The iSight Camera 

As announced at WWDC 2003, OS X Panther included iChat AV, an updated version of Apple’s AIM client that brought video and audio conferencing capabilities to the Mac. It was all done automatically; users didn’t even need to know if their Buddies had a microphone or camera hooked up to their computer. All that was required was a FireWire camera or USB microphone and DSL or better for video.

Steve Jobs then announced that the company had a companion product for iChat AV: the iSight Camera.

iSight Camera

Dubbed the “eyes and ears” of iChat AV, here are the specs of the iSight camera:

  • Video up to 30 fps
  • 640 x 480 resolution with 24-bit color
  • Auto-focus with F/2.8 aperture
  • Auto-exposure
  • Built-in dual-element microphone for noise suppression

The camera used a single FireWire cable for power and data.

Unlike the other FireWire cameras on the market, the iSight was designed to sit up high, off of the desk. This was to help avoid those awkward low-angle shots that make everyone look bad.

Today, of course, the iSight camera is built-in to every display Apple sales, from the MacBook to the Thunderbolt Display 27-inch iMac. That wasn’t the case in 2003, but Apple wanted the camera to be mounted as close to eye-level as possible.

To do this, the iSight came with several attachments:

  • A clear plastic clip with thumb screw to mount to the lid of notebook displays
  • A mount with an adhesive pad that would stick to the back of an iMac G4 or other flat-panel desktop display
  • An angled mount that would stick to the top of an eMac.

(A later revision would add a magnetic mount to attach to the top of the aluminum Cinema Displays.)

The camera hardware itself is just stunning. Made of aluminum, I still think it looks good today. It included an integrated lens shutter that you could twist shut with just a touch, and — just like today — had a green LED that would come on when the device was in use.

The iSight sold for $149,1 and was on the market until December 2006, by which time most new Macs all had built-in cameras.

While watching Jobs demo this for the first time, I couldn’t help but think about the first iPhone phone call or FaceTime demo. I think Jobs (and Apple) are really passionate about how people communicate. Hearing someone’s voice or seeing their face is much more intimate than passing text back and forth.

iSight Camera and 17-inch PowerBook G4

  1. Unless you were in the room for the announcement, in which case yours was free. 

Software Rot 

As hard as it is to preserve vintage computer hardware, software is even harder.

If an iBook’s hard drive implodes, I can knock out the repair myself.

I have a bunch of old Apple hardware. Most of it still works, but if my Macintosh SE blows a capacitor, I can (more than likely) have it repaired by someone more skilled than I am.

If one of my old notebooks has screen failure, the problem may prove too difficult or expensive to repair. Spare parts are harder and harder to come by as time goes on.

There will be a day where some of my old machines will stop working. There will be a day where none of them work anymore.

As sad as that will be from a hardware perspective, it’s devastating in terms of preserving software. Old operating systems are sealed inside these machines. A dead Mac is really just a beige — or Bondi Blue — sarcophagus for the software stranded on its internal disk.

Granted, there are a few ways to emulate the classic Mac OS today. What happens when those projects aren’t updated anymore or a change to macOS prevents them from running? It’s not hard to imagine a day when the only way people interact with something like System 7 is through screenshots.

The story is even gloomier when it comes to rarer operating systems or individual software titles. There are countless programs that have already slipped away, just in the Apple ecosystem. For platforms like BeOS or even NeXTSTEP, the effect is far worse.

The vast majority of people will never need to run operating systems like Mac OS X Server 1.0 or older software titles like MacPaint. As a self-proclaimed Apple historian, I am interested in keeping it accessible.

Deep inside, I know it’s a losing battle.

I believe that to understand where we are and where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been. That includes the technology we use. If it’s true that one day we all return to dust, it applies to our computers and their software, too.

(Don’t miss Steve Jobs talking about this subject in a 1994 interview.)

A Modern Example of Software Rot

Lest you think software rot is something that just affects operating systems and programs than ran on beige computers with weird names from the 90s, let’s look at the free iPhone case program that was announced in 2010 as a part of Antennagate.

The company released a free app customers had to use to order their free case.

The app still runs today, as pointed out by Parker Lyman, who sent me these screenshots:

iPhone case app

As this app runs on today’s iOS, I imagine it’s pretty simple. However, it is completely broken now that Apple has removed whatever infrastructure the app depended on. Without the server it is looking for, the app is just a shell.

This little app is not much more than a footnote in the iPhone 4’s story, but it’s already almost gone, just six years later. I think it’s a good example of how modern software apps are at just as much risk as old ones of becoming nothing more than a memory.

7 Notebook Reviews in 6 Minutes 

In 2001, Steve Jobs showed off the Titanium PowerBook, which radically redesigned and modernized the company’s notebook lineup. It’s impact can still be felt today. To better understand its importance, I spent time with seven notebooks this weekend that were on sale over the last 16 years or so.

I used several of these machines over the years, except for those crazy 17-inch ones. It was fun to revisit them.

As a bonus, the still photos used in the video can be found over on Flickr.

iPhone turns nine 


Today marks the 9th anniversary of the iPhone going on sale for the first time. I worked at an Apple Store way back then, and wrote about the launch a few years ago:

We saw them before the rounded the corner. There were hundreds of people, lined up in the Friday afternoon heat. News vans were pulled up to the sidewalk, and the guys who had been camping out for 72 hours sure looked happy. We put up the additional barriers, and I got a bunch of high-fives and questions about the iPhone while heading back around the building.

That night was madness, but what’s really impressive is how much the iPhone has changed our world. Today, almost everyone I know carries a smartphone. We walk around with pocket computers hooked up to the entirety of the Internet. They can shoot amazing photos and take 4K video. I can video chat with my kids and play games on the same device.

It’s only been nine years, but I can’t imagine going back.

The Apple I/O death chart →

Nilay Patel and Frank Bi at The Verge:

One of the most strongly-held arguments about Apple removing the headphone jack is that Apple has historically been first to drop a legacy technology, sometimes even before the rest of the industry is ready. Apple’s vertical integration, passionate userbase, and scale (both historically small and now immensely huge) allow it to push big changes in a way that few other companies can pull off. The floppy, SCSI, optical drives, VGA — all killed by Apple years before vanishing from the rest of the industry.

But how long does it really take Apple to kill legacy tech?

This is beautiful work.

The Switch to Intel →

This month in my Apple History column at iMore:

In his keynote address, Jobs addressed the challenges in front of Apple working with the PowerPC roadmap. Apple hadn’t been able to deliver the 3.0 GHz Power Mac G5 the company had promised:

We can envision some great products we want to build for you, but we don’t know how to build them with the future PowerPC roadmap.

(That’s a pretty sick Steve Jobs burn.)

Early 2001: The iMac G3 goes psychedelic 

At Macworld Tokyo 2001, Steve “Business Suit” Jobs showed off what would be the last two new iMac G3 designs: Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power.

Blue Dalmatian

Flower Power

Like Sage and Ruby before them, Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power were used for just one generation of iMac: the Early 2001 models.

According to Jobs, the new cases took 18 months to develop. They weren’t “colors,” but rather patterns molded “right into the plastic.” While some companies may have just used a decal, Apple wanted something special with these machines.

There’s no denying that the designs were a line in the sand. A lot of people liked them, but even today, people poke fun of them, too.

(I think it’s telling Apple returned to more sensible colors for the last set of iMacs, later in 2001.)

Blue Dalmatian features a pattern of white blobs on a blue and green background. It’s a little bit like a cartoon disco ball.

Flower Power is way out there. The pattern of simplistic flower shapes may have been colorful, but it soon picked up nasty nicknames comparing the design to moldy bread left in the refrigerator too long.

Both of these machines were a big departure from the previous colors used, and it feels a bit like Jobs (and Jony Ive, maybe) really wanted them to exist.

All “Early 2001” iMacs came with FireWire and iMovie, but Apple still shipped multiple lines of iMacs within this generation.

Our old friend Indigo sat at the base of the “iMac” line with a 400 MHz G3, a 10 GB hard drive and a $899 price tag.

The $1,199 mid-range Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power machines ran at 500 MHz with 20 GB of storage.

The high-end “iMac SE” (sold in Graphite, Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power) came with a new 600 MHz G3, 40 GB of storage and CD-RW optical drives for burning music. It sold for $1,499.

This was part of Apple’s Rip. Mix. Burn. campaign:

The Early 2001 iMacs were even featured in print and banner ads:

Rip Mix Dalmatian

With the Early 2001 iMacs, Apple didn’t simplify the line up all that much, but I think people were starting to wonder how long the iMac G3 would stick around.

At this point, the PowerMac, PowerBook and Cube were all running with G4 chipsets, leaving just the lower-cost iMac and iBook with the G3. The division made the overall product line a little easier to understand, but some wanted more power out of a consumer machine.

To be fair, Apple was still updating the internals of the iMac at this point. The G3s used in these models was markedly better than before, and the inclusion of CD-RW drives was a big deal. Remember, these machines shipped months before the iPod would be announced.

The G4 was the chip of the future, but the iMac would have one more round in the ring after these extra colorful machines.