On January 9th 2001, at the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Steve Jobs announced that the personal computer was entering its third great age, in which its’ previous roles as productivity platform, and then as internet platform, would be superseded by a new role, that of the “home digital hub”.
In this new role, the personal computer, and the Macintosh in particular, would enrich our experience of the increasing proliferation of consumer electronic devices by augmenting the capabilities of those devices with the computer’s powerful processing, extensive storage and large display.
This turned out to be an amazingly prophetic vision. Over many of the recent posts in this blog, we have been exploring the interaction of the Macintosh and many of the consumer electronic devices Steve mentioned as part of that address, and a few devices that he didn’t mention, such as the iPod, which was not yet available in January of 2001. The combination of consumer devices with the Macintosh, its applications and its display capabilities far exceeded what might have been accomplished by the devices alone. In this case, one plus one did equal three. Steve was right, and the Macintosh evolved into an incredible digital hub.
Let’s take a look at the application of the digital hub concept to some of the many consumer electronic devices supported by the amazing multimedia (vintage) Macintosh:
- Digital Cameras: In an earlier post, we saw that digital cameras, coupled with USB card readers, image editing applications such as Photoshop and image viewing applications such as ThumbsPlus, allow us to capture, manipulate and view digital images with ease.
- Scanners: In a similar way to digital cameras, we have seen that the combination of the Macintosh and Hamrick Software’s VueScan application allows us to capture, manipulate and view scanned digital images with an ease equal to that of camera-based digital images.
- Printers: We haven’t looked at printers in the “pages” of this blog, but the Macintosh of course supports a wide range of printers, both document printers and photo printers. Did you know that the first truly successful mass market laser printer was the Apple LaserWriter of 1985? Again the digital hub paradigm multiplied the value of this product. The LaserWriter printer, coupled with the Macintosh and the Aldus PageMaker application, become the first major desktop publishing success story.
- MP3 Players: The iPod instantly leaps to mind when discussing this class of consumer devices, but the iPod did have a few early rivals, and the Macintosh supported most of them as well. Combining the Macintosh with a music management application like iTunes and a high capacity MP3 player like the iPod yielded consumer magic – 1,000 tunes in your pocket, all easily managed and controlled from a central intelligence (iTunes) on your Macintosh.
- Music CDs: Speaking of consumer magic! 🙂 In the 1980s and 1990s, the now humble CD was magic! How does this relate to the Macintosh and the digital hub idea? Easily! The Macintosh fully supported playback of those magic CDs directly. This was not unique to the Macintosh of course – PCs did it too – but it was a useful addition to the Macintosh multimedia arsenal and many a CD player application emerged to meet this need.
- Sound Recording Devices: While we are speaking of things that play back sound, how about things that record sound as well? Yup! The vintage Macintosh supported this as well, and the digital hub concept multiplied the value a hundredfold. The simple microphone was the easiest implementation of a sound recording device, but available implementations spanned the gamut of complexity. As an example, a 68040-based Quadra 840AV, equipped with a Nubus DigiDesign AudioMedia II capture and playback card, and coupled with DigiDesign’s ProTools application, was almost literally a full audio mixing studio.
- Sound Editing Applications: A quick troll through the Macintosh Garden “Music and Sound” category reveals dozens of audio editors, including my personal favorite, Audacity. Combining these applications with sound recording devices yielded limitless flexibility, dramatically enhancing the capabilities of the audio capture devices themselves.
- Video Cameras: As shown in earlier posts in this blog, the vintage Macintosh was a more capable video processor and viewer than many people might think. As we have seen, the Macintosh very capably supported webcam based video late in the Mac OS era, with Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS 9.2 providing the best support. A variety of applications rounded out the offer, with the HappyMacs Seal of Approval going to BTVPro, which did an excellent job in this area.
For non-webcam video, Apple’s own iMovie debuted near the end of the Mac OS 9 reign, and did a reasonably good job as a video editor and viewer. Video is a very demanding media form, and the faster the processor, the better the support feels subjectively. Video on a 200 MHz Power Macintosh 7300/200 was not exactly fluid, but move up to a 700 MHz or greater machine, and the experience became quite usable.
- Video DVDs: We should not forget to mention the now fading video DVD. Like the audio CD, the DVD was another piece of consumer magic in its time, and the Macintosh fully supported playback (assuming your Macintosh had DVD drive hardware in it). Apple’s own DVD player application did a nice job here, as did many other similar applications.
- Other Media Devices: Finally, the vintage Macintosh either directly supported, or could be retrofitted with, USB and Firewire ports. From the G3 iMac onwards, these were standard capabilities. Prior to that, they could be retrofitted by adding the appropriate expansion cards. Via these two general purpose interfaces, an unending variety of other media devices and sources could be attached, limited only by the imagination and product availability.
So there you have it: MP3 players, music libraries, music CDs, webcam video, DVD video, video editing, digital cameras, image scanners, digital image editing, document and photo printing, microphone and direct audio capture, sound editing/processing/mixing… the list seems to go on and on. Steve Jobs was right. The personal computer did enter a third golden age, that of the home digital hub, and is arguably still in that age as of this writing.
The vintage Macintosh was, and remains, an amazing multimedia device, capable of acquiring and working with almost every form of media that can be imagined. A G3 or G4 Macintosh running Mac OS 9.x may not be today’s “flavor of the day”, but it is still an incredibly capable multimedia platform. Hats off to you Steve, for the foresight to see this all so clearly and so well before it became a full reality.