Watch Steve Jobs launch the computer that put Apple on track to becoming the world's most valuable public company

  • 20 years ago, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company was in rough shape.
  • One computer, the iMac, put Apple back on track. 
  • Current Apple CEO Tim Cook shared a video from that launch over the weekend. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook was in the mood to reminisce this weekend, according to his tweets. On Saturday, he posted a 20-year-old video of late Apple founder Steve Jobs introducing the iMac in 1998.

"You gotta see this thing in person, but I'll do the best I can with video. This is iMac, the whole thing is translucent, you can see into it. It's so cool. We've got stereo speakers on the front, we've got infrared right here, we've got the CD-ROM drive right in the middle, we've got dual stereo headphone jacks. We got the coolest mouse on the planet right here. Come on around. All of the connectors are inside one beautiful little door right here. Around the back, we've got a really great handle here. The back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guys, by the way."

The iMac, which started at $1299, is one of the most important products in Apple history. When it was unveiled in May 1998, it was one of the first computers that really didn't look like a computer — it sort of looked like a TV from the future.

 

iMac
Getty
The colorful translucent casing was designed by Jony Ive, Apple's head designer today, and although he had been working at the company for a few years, the iMac was the first computer he was really able to put his mark on. 

It was also a critical release for Jobs, who had just rejoined the company in 1997, taking over the (interim) CEO role once again after he was booted out during the 1980s. Apple was near-death at the time, and Jobs was committed to bringing it back to glory. May 1998 was just about the time that Jobs was able to poach a rising operations star from Compaq, Tim Cook, who is now Apple's CEO.  

RELATED: Check out the cost of Apple products through the years: 

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Cost of Apple products through the years
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Cost of Apple products through the years

Apple II (1977)

Cost Then: $1,298
Cost Now: $5,333

Compared to 1976's Apple I, the Apple II was a revelation. While the first Apple lacked a monitor, separate keyboard or casing, the Apple II included the whole package, complete with the introduction of five-color on-screen graphics.

Adjusted for inflation, you could buy a used car for what the Apple II costs, but its price tag had brought the budding company $7.8 million in sales by 1978 — about $30 million in today's money.

Macintosh (1984)

Cost Then: $2,495
Cost Now: $6,036

This is when the world started calling Apples "Macs."

Though dropping six grand on a computer today is cringe-worthy, the original Macintosh was considered the first relatively affordable computer with a graphical interface at the time. Its specs included a whopping 128 KB of RAM, 400 KB of storage, a floppy disk drive and a 9-inch monochrome display.

LaserWriter (1985)

Cost Then: $6,995
Cost Now: $16,207

Apple no longer makes printers, but the LaserWriter was a huge initiative at the time. Its professional print quality aimed for the business market, and it was the first network-capable printer.

It also introduced the world to Adobe Systems, which provided the PostScript programming language that powered the machine. If the original price looked scary, it was, so Apple dropped it to $5,000 by fall 1986.

Newton (1993)

Cost Then: $700
Cost Now: $1,192

Developed while legendary Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs was away from the company, and famously derided by him, the tablet-like touchscreen Newton paved the way for the success of the PDA, and later, the iPad. This small, hand-held product didn't catch on at the time, but it played a role in inspiring today's "all-in-one" device design, and even featured ahead-of-its-time handwriting recognition capabilities.

Power Macintosh (1994)

Cost Then: $2,600
Cost Now: $4,282

The closest modern equivalent of the Power Mac, the Mac Pro, starts at $2,999. Of course, its specs are just a little different.

While the original Power Macintosh — which was sold as the Macintosh Performa 6110CD for home use — sported a 60 MHz PowerPC 601 processor, the Pro rocks a 3.5GHz, 6-core Intel Xeon E5 processor and its 8 MB of RAM are dwarfed by the Mac Pro's 16 GB of RAM.

iMac G3 (1998)

Cost Then: $1,299
Cost Now: $1,967

The introduction of the iMac in 1998 marked the first time Apple used its much-imitated "i" branding. At the time, the "i" in "iMac" stood for "internet," as the all-in-one desktop computer featured a built-in modem, which was uncommon when it launched. The first model came in a blue-green hue, called "bondi blue and ice" by Apple, but it later was available in a rainbow of colors. It marked the first major Apple work by iconic designer Jony Ive.

The iMac line looks a lot different — and less colorful — today, but it's still kicking, with 21.5-inch models starting at $1,099.

Final Cut Pro (1999)

Cost Then: Starting at $300
Cost Now: $450

With so much focus on slick hardware, it's easy to overlook the fact that Apple is a software company, too — unless you're a filmmaker who just dropped $300 on Final Cut Pro, that is.

The pitch remains the same today as it was in 1999: For one price, you get editing, compositing and effects in one professional software package. Apple positioned Final Cut as a "post-production studio in a box," though the philosophy changed a bit as numerous software expansions continued to add features.

AirPort (1999)

Cost Then: $299
Cost Now: $442

AirPort started with multiple offerings, and the tradition continues. Introduced as a wireless networking solution for 802.11b connections, the AirPort Base Station looked like a tiny UFO, but you always could opt for an AirPort card to add wireless functionality to your Mac.

Today, you can get AirPort models spanning from the Express to the 3TB Time Capsule, ranging from $99 to $399.

Power Mac G4 Cube (2000)

Cost Then: $1,799
Cost Now: $2,567

The Power Mac G4 Cube's beautiful design couldn't offset the high price tag, which, consequently, led to its marketplace struggles.

By 2001, its entry-level price had been slashed to $1,299. The cube-shaped brains of the box live today in the form of the Mac Mini series, however. Though the Mini doesn't include a monitor, keyboard or speakers like the G4 Cube, it starts at a much more reasonable $499.

iPod (2001)

Cost Then: Starting at $399
Cost Now: Starting at $554

From 2001 to 2011, Apple sold 300 million iPods. Though the idea of a dedicated MP3 player seems outdated today, the at-the-time appeal of carrying 1,000 songs on the original, scroll-wheel-equipped model's 5 GB hard drive cannot be overstated.

The iPod line eventually included a wide variety of models — from the Nano to the Shuffle — but Apple has since consolidated its offerings to just the iPod touch, which retails for $199 or $299, depending on storage size.

MacBook (2006)

Cost Then: $1,099
Cost Now: $1,338

Remember the early 2000s, when all the coolest tech products — from the iPod to the Wii — were glossy white? Yep, the MacBook was, too.

Starting a legacy that still thrives, the original 13-inch MacBook laptop was powered by a 1.83 GHz Intel "Core Duo" processor and featured a 13-inch widescreen display, complete with modern perks, such as a built-in iSight camera, USB ports and Bluetooth compatibility. Nowadays, an entry-level MacBook starts at a fairly comparable $1,299.

iPhone (2007)

Cost Then: Starting at $499
Cost Now: $608

Before you can sell a billion, you've got to start with one. The iPhone might not have been the first all-in-one hand-held device, but its mainstream appeal and standard feature set established the baseline for the modern smartphone. If your current device has WiFi support, Bluetooth, a camera, glass screen, accelerometer and multi-touch, you probably can thank the iPhone.

In 2018, an iPhone 8 with a 4.7-inch display will cost you $699, meaning Apple actually has raised the price in this arena.

MacBook Air (2008)

Cost Then: $1,799
Cost Now: $2,191

Originally touted for its crazy-thin dimensions, the MacBook Air eventually caught up in terms of power and completely replaced the MacBook line from 2012 to 2015. Because Apple has had a full decade to get a better handle on squeezing more power into less space, modern MacBook Air laptops come at a much lower cost — in 2018, a 13-inch MacBook Air can be had for $999.

iPad (2010)

Cost Then: Starting at $499
Cost Now: $568

Microsoft introduced the tablet format in 2000, but it was Apple that finally got the tablet to catch on in 2010. Even Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates acknowledges that Apple "did some things better than I did," noting that Apple nailed it in terms of "timing," "engineering work" and "just the package that was put together."

That slick package ended up being the biggest product launch of 2010 and went on to sell more than 350 million units, across various iPad models.

Today, Apple offers standard 32GB model iPads from $329.

iPhone 6 (2014)

Cost Then: Starting at $549
Cost Now: $569

The iPhone 6 makes the list not necessarily for its feature set, but for its groundbreaking mainstream penetration. Between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, this model has sold more than 100 million units since its introduction in 2014, making it the best-selling iPhone to date.

Perhaps due to this ubiquity, you still can get a 4.7-inch iPhone 6s, the phone's more advanced update, straight from Apple for $449.

iPhone X (2017)

Cost Then and Now: $999

Buoyed by crazy hype and endless rumors, Apple premiered the iPhone X in 2017, using its curved Super Retina screen and facial recognition features to test the waters of a high-priced, premium smartphone market.

With reports suggesting that Apple aims to halve iPhone X output in the first quarter of 2018 because of weak holiday sales, the gambit might not have paid off. But with a quarterly revenue of $88.3 billion in the fiscal quarter ending on Dec. 30, 2017, the giants from Cupertino, Calif., probably aren't sweating too much.

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"It's been 10 months since the new management team took over at Apple, people have been working really hard, you can see a lot of cars in the parking lots on nights and weekends. And because of their hard work, I'm really pleased to report to you today that Apple is back on track," Jobs said during the presentation. 

He was right. It was the start of Apple getting back on track. Its share price closed at $1.08 per share on May 6, 1998. Now the share price is $186.57, even after a 7-to-1 split in 2014, and the company is worth $910 billion, making it the most valuable publicly traded company in the world. 

Here's a graphic showing the progression of Apple's all-in-one desktops:

iMac progressionGiulia Piccoli Trapletti, DensityDesign Research Lab

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