Apple celebrated its 40th birthday on April 1, 2016. Although some companies might lose their inventiveness as they age, Apple continues to be a very active and thriving company.

Apple's History

Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne formed Apple on April 1, 1976. Jobs and Wozniak had dropped out of college, Jobs from Reed College and Wozniak from the University of California, Berkeley. A mutual friend introduced them, after which they started building computers in Jobs' garage. Wayne soon sold out for $800. Wozniak eventually left Apple in 1983.

The first computer sold was the Apple 1 (a.k.a. Apple I.),which was sold without a keyboard, monitor, or case.

The next version, the Apple II, was released in April 1977 and changed the computer industry because it offered color graphics. By 1980, sales had reached $117 million and Apple stock went public.

Jobs was given the opportunity to visit Xerox's Research Center in Palo Alto, California, in exchange for Apple stock. He was especially fascinated with the Xerox Alto computer and the mouse with three buttons, which gave the user the ability to point to and click on objects on the screen. Jobs decided that all Apple computers would have some version of the mouse.

In the early 1980s, Apple was developing two computers, the LISA (Local Integrated System Architecture) and the Macintosh. The LISA was geared for business while the Macintosh was less expensive and was designed for small business and home use. The LISA was released in 1983 and the Macintosh debuted the following year. It was the first personal computer to have a graphical user interface and a mouse. Eventually the LISA was discontinued. The Macintosh computer continues as a mainstay of the Apple line and has evolved through many versions, including the iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and 12″ MacBook.

Jobs wanted the Macintosh to be affordable. The original plan was for it to cost $1,000, but the final price more than doubled. The original Macintosh went on sale in January 1984 and cost $2,495. By May 1984, approximately 70,000 had been sold. The unit had a handle so it could be moved easily from place to place. It also featured a graphical user interface, which was user-friendly.

In March 1985, Jobs was no longer involved with the day-to-day running of Apple. He and CEO John Scully had major disagreements and eventually Apple's Board had to choose between them; they went with Scully. Scully reorganized the company and made Jobs Apple's Chairman. This was not a promotion but rather a more ceremonial role.

Several months later, Jobs resigned from Apple. He started his own company, NeXT Software. He also bought Pixar from George Lucas. Although Jobs wanted the Macintosh to cost less, with him gone, Apple instead focused on making a more powerful and more expensive Macintosh. By the end of 1989, Apple's profits had declined.

In 1991, Apple, IBM, and Motorola joined forces and created the AIM Alliance. The purpose was to build a powerful hardware and software platform called PReP (PowerPC Reference Platform.) This was to compete with the rising popularity of Windows computers. The software part of PReP was never released and there were difficulties with the hardware as well. However, the PowerPC processor was used in Apple computers from 1994–2006.

Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 because of the reduction in their profitability. Apple needed a new operating system for their Mac computers and they chose Jobs' company NeXT to provide it. Apple purchased NeXT and on Sept. 16, made Jobs Apple's Interim CEO.

Apple's profitability returned in 1998. In May of that year, the company announced the iMac and new PowerBook models. Mac OS 10 was released in March 2001. In May of the same year, the first two Apple retail stores opened in California and Virginia. As of March 2016, there were 475 stores in 17 countries. Later in 2001, the iPod was introduced.

The iTunes store was launched in 2003 and offered downloads at $0.99 per song. This was a legal way to download music that competed with illegal free services. In 2007, Jobs indicated that Apple would allow songs downloaded from iTunes to be played on third-party players if record companies would drop their Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. By mid-2009, Apple announced that the record companies had indeed agreed to drop DRM.

The MacBook Pro was introduced in 2006. iPhone 1st gen was launched in 2007. In 2008, Apple introduced the App Store, which sells apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. The iPad was launched in April 2010 and more than 300,000 were sold the first day. Many apps in the App Store could also run on the iPad. The Mac App Store was launched in January 2011.

In June 2011, Jobs introduced iCloud, Apple's storage and syncing service. A couple of months later, Jobs resigned from Apple, due to illness. Tim Cook, Apple's Chief Operating Officer, was named CEO in August 2011. Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011 from pancreatic cancer at only 56 years of age, shortly after announcing SIRI (Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface). SIRI is now available on the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.

At the Worldwide Developer's Conference in 2013, Apple announced iTunes Radio. There is a free version with ads and a paid version without ads. On June 30, 2015, Apple launched Apple Music, a subscription-based music service with a free 90-day trial. Subscribers to Apple Music automatically have iTunes Radio without ads and a new live radio station called Beats 1. Apple music suggests playlists and artists based on your listening preferences.


Apple currently has a very strong commitment to accessibility. During his speech at Auburn University, where he received the International Quality of Life award in December 2013, Tim Cook said, "People with disabilities often find themselves in a struggle to have their human dignity acknowledged. They frequently are left in the shadows of technological advancements that are a source of empowerment and attainment for others. As much as Apple's engineers push back against this unacceptable reality, they go to extraordinary lengths to make our products accessible to people with various disabilities from blindness and deafness to various muscular disorders." He adds, "We design our products to surprise and delight everyone who uses them, and we never, ever analyze the return on investment. We do it because it is just and right, and that is what respect for human dignity requires, and it's a part of Apple I'm especially proud of."

At a shareholder meeting in 2014, a conservative finance group wanted Cook to make a commitment to doing only those things that were profitable. Cook replied, "When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don't consider the bloody ROI (return on investment)." This same policy goes for environmental and health and safety issues. Cook said Apple does "a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive. We want to leave the world better than we found it."

Accessibility History

Apple was not always a leader in accessibility. Blind computer users could add the Echo 2 speech synthesizer to their early Apple computers and Apple eventually offered the Outspoken speech synthesizer, but neither synthesizer gave full functionality. Low vision users also did not have many options.

In the mid-90s, Windows computers had better functionality. A third-party screen reader such as Window-Eyes or JAWS was required. These screen readers were expensive but gave better access.

With the launch of OS X 10.2 Jaguar, Apple introduced Universal Access. This software was supposed to improve accessibility greatly for people who are blind, have low vision and have physical limitations. However, it did not work as well as expected.

Accessibility started to improve in April 2005. Apple OS X 10.4, Tiger, was launched and included VoiceOver plus options for low vision users such as screen magnification. There was no extra charge for VoiceOver. The early versions of VoiceOver still did not give the same access as a third-party Windows screen reader. By the time OS X 10.5, Leopard, was released, there were significant accessibility improvements including the Alex TTS (text-to-speech) voice and braille support. The next year, iTunes was made accessible on both the Mac and Windows platforms. The iPod Nano was released, with speaking menus.

In 2009, Apple released the iPhone 3GS with VoiceOver. This was the first screen reader that used gestures on a touch screen. Later that year, OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard, was released. New features in VoiceOver included the ability to use gestures on the Mac. The iPod touch was also released with VoiceOver.

Now all Apple products automatically have VoiceOver installed. A person who is blind can use an Apple product straight out of the box. Apple also has specially trained tech support professionals to assist visually impaired customers. Their dedicated number is 877-204-3930.

Apple has come a long way since 1976. Happy Birthday Apple, you never looked, or sounded, better.

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Janet Ingber
Article Topic
Access Issues