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Digital Culture

Happy 40th from Germany, Apple!

The idea was born on April 1, 1976 - and it certainly wasn't a joke. Apple has since become one of the world's most successful tech firms. We say happy birthday, Apple - with mixed feelings.

By the time you turn 40, you've got things pretty much figured out. After a few regrettable perms or tattoo removals, you've finally found your personal style and have accepted your flaws. You've figured out how not to spend everything you earn and can afford to have some of those things you've been saving up for. At 40, you've collected quite a bit of life experience.

Or at least, you're supposed to.

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Apple Computers turns 40 on April 1. Founded by three nerds in a California garage, Apple has gone on to become much more than a computer or smartphone brand - it is about history, design, and lifestyle - one that is now easily recognized around the globe.

40 years ago: Apple founders Steve Wozniak (left) and Steve Jobs; Ronald Wayne is not pictured Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/Apple

40 years ago: Apple founders Steve Wozniak (left) and Steve Jobs; Ronald Wayne is not pictured

The prototype conceived in that garage back in 1976 became the most successful personal computer of the 1970s. It had a look and feel that set it apart from the competition while making it a household fixture - initially at least.

The company lost touch with its vision during the 1980s, especially after legendary co-founder Steve Jobs left Apple to become CEO of Pixar. But developers kept rising to the challenge of getting all that technology into a small pretty package, resulting in Jobs' return to the company in 1997, which brought us the iMac (1998), the iBook (1999), the iPod (2001), the iPhone (2007) and everything in between.

At 40, Apple has reached its pinnacle in brand recognition. It's one of the wealthiest companies in the world and continues to set standards in the tech industry.

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Without the iPod and iPhone, Apple would not be what it is today. It was these hand-held devices that ultimately helped Steve Jobs rejuvenate the company after its period of draught. He not only made Apple products attractive to non-nerds - he made them indispensible to musicians, designers, architects, photographers and the "in-crowd" in general despite the fact that they were much more expensive than their Windows counterparts.

Music had been portable for years, with Walkman and Discmans defining the sound of Generation X. But just as it was starting to also become fully digital, Apple came around the bend in 2001 with that tiny little box: the iPod. Silhouettes of slim young people dancing to electrifying music and wearing small white earphones were all over billboards and TV.

Wanna be cool and cutting edge? Then get yourself an iPod. Apple had singlehandedly won over the next generation. And just six years later, the company hit replay, launching the iPhone with similar success. The smartphone era was born, courtesy of Apple.

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Zenith at 40?

Even after Steve Jobs' death in 2011, Apple managed to buoy excitement, celebrating updates to its products and new releases in their regular Keynote presentations, which have become legendary. These media events, which are by invitation only on site but also streamed all around the world, gave Silicon Valley a sexy face - one that gave rise to the "Big, Bang Theory" generation of science nerds: smart, attractive, funny and definitely hip.

And speaking of TV shows, it goes without saying that Apple had also managed to place its products in all the important American TV series and films, like Netflix series "House of Cards," where Frank Underwood flashes his iBook in every other scene and Claire Underwood constantly holds her coverless white iPhone ever-so-gracefully up to her ear.

Apple iMac Computer, Copyright: Imago/UPI Photo

Computers got a color boost in the late 90s with the iMac

Even non-sponsored advertising seems to work for the hottest computer brand in the world: The sheer amount of post-it notes used to hide the Apple logo from the back of laptop screens in television shows only served to make their products even more coveted.

But there's more than just marketing; Above all, Apple's cult objects convince potential buyers with their simplicity. You can create art, edit pictures, record music, and produce movies all in one little box, giving rise to Apple's unofficial motto, repeated the world over: "It just works."

Nevertheless, we're starting to get the creeping feeling that the end might be near. Sure, the Keynotes are still entertaining, with or without a huge new hype presented as the latest gimmick (like last year's Apple Watch). But not much more seems to be in sight. What is left for Apple to reinvent that hasn't already been reinvented? Rumors of Apple patents being filed for car technology or a bendable screen are all good and well, but where are the tangible products?

An apple a day?

Apple CEO Tim Cook announcing the Apple Watch in 2014, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Davey

Apple could use an even bigger boost than the Watch

To mark its 40th birthday, Apple is casting a more modest set of products into the ring, which seems to indicate that this innovative giant may have already moved past its best years. The new iPhones are shrinking, upgrades on iPads are barely notable and its desktop power machine, the Mac Pro, continues to come with a price tag that approximates that of a small (used) car. Not to mention: Apple sales have been falling.

But it's also entirely possible that Apple has closely been observing oversaturation in the tech market in recent years, waiting just for the right moment to reveal the next paradigm shift in computing. The competition has done its best to catch up and to keep up - and the only way to stay on top is presenting a real highlight. So perhaps Apple does have something up its sleeve after all.

Perhaps that ace will be reserved for the company's 41st birthday. If nothing else, at least Apple will have a new house to celebrate in. Its days at 1 Infinite Loop are finite and it will be moving into its new spaceship-like campus just in time for the big 41st birthday bash.

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