TWENTY years ago, in August 1998, Apple’s visionary CEO Steve Jobs stood on a stage and publicly launched the company’s new consumer product, the iMac G3.

“‘iMac’,” he explained to his audience, “comes from the marriage of the excitement of the internet with the simplicity of Macintosh.” Customers, he added, wanted just one thing – to get on the internet, simply and fast, and this was just the tool for them, able to be connected to the internet in a matter of moments.

Jobs had returned to Apple only the previous year after being ousted in 1985. Now he was enthusing about the sleek new computer’s translucent Bondi blue housing, which reflected Apple’s trademark design philosophy. It was very much the baby of Jobs and of his chief designer, Jony Ive.

“They look so good, you kinda wanna lick 'em,” Jobs declared in a later interview, in front of a range of iMacs with different hues of translucent design.

So the ‘i’ in iMac stood for Internet – but it also, according to a message that was flashed up on a screen behind Jobs, stood for "individual", "instruct", "inform" and "inspire".

The iMac was an astonishing success, to the point where it was said that a third of its sales were to people who had never previously bought a computer.

In the months and years ahead, the world would grow highly accustomed not just to that little ‘i’ but also to a range of innovative – and highly desirable – new Apple consumer products: the iPod (launched in 2001), the iPhone (2007) and the iPad (2010). iTunes, its online music library, was launched not long after the first iPod.

Together, they made Apple’s fortune. They helped bring in an era of personal computers and transformed the way we communicate, listen to music and watch films in the digital age. Entire industries have been changed, too.

Jobs died in 2011, aged 56, of pancreatic cancer, and every obituary spoke of his creative genius and his determination to give his customers new experiences.

Apple’s record of innovation and popularity has continued apace. Recently it became the world’s first $1 trillion dollar public company. Last year alone it sold in excess of 216 million iPhones, with revenue of $141 billion – though these figures were down from 231 million and $155 billion in 2015.

The iPod, launched by Jobs in late 2001, wasn’t the first digital music player but it was a class apart: it was easy to use, it looked distinctive (that gleaming white housing, that circular scroll-wheel) and, in the earliest versions, it could hold up to 1,000 songs. So now you could listen to your favourite music while on the move, having downloaded it from a computer.

It wouldn’t be until 2004 that iPod sales really took off.

New, updated iPod models followed, becoming more sophisticated and capable of holding greater number of songs. In April 2007, the 100 millionth iPod was sold, making it the fastest-selling music player ever. Jobs said at that time the device had helped millions of people to rekindle their passion for music. The musician John Mayer said that “without the iPod, the digital music age would have been defined by files and folders instead of songs and albums”. By 2010, the iPod had sold 250 million units.

In 2007 came the iPhone, which reinvented the phone. Not only could you make calls on it; you could listen to music, browse the internet, write emails on a touch keyboard, take pictures with its two-megapixel camera. Jobs boasted that it was “literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone”.

The iPhone, one noted tech writer said this month, “arguably created the internet-connected, portable computing age we live in now”.

There is no getting away from the huge impact of the iPhone. Time magazine wrote last summer that the phone had upended the personal-computer market, telecom companies, the movie and TV business, the gaming industry and the health industry – that last one, Time added, because the iPhone can be used to “monitor various health metrics and access detailed health information, connecting with health professionals and even receiving health advice virtually anytime and anywhere”.

The magazine went on: “Looking back over the last 10 years, the hype before the launch of the iPhone if anything underestimated its impact on global industries and individuals. And with Apple on track to define and grow emerging technologies like augmented reality in mobile, Cupertino [Apple’s base] seems poised to make the iPhone even more important to our digital lifestyles, transforming industries in ways we have yet to imagine.”

It has been estimated that 1.2 billion iPhones have been sold since 2007. Apple has launched many new models of the phone, and last November saw the iPhone X, which retailed at £999 for 64GB of storage, and boasted an all-new 5.8-inch Super Retina screen and facial recognition.

It was, said one influential reviewer, “without a doubt the best iPhone Apple has ever made, and it represents a much-needed leap forward in design for the company”. Despite its hefty price, it was the world’s bestselling smartphone in the first quarter of 2018.

Apple’s iPad, which saw the light of day in April 2010, was described by Jobs as a “truly magical and revolutionary product”. It was a slender tablet computer that allowed you to browse the web and check emails on a large screen while on the move. You could take photographs with it, listen to music on it. The iTunes store, with albums, films, TV shows and podcasts was built into the device. Apple had, once again, seemingly thought of everything.

“It’s so much more intimate than a laptop and it’s so much more capable than a smartphone with this gorgeous, large display,” said Jobs as he prepared to take the iPad through its paces.

Like the other devices, the iPad has been improved by the introduction of successive new models. More than 350 million units have been sold.