The story of Steve Jobs and Apple computer was already one of the most remarkable by 1980's. It then became downright legendary when Apple rose from the ashes of the 1990's due to the return of Steve. Apple computer transformed itself into the Apple, Inc that we know today during the next decade. It is perhaps the greatest comeback in the history of corporate America.
What was behind the comeback? I believe a large part of it was a series of industrial design languages that spoke to the masses. I understand that software design is equally important, if not more, but I'm focusing purely the hardware aspect here. The iMac G3 (Blondie Blue iMac) that was at the vanguard of the Apple revival wasn't a particularly well made machine, the processor was weak, the mouse was an ergonomic nightmare and Apple's ecosystem was quite lacking at the time. Yet its industrial design certainly stood out enough among the crowd of HP's, Dell's and eMachine's at the time to jump start Apple's return to prominence.
If you are an industrial designer or are in the field of consumer product design today, you are probably familiar with people wanting their product to "look like an iPad" or "look like an Apple product". There is no denying Apple's products are absurdly attractive. Apple stores are my favorite spot to window shop while my significant other is doing real shopping when we are at the mall. Apple has elevated personal electronics to the status of jewelry, at least for me.
Now I must rant about Apple's neglect of professional users even after the release of the new Mac Pro. (and no, MacBook pros are not for professional use, at least not for Engineers and Industrial Designers) And Apple certainly shouldn't be universally held as the pioneers in attractive minimalist design either, Dieter Rams and Naoto Fukusawa have been doing similar design languages decades before. Regardless, Apple's uncompromising focus on design on such a massive scale should certainly be applauded. What other company would have thought it was a good idea to approach mass production by machining entire computers out of solid blocks of Aluminum?
I'm not familiar with the inner workings within Apple because the company is tight lipped about their operation and I have not worked at Apple, but I'm sure the technical teams such as Engineering and Manufacturing can't be too thrilled that the industrial designers like Jonathan Ive gets all credit and limelight, while at the same time driving them crazy with their design requirements. Indeed, the Macs, iPhones and iPads are as much an Engineering and manufacturing marvel as they are masterpieces in minimalist design.
Take a look at the new Dell Precision M3800 and the Razor Blade 14 above. One is a mobile workstation and the other is a mobile gaming machine, neither of these need chiclet keyboard or minimalist metal enclosures for their purposes and yet they do. It's not hard to see the amount of influence Apple products are exerting on the entire tech industry by just looking at laptops and ultrabooks alone.
Not everything should look like an iPad or MacBook and not everything should be machined out of Aluminum, but I'm convinced that without Steve Jobs and the rest of the technical and creative staff at Apple, we would still have to be dealing with the ridiculous thumb wheel on blackberry's, oversized point and shoot cameras and lots of other mediocre standalone electronics wrapped in poorly designed plastic shells. Apple had shown us the importance of good design and that there is no replacement for having a good taste if you want to resonate with consumers.