NeXT is the reason why you have your iPhone.
01 Sep 2011 Charles Choi
One of the things that I always marvel at in computing is how strong an idea can persist and if the idea is good enough, will find its moment in the Sun.
Back in late 80's, Steve Jobs with a superbly talented team of hardware and software engineers set out to make a computer that would offer a “new kind of computing and software development environment.” That computer would be called NeXT.
NeXT made a point to market themselves to the higher education market and in late-1988 they started making rounds to colleges to pitch their yet-to-ship computer. At that time, I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia and as such got to attend an on-campus presentation of the first NeXT computer. It was gorgeous in all its greyscale beauty. It was also crazy expensive, with the base model listing at $6,500 with no hard drive. While the technology and pricing were competitive with the workstations of its time, NeXT was really priced in the realm of institutional purchasing and not for individuals.
At the presentation there was of course product information, which I took, studied, and then shelved away. The years passed, and through circumstances well documented elsewhere, the operating system built for the NeXT computer would become the basis for OS X and then iOS: the OS driving Macs, iPhones, and iPads today. But it's not only a software story. NeXT and all the other workstation manufacturers of its time (Sun, SGI, Apollo, etc.,…) were really pushing what could be achieved with microprocessor-based computers, shoe-horning in architectural concepts from mainframe and mini-computers to improve performance wherever possible within the economics of the early 1990's.
With Moore's law, scaling has yielded system-on-chip (SoC) devices inheriting from workstation hardware architectures and system software, enabling the nascent ubiquitous computing world we see today.
Back to that product information from 1988, I still have them on my bookshelf. With the recent announcement of Steve Jobs' resignation, it seems as good a time as any to share them with you. They are a fun read: it's marvelous to see how coherent the vision of that talented team building NeXT has held out over the years.