In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh on 24 January 2014, Apple unveiled a museum-quality interactive Web site that I hope will remain available indefinitely. You’re greeted with a 3-minute Mac 30 video with brief sound bites from designers, artists, musicians, teachers, and scientists whose lives were changed by the Macintosh. The video is everything you’d expect from Apple in terms of content and top-notch production values, but it’s only the intro to an even more interesting site.
Organized as a timeline, the Mac 30 site breaks down the history of the Macintosh year by year, introducing you to someone who was drawn to the Mac in that timeframe and used it as a tool to enhance human creativity. Each year of the timeline also describes a particular model of the Mac that was released or, later on when Macs ceased to have unique names, updated in that year.
Equally as interesting as the biographies and the rundown of a particular Mac model is a visualization of what people say they did with that particular model. The usage data requires some interpretation, because it comes from another part of the site that asks what your first Mac was, and what you did with it. For instance, Tonya’s and my first Mac was a Macintosh SE, and the tasks we used it for as undergraduates at Cornell University in the late 1980s are very different from how we’ve used our Macs in subsequent years. Sadly, the SE/30, my favorite Mac ever (see “The Mac Turns 25: Best Mac Ever? ,” 26 January 2009), is seemingly missing from the list (or perhaps just badly labeled, since the SE appears twice).
The choice of the featured Macs is a little surprising in places, including such oddities as the Macintosh TV in 1993 and the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh in 1997 (thanks to Mactracker for confirming for me that it celebrated Apple’s 20th anniversary, not the Mac’s). It’s hard to imagine the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh being anyone’s first Mac, given its near-$10,000 initial price.
The Mac 30 site also features a slider-driven visualization of how people have used Macs over time (again, with each data point being how that person used his or her first Mac), and while it’s interesting to see the size of different circles change over time, I’d love to see the data graphed differently so we could better understand the changes. Although I selected “Internet & Email” for our SE in 1987, thanks to what we did at Cornell, that category doesn’t gain a solid spot in the overview of all data until 1989 and achieves its eventual category-leading position only in 1998, but that’s a bit hard to tease out. Tellingly, “Business & Finance” makes the leaderboard in 1984, is the dominant category in 1985, falls off in 1986 and 1987, and makes a brief return in 1988 before disappearing for good.
I presume that data is continuing to flow into the system, so hopefully the information it’s presenting will represent what was true in each year with ever-increasing accuracy. A revisit will be in order in a week or so.
Finally, there’s also an Easter Egg of sorts in the site. As iOS developer Greg Barbosa discovered, Apple created a special font containing icons of numerous Mac models. It uses a special private area for the characters, so you can’t just type the icons from the keyboard. Instead, once you install it in Font Book, you can copy and paste individual icons out.