The Mac Turns 30 Today

Watch Steve Jobs unveil the computer that was designed "for the rest of us."

Thirty years ago today, Steve Jobs did something he would go on to do many times over: He strode onto a stage and introduced the public to a product that would do its damnedest to dent the universe

Here is, probably, the main thing worth remembering about the launch of the Macintosh: The soundtrack Apple chose for the moment of the machine's introduction was, hilariously, the theme song from Chariots of Fire.

But here are a few more things to remember as the Mac marks its 30th birthday. 

The product unveiling that took place on January 24, 1984 was a crucial one for Apple. "The day couldn't come fast enough," CNET's Dan Farber writes. While the Apple II was selling well, the Apple III (remember the Apple III? No, probably not) had pretty much proved a flop. And "few businesses," Farber notes, "were willing to pay $10,000 for Apple's Lisa, which debuted in June 1983." 

The company, in other words, needed a hit. It needed the Macintosh to live up to all the hype that had, by Apple itself, been placed on it. Apple needed the product launch that would take place in late January of 1984 to live up to its billing—as nothing less than a revolution. 

On January 22, 1984, during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, Apple aired a TV commercial. Ridley Scott had directed it; it referenced the literature of satire; it was cinematic and highly produced and meant to convey the ambition Apple held for itself and for its place in history. It was an instant classic.

The 1984 ad did exactly what it was intended to, which was to raise public enthusiasm about the Mac to, pretty much, "a fever pitch." Which means that, when Jobs strode out onto that stage on January 24, expectations were high—to the extent that the whole Chariots of Fire thing was as warranted as it was winky. Jobs wore a blazer (and a bow tie!) rather than a black turtleneck. As a showman, he projected the sly confidence that was already becoming his trademark; this belied how much pressure he was under to wow the world. He took his sweet time as he unzipped the Mac from its carrying case, plugged it in, and turned it on. He demonstrated the machine's graphical user interface, showing off applications like MacWrite and MacPaint.

The people watching the event—a theater full of them—applauded wildly. As many other people would go on to do many times over.

Which is all to say that, thirty years ago today, Steve Jobs starred in a launch event would become a template—not just for future Apple product launches, but for tech spectacle as a general phenomenon. The whole thing was unapologetically nerdy. It eschewed subtlety for swagger. As the Chariots of Fire theme played on, words scrawled across the demo Mac's screen in cursive. They spelled out the phrase, exclamation included, "insanely great!"

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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