Not Celebrating the Past, My Ass.

Celebrating Apple’s past is exactly what Phil Schiller and Tim Cook did at the October 28 MacBook Refresh event. And it was great.

“Now all of us take it for granted today but this is where it all started.” — Tim Cook, 2016 MacBook Refresh event.

[** Update November 15th, 2016 — Apple announced an official coffee table photography book today. I feel this makes this article even more relevant].

Watching Tim Cook take us through Apple’s journey into portable computing at the October 28th MacBook event was fascinating, and it was extremely satisfying to see lots of older model PowerBooks spinning in high definition in the new MacBook promo video.

I spent four years creating a coffee table photography book called ICONIC — A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation. It’s a tribute to Apple — one of the most innovative companies in the world. I never received any official response from Apple and I wasn’t that naive to think that I would, but part of me wished that they had reached out. So listening to Tim describe how the PowerBook started was just great:

The PowerBook actually defined the modern notebook for its time — changing the category and changing Apple forever. This was the first portable that featured the keyboard forward design so you could rest your palms while you were typing. It had a pointing device integrated right into the palm rest. Now all of us take it for granted today but this is where it all started. It was also the first laptop with an active matrix display. [And] we didn’t stop here.

Tim’s words were satisfying because they sum up the core message of my book: this is where it all started.

(Interestingly, there were many who were surprised that Apple decided not to recognize the Macintosh Portable as Apple’s first (16lb) notebook; there are even some who believe the IIc was Apple’s first portable!)

ICONIC features a chapter called Portables that shows the evolution of Apple’s portable computing from the Macintosh Portable to the retina MacBook Pro (which was Apple’s latest notebook at the time I went to press). So you can appreciate how excited I was (and lots of other Apple fans) when Apple started flipping through old machines in their promo video:

Some of the notebooks highlighted in the promo video.

Then I remembered that this isn’t the first time Apple has showed off these older machines. They did it back in 2014 for their 30th anniversary where they created an online tribute with a truly stunning collection of photos of older marquee products and matching personal stories from 1984 to 2014.

Some of the portables Apple memorialized in their 30th anniversary tribute.
Macintosh Portable (1989) from Apple’s 30th anniversary tribute site.

In early 2012, an over zealous Apple fan started an online petition asking the company to include a visitor’s center with a museum at the new Campus 2 Cupertino. Phil Schiller responded:

“We are focused on inventing the future, not celebrating the past. Others are better at collecting, curating and displaying historical Items. It is not who we are or who we want to be.”

(For the record I actually agree with Schiller on this. I can understand Apple not wanting to deal with the logistics of hordes of fan descending on the new campus.)

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 he shut down the internal Apple museum and moved everything to Stanford. So Schiller’s comments are in line with this stance. Yet we can find several recent examples of Apple taking the time and effort to resurrect and create new imagery of several of their older machines to support the narrative of the product or service being introduced.

Tim Cook discussing Apple’s continuing commitment to education at the iPhone 7 launch event (2016)
Steve Jobs at the launch of the original iPhone (2007)— reminding us how the Macintosh changed the entire industry.
Phil Schiller showing the iMac timeline at the introduction of the 2012 iMac.

Back to the MacBook event — things get even more fun when Schiller actually starts reminiscing about the PowerBook 170.

“Now it might be fun to bring back in that first generation of notebook.” -Phil Schiller
Now it might be fun to bring back in that first generation of notebook just for comparison. It is remarkable what has occurred in just 25 years.

You can hear the nostalgic tone in his voice — it’s undeniable. But he keeps going, digging into the specs.

You may not remember that first PowerBook 170 had a 9.8 inch black and white active matrix 640 by 480 display. That PowerBook 170 had a state of the art 25-Mhz 68030 processor and we’ve done the math..the new MacBook pro is 6.8 million times faster.

Wow that’s an amazing statistic — Eddie Cue, Greg Joswiak and Jeff Williams seem to enjoy that one.

But Schiller keeps going:

Or thought of another way — a full year of compute time on that PowerBook 170 can be accomplished in less than 5 seconds on the MacBook Pro. It is remarkable. We have advanced so far.

This is why ICONIC was a success. People love reminiscing about the past, and there are still many Apple fans who love to celebrate the company’s rich product history — its successes and its failures. I’ve heard from readers who simply loved the fact that they sat down with a glass of wine and lost themselves for hours reliving these old machines, where they were in their lives when they first came across them, and how much has changed.

That’s why Phil Schiller’s comment about not celebrating the past always bothered me and I’m going to disagree with Phil on this — I’m certain Apple will continue celebrating their past as they blaze the future.

And that’s just fine with me.