Remember This? Looking Back at the First PowerBook

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With new Macbooks seemingly imminent, I thought it'd be a good time to look back in time to the first Apple laptop that changed portable computing forever: the original PowerBook.

Back in 1991, Apple wasn't the company it is today. There was no iPod, no iTunes Music Store, no iPhone. At the time, laptops (or "portable computers," such as the Macintosh Portable) were niche devices, extremely expensive and not all that practical. But the PowerBook 100 made some huge steps forward for laptops.


While it wasn't the first portable computer to take what we see today as a laptop's form (that honor goes to the NEC UltraLite, above, released in 1989), it made some steps forward in the design. For example, the flat surface in front of the keyboard that you can rest your hands on? That first appeared with the first PowerBooks. It also integrated a trackball - though it's been replaced by other pointing devices, its spirit remains.. Due to these strong design elements, the PowerBook ended up selling very well, leading to high profits and a strong era for Apple (soon to be dashed by failures such as the Newton, Mac clones and the runaway overlapping product lines of the mid 1990s). Watching this ad for the very first PowerBooks, it's funny to see Apple going hard after business users, the very same type mocked in today's Apple ads by John Hodgman. Sales reports! How very unhip. Before the MacBook became the laptop of choice of coffeshop-located freelance graphic designers, Apple wanted its laptops to be the choice of the suit set. The PowerBook 100 was the cheapest of the three PowerBooks first introduced by Apple in 1991. Its price was $2,300, which is surprisingly close to how much MacBook Pros are today. Sure, the form factor has changed a lot, as has the hardware inside and the software loaded on it. But isn't it comforting to think that, nearly 20 years later, you're still gonna drop around $2,000 on a new Apple laptop? In an unstable time, it's nice to see some things stay the same.