I’ve been covering Apple products for going on 15 years now, and using them for way longer than that. My elementary school had an Apple IIe with a monochrome green screen in the library. My high school newspaper was published on a fleet of Macintosh Plus, SE and Classics networked together via LocalTalk and an oft-preferable floppy disk based sneakerNet. So when I went off to college I picked up a Mac Classic/printer bundle and, well, I’ve been a user ever since. If you want to call me a fanboy, that’s your business – I actually think I’ve had a pretty steady love/hate relationship with Apple over the years.
At any rate, Top Lists are fun, and for some reason the urge hit me today to chronicle my Fab Five all-time Apple gems. Ask me a month from now and this list might change, though I fretted over it all afternoon long. Ask Jon and his list is sure to be different. Maybe I’ll get my friend Glen from Apple History to serve up his list sometime soon. In the meantime, praise or trash my Top Five as you will in the comments! I’ve tried to mix “historically important” with “historically important to Noah” in creating my list. Now then, let’s count it down …
5. PowerBook Duo 230
Just before Senior year of college started, I picked up a refurbished PowerBook Duo 230 from some mail-order place that advertised in the back of a magazine. My computer quickly developed an issue in the battery slot that caused the machine to lose all power if it got bumped in exactly the right spot in exactly the right way. I lost more than one draft of an English paper that way, but I still loved my Duo. With its 9″, 640 x 400 greyscale display, trackball, and 33MHz Motorola processor, this thing would hardly qualify as a smartphone today, but back in ’94 it was like an object from the future. A four pound laptop? That I could write papers on in the library, cafe or in my apartment? Total future shock. And I didn’t even get the optional dock with its crazy mechanical receiving slot. In fact, the Duo was such a good portable writing machine that years later I picked another one up for cheap to take with me on a three week “write a novel” trip to Montana.
4. PowerMac 8600
An Apple tech support rep once said to me, “The 8600 is the best machine we’ve ever made.” This despite the fact that the 9600 was actually Apple’s top of the line machine at the time. And the first PowerMac G4, the graphite plastic tower, was a more important machine, really, as it and the “B&W” G3 before it ushered in the Firewire era (I put myself way into debt pre-ordering a G4 and a $2,000 Sony camcorder to go with it, in fact). But I’m goin’ with the 86. What made the 8600 so cool? For me it boiled down to one thing: The A/V input-output card. I could plug a VCR – an S-VHS deck, even – directly into the 8600 and encode video. I could also send video out of the big beige box back to a videotape. That meant I could edit video on my home computer for the first time ever. For an aspiring video editor like me, that was huge, even if I was limited to a tiny little “near broadcast-quality” window that today’s YouTubers would literally laugh at. Man, today’s kids are spoiled!
The first iPhone was overpriced, didn’t work on AT&T’s newfangled 3G network, and lacked basic features smartphone users had long been used. Apple swore up and down that nobody needed native apps, and even took the shockingly out-of-character step of cutting the device’s price by one-third just two months after it went on sale. And still, this is the phone that changed the game. Other companies had released music phones, touchscreen phones, and more powerful smartphones before iPhone, and yet none shook up an industry like Apple’s first phone did in 2007. Arguably, it wasn’t until one year later when the 3G model launched on a traditional “on contract” pricing plan that iPhone really captured the mainstream market, but the first iPhone perfectly showcased Apple’s combination of engineering, design, user interaction and marketing knowhow. It’s still, for my money, the best-looking, best-made iPhone to date.
2. PowerBook G4 (Titanium)
Really, this slot should go to the iMac, that weird jelly bean of a computer that re-introduced Apple CEO Steve Jobs to the world and brought Apple back from the brink of death. But I never owned an iMac – they weren’t sleek or powerful enough for my wallet-busting tastes – and this is my list, so I’m going with PowerBook G4 instead. I still remember walking out of Tekserve on West 23rd Street in Manhattan with my PowerBook in hand. When I asked if I should get a padded sleeve for my new machine, the salesman looked at me and said, “You’d keep a Stradivarius in a case, wouldn’t you?” Such was the Titanium PowerBook, easily the sexiest Mac ever in terms of raw design appeal. With its 15.2-inch widescreen and a profile nearly half as thin as the model it replaced, the “TiBook” had the looks to appeal to snobby design types and the horsepower to function as a workhorse portable at the same time.
1. iPod (Third Generation)
I picked up my first iPod in the Summer of 2003, as a present to myself for returning to teaching, a job that had me facing an hour-long subway commute each way from Brooklyn to East Harlem and back again. My 10GB iPod was the perfect buffer to early mornings, long rides home after tough days, and everything in between. When I upgraded to a better pair of earbuds, my iPod became my constant companion. Which is funny because, in typical me fashion, I thought iPods were absolutely ridiculous until I actually owned one. Shows how good I am at predicting the future, huh? The iPod line, followed by the iPhone after it, was the product that eventually took the word “computer” out of the Apple, Inc. name.
What do you consider the top five Apple products of all time?