In 1985, computers were expensive, complicated and hard to use. But Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, had a vision for what personal computers could be.
"We're just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people—as remarkable as the telephone," Jobs told Playboy in February of 1985.
In particular, Jobs saw one design element as key to making computers consumer-friendly: the mouse.
1967 patent sketch by Douglas Engelbart courtesy of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
In the mid-1980s, the idea of using a computer mouse to click around — instead of typing text commands — was still nascent.
The mouse was first patented by Douglas Engelbart in 1967, and was described as an "X-Y position indicator for a display system." It was then further developed at Xerox PARC, which stands for Palo Alto Research Center.
Jobs first encountered the mouse there in 1979, when Xerox allowed him and his team from Apple to look at the new technologies being developed in exchange for giving Xerox the chance to buy 100,000 shares of Apple at $10 apiece, Walter Isaacson writes in "Steve Jobs." (Apple went public the following year with a split-adjusted IPO price of $2.75 per share, according to Fortune.)
The mouse was part of Xerox's work to create a more intuitive graphical user interface for computers, so users could click, point and scrolling through visual elements onscreen like drop down menus, tabs and icons.
Jobs was intrigued by the graphics technology at Xerox, and the mouse. But he wanted the gadget to be more efficient.
"The Xerox mouse had three buttons, was complicated, cost $300 apiece, and didn't roll around smoothly," Isaacson writes in the biography. "A few days after his second Xerox PARC visit, Jobs went to a local industrial design firm, IDEO, and told one of its founders, Dean Hovey, that he wanted a simple single button model that cost $15."
And in line with his famous attention to user experience and detail, Jobs wanted to be able to use it on any surface — "...on Formica and my blue jeans," Jobs demanded, according to Isaacson.
In 1983, Apple released the Lisa computer. It was the first commercial computer with a graphical user interface and a mouse, Wired reports, and it took $150 million to develop. It sold for $10,000 a piece — over $25,000 today with inflation.
It was so revolutionary in the world of personal computing that The New York Times reported on it.
"Instead of typing instructions, one points to pictures on the screen by sliding a handheld device called a mouse along the top of the desk next to the computer," an article about the Lisa computer explained in 1983. "As the mouse moves, the cursor — the arrow that points to particular places on the screen — moves accordingly."
While the Lisa did not sell well, Apple next released the Macintosh on January 24, 1984, which cost $2,500. (That's about $6,122 in today's dollars.) It fared better, and its popularity was a milestone for the mouse.
"The only computer with a mouse that was commercially successful [at that time] was the Macintosh," Henry Lowood, a curator for History & Science Technology Collections at Stanford University, tells CNBC Make It. "It wasn't something that was immediately successful as a technology. It took a while for it to be developed."
In the Playboy interview, Jobs gave a simple explanation for why the mouse would improve computers.
"If I want to tell you there is a spot on your shirt, I'm not going to do it linguistically: 'There's a spot on your shirt 14 centimeters down from the collar and three centimeters to the left of your button.'" Jobs told Playboy. "If you have a spot—'There!' [he points]—I'll point to it. Pointing is a metaphor we all know.
"It's much faster to do all kinds of functions, such as cutting and pasting, with a mouse, so it's not only easier to use but more efficient."
And, it worked. In a 1985 review of the Macintosh, Consumer Reports wrote: "The combination of mouse, pull-down menus, windows and icons is more than a dazzling display of technical wizardry."
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