What happened to the McIntosh apple?
- 22 January 2014
The Apple Mac has risen spectacularly since its launch 30 years ago. But the apple variety it's named after has gone in the opposite direction, writes Tom de Castella.
It was 30 years ago this week that a bow-tied Steve Jobs plucked a box-shaped object from a bag. Standing on a stage and accompanied by Chariots of Fire synths, he introduced the world to the first Macintosh computer. What happened next has been well documented. Less noticed is the fate of the McIntosh apple. According to Walter Isaacson's biography, Jobs was on a fruitarian diet when he visited a farm and hit upon the name Apple. Later, one of the company's top boffins, Jef Raskin, is thought to have named the computer he was developing after his own favourite apple, the McIntosh. There were still details to work out. The spelling changed to Macintosh to prevent copyright problems, and rights had to be secured for its abbreviated form. The Mac was born.
The apple was named after John McIntosh. A New Yorker farming in Canada at the start of the 19th Century, he discovered apple seedlings that bore a pleasing red fruit and set about cultivating it. The apple's fame grew and by 1960 made up about 40% of the Canadian apple market, according to some estimates. Since then it has been in slow decline. "While still an important apple in Ontario and Canada, it is no longer the category leader," says Thomas O'Neill, manager at the Norfolk Fruit Growers Association in Ontario, Canada. Its numbers are dropping off - from 39% of Canada's market in 1996 to 28% today. It still makes up two-thirds of the New England crop, says Russell Powell, author of America's Apple. But as a whole, the McIntosh accounts for just under 5% of US production, according to Raquel Izquierdo De Santiago at the World Apple & Pear Association. The McIntosh was never grown commercially in the UK but used to be widely sold here, says Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples and Pears Ltd. "Part of the reason it's less popular today is that it's not crisp enough," he says. In an age of good dentistry, apple buyers want a crunch. The other problem is its red colour that lacks the stripy variation of Gala and Braeburn, which between them account for 45% of the UK market.
It's not clear whether Jobs, who died in 2011, worried about the variety's demise. But today the McIntosh sounds ripe for one of his black polo-necked relaunches.