If someone tells you the NeXT computer was “Steve Jobs’ biggest failure,” consider that person uninformed (or a purveyor of clickbait). After all, if you’re reading this blog post on an Apple device, you’re benefiting from Jobs’ NeXT-level thinking.
Like so much about the icon, Jobs’ 1985 acrimonious departure from Apple is the stuff of legend. And while the NeXT computer—introduced Oct. 12, 1988—ultimately resulted in only about 50,000 units sold, it also provided Jobs with a sandbox to create the company Apple is today. (The NeXT introduction presentation certainly looks familiar, even without the turtleneck.) Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web on a NeXT; John Carmack created the original Doom on a NeXT.
What set the NeXT computer apart
Designed for higher ed and enterprise use, the NeXT featured built-in email and ethernet capabilities, as well as a removable 256 MB magneto-optical disk. Users could pop out their disk and insert it into any NeXT machine.
Jobs also showed his design sensibilities with the NeXT, insisting the computer be a perfect 12-inch cube, even though that made production complicated and expensive. The never-seen computer insides were matte black. Designer Paul Rand—an icon himself—designed the NeXT identity for the sum of $100,000 and purportedly won an argument with Jobs over the shade of yellow used in the boxy NeXT logo. (Watch Rand introduce the NeXT logo to Jobs.)
With a price of $6,500, the NeXT had few takers, and Jobs transitioned the company’s focus from hardware to software. Apple kept watch, and in 1996, acquired NeXT Software—and Jobs’ visionary talents—in a $400 million deal. The NeXTSTEP software is the basis for today’s Mac OS.
Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.