The most invisible and influential eras in Apple history

I wrote my first story about Apple in 1993, meaning I’ve been covering Apple for 60 percent of its existence. Lately, I’ve realized that beyond a few major milestones, most people don’t really remember Apple as anything but a technology titan. But the two very different Apples of the 1990s and early 2000s are worth remembering, rather than losing them in a hazy muddle that begins with Steve Jobs leaving Apple and ends with the arrival of the App Store.

I’ve tried to categorize the history of Apple into six distinct eras where the company’s approach and position were remarkably different, with special attention paid to the two most undersold eras in company history.

The Hobbyist Era (1976-1982)

You know the story. Two guys named Steve built a company in a garage in the earliest days of the personal computing. There’s been plenty of myth-making about this era in Apple’s history, and for good reason. In 1982, high on Apple II sales, Apple hired John Sculley of Pepsi as its CEO, and this era came to an end.

The Corporate Era (1982-1992)

steve jobs Macworld IDG

Macworld started out as a print magazine, and the first issue was published during the Corporate Era.

This era encompasses the continued success of the Apple II, the release of the Macintosh, and the Mac’s growth under Sculley. It’s funny to think about how Jobs’s legendary shepherding of the original Mac project came as his power base in the company was crumbling, and a year after the Mac arrived, Jobs was gone.

What remained was a company that was ready to iterate on that original Mac and take it to some great places. The Mac became dominant in media circles thanks to the advent of desktop publishing. My first Mac was an SE, purchased in this period.

Apple grew a lot during this period, transforming from the legendary garage startup into a more traditional corporation. Microsoft and IBM PCs loomed as threats, but the Mac was still clearly the best choice for the job—and the money flowed.

The Doom Era (1992-1998)

I tell people that I started writing about Apple when it was doomed. And indeed, deciding to specialize in Apple computers in 1993 seemed about as smart as covering radio dramas during the roll-out of television. Microsoft was on the march, and the release of Windows 95 massively closed the gap between Macs and PCs, robbing Apple of one of its great advantages.

The PowerBook, released at the very start of this era, was a winning product that helped earn Apple a lot of goodwill. But that goodwill was rapidly squandered with the disastrous second-generation PowerBook, the 500 series, and its even more disastrous successor, the PowerBook 5300.