having to lug around binders full of CDs, music fans for the first time could carry their entire music collection in one lone compact device. While initial iPod sales were somewhat modest, the device would eventually go on to become one of Apple’s most profitable and iconic products.

Over a period of six to seven years, Apple skillfully and masterfully iterated the iPod with tons of new features and form factors. It added more storage capacity, more colors and eventually video capabilities. Bolstered by creative marketing campaigns, the iPod was a money-making machine for Apple and a beloved device for millions of users for years on end.

5 powerbook 520
PowerBook 520

While Apple today is primarily associated with the iPhone, the company has a long history of introducing incredible innovations in the notebook space. With that as a backdrop, there's no question that Apple’s most legendary and innovative notebook was the PowerBook 520. 

Originally released in 1994, Apple’s PowerBook 520 is one of the most important laptop releases in computer history. The sheer number of computing “firsts” associated with the notebook is staggering. Specifically, and most importantly, the PowerBook 520 was the first laptop to feature a trackpad instead of a trackball. It was also the first laptop to feature built-in Ethernet connectivity.

It's fair to say that the PowerBook 520 effectively created a blueprint that all other laptops would eventually follow.

6 original iphone
Original iPhone

What can be said about the iPhone that hasn't already been said? Released in 2007, the iPhone immediately altered the technological landscape for good—and for the better. In one fell swoop, Apple showed us what the future of computing looked like, and it wasn't long before other companies followed suit with their own iPhone copies. The iPhone remains a truly once-in-a-lifetime product whose impact is perhaps unrivaled by most every other product that has been released in recent memory.

Consequently—and unsurprisingly—the iPhone is Apple’s most lucrative device in company history, generating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue for the company over the years.

7 apple ii
Apple II

The Apple II, originally released in 1979, helped revolutionize the world of computing as we know it. The obvious successor to the Apple I, the Apple II was famously the brainchild of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

What made the Apple II so unique is that came with support for color graphics and allowed owners to customize the machine with items such as more memory. When sales of the Apple II took off, many Apple employees quickly became extraordinarily wealthy.

More broadly, the wild success of the Apple II sparked a period of tremendous growth for Apple, as it remained the world’s top purveyor of PCs for a notable period of time.

8 powerbook 100
PowerBook 100

Considered by many to be Apple’s first true laptop, the PowerBook 100 was released in 1991 and featured a trackball. While seemingly a clunky solution for user navigation by today’s standards, it certainly did the trick a few decades ago. And while the PowerBook’s 5.1-lb. frame and 9-in. display aren’t all that impressive compared to today’ svelte notebooks, it was particularly impressive back in 1991. Originally priced at $2,500, the PowerBook 100—which was actually designed by Sony—came with a 16-MHz processor and 2MB of RAM.

9 ipad
iPad

Following up on the success of the iPhone was no easy feat, but Apple managed to surprise everyone when it released the iPad in April 2010. While the iPad initially got off to a slow start sales wise, things picked up as Apple’s iconic tablet quickly became one of the most successful and popular consumer electronic products in history.

In a very real sense, the iPad kick-started the tablet era. While the iPad obviously wasn't the first tablet to hit the market, it was undoubtedly the first tablet to go mainstream and quickly ushered in a wave of competing tablets from the likes of Samsung and eventually Microsoft. While iPad sales today have seemingly slowed down a bit, there's no denying that the product will always hold a unique place in computing history.

10 macbook air
MacBook Air

The MacBook Air was originally introduced at Macworld 2008 when Steve Jobs, who always had a flair for the dramatic, pulled it out of a manila envelope on stage to demonstrate how thin it was. Upon its release, the MacBook Air was touted as being the thinnest laptop ever developed. Additionally, the original MacBook Air is notable for being the first modern Apple laptop to ship without an optical drive, a controversial move at the time.

11 ipod mini
iPod Mini

While not the first iPod ever released, the iPod Mini was the first iPod model to be a breakout hit. Positioned as an ultra-portable flash-based MP3 player, the iPod Mini—thanks to a compact form factor and a collection of vibrant colors—became an immediate hit. It was released in February 2004, and for most iPod owners, it represented their first foray into the Apple ecosystem.

12 apple 1 computer
Apple I

The granddaddy of them all, The Apple I is the machine that helped put Apple on the map. Famously developed in a garage—primarily by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak—the Apple I may seem ancient by today’s standards, but back in 1976 it was somewhat revolutionary insofar as it didn’t require vast technical skills to assemble.

While users were still required to supply their own keyboards and monitors, the Apple I’s ease of use relative to other computers of the day was the forbearer of Apple’s “It just works” tagline. Extremely rare today, working Apple I machines often sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auctions. As a quick point of interest, the specs on the Apple 1 included a 1-MHz processor and 4KB of RAM. Also interesting is that the initial price for the machine was $666.66.

13 app store
App Store

While the initial iPhone was unquestionably a game-changer, the introduction of the App Store one year later pushed the value proposition of the iPhone into the stratosphere.

For the first time, lone developers had a means by which to develop their own applications and make them available to millions of users at a price point of their own choosing. Indeed, the App Store today is effectively its own economy, having earned developers billions of dollars over the years.

14 aluminum imac
Aluminum iMac

In August of 2007, Apple introduced a completely redesigned iMac that thankfully utilized an aluminum and glass construction as opposed to the white polycarbonate of its predecessor. Apple’s 2007 iMac design is still in use today, though the machine has gotten noticeably thinner in recent years. Still, the original aluminum iMac was a sight to behold. In addition to a sleek new look, Apple’s 2007 iMac also introduced larger screens, as the machine was available in 20-in. and 24-in. form factors.

15 itunes
iTunes

Originally released in January 2001 as a basic media player, iTunes would eventually go on to become Apple’s digital hub and the means by which users hooked up their iPods and later their iPhones to their media content.

In 2003, when Apple added the iTunes Music Store, Apple forever changed the way we listen to and purchase music. These days, iTunes is a popular target for critics who call the software bloated, clunky and dated. While such proclamations are perhaps true, iTunes in the early 2000s provided a clean and intuitive interface that helped make using an iPod such a frictionless joy. It also made burning CDs a breeze.

More than that, iTunes—and the accompanying iTunes Store—demonstrated that consumers were more than willing to pay for TV shows, movies and music if doing so is easy and affordable.

16 powerbook g4
Aluminum PowerBook G4

Apple’s PowerBook series began in 2001, but it wasn’t until the Aluminum PowerBook G4 was released in 2003 that we truly saw a desktop-equivalent laptop from Apple hit store shelves.What also made the PowerBook G4 so special is that it helped inform the industrial design of future Apple laptops for about five years.

17 iphone5s
iPhone 5s

While some iPhone models have been incremental upgrades, the iPhone 5s—thanks to the inclusion of Touch ID—was a real step forward in mobile innovation. In a world where most people didn't use passcodes, the iPhone 5s introduced the world to Touch ID, instantly and seamlessly making our phones more secure in the process.

In short, the iPhone 5s brought advanced fingerprint technology recognition to the mainstream, thus prompting other device manufacturers to follow with their own implementations. Since the iPhone 5s, Apple has built on Touch ID with the release of Apple Pay.

18 macbook pro
Original MacBook Pro

In addition to being Apple’s top-of-the line notebook, the 2006 MacBook Pro is noteworthy for being the first Apple laptop to ship with an Intel processor. If you recall, Steve Jobs’ June 2005 announcement that Apple was transitioning away from the PowerPC platform ruffled more than a few feathers. That said, the transition to Intel was rather seamless, and current CEO Tim Cook is often given a lot of credit for that. No doubt helping matters was that consumers absolutely flocked to the original MacBook Pro in droves.