Just about everyone views Apple as the computer industry’s innovative leader. Consumers drool over their products and competitors shake their fists with envy. Even with that said, do we still not truly understand how much they play a role in jump-starting technology trends?
It’s mind-boggling how many bold moves Apple has made over the past 25 years to keep the Mac at the forefront of the personal computer market. Even with their small (but recently growing) market share, Apple is arguably the most influential player in technology. Whereas other companies are often afraid of moving forward due to investment risks and backwards compatibility concerns, Apple never slows down and is constantly adopting new technologies. They’re usually met with skepticism at first, but a few years later everyone is following in their footsteps.
To illustrate this point, I thought it would be a fun idea to go through some of the new features Apple has introduced over the years which have now become industry standards. Take a look at this list and consider where we might be today if Apple had never brought these big changes to mainstream computer buyers.
1. Graphical User Interface
No, Steve Jobs and the team at Apple weren’t the first to create a graphical user interface (GUI) for a computer. It was Xerox who had been experimenting with it for quite some time, but were struggling to make a consumer product out of it. Once Apple stepped in and took their own stab at it, the modern computer desktop with icons and windows was born with the original Macintosh in 1984.
2. Introducing the mouse
Since the Macintosh was not text-based like other computers at the time, the keyboard needed a partner. With a revolutionary pointing device called a mouse, users could point and click on elements on their screen. We may take it for granted now, but it was kind of a big deal at the time.
3. Touchpads go portable
Just like the mouse in 1984, Apple also brought the industry’s other main pointing device to the masses with the PowerBook 500 series in 1994. Before trackpads, bulky trackballs were used in laptops. Touch-sensitive trackpads are still in use today and Apple continues to innovate in this space with the glass Multi-Touch trackpads included on their new unibody MacBooks.
4. USB as the standard
Replacing the massive serial ports of the past, the original iMac in 1998 was the first computer to include USB ports as the standard connector for peripherals like keyboards, mice, printers, etc. Nowadays USB is used for even more purposes, including digital cameras, scanners, iPods, and storage devices among others.
5. Bye-bye floppy
In 1998, it was inconceivable to sell a mainstream computer with no 3.5″ floppy disk drive. And yet, in the name of progress that is exactly what Apple did with the original iMac. Correctly predicting the future would favor higher-capacity CDs/DVDs and the internet, they were way ahead of the rest of the industry with their decision to dump the floppy drive. Sound familiar to the controversial MacBook Air sans optical drive? Sure does.
6. A decade of FireWire
FireWire, a faster and arguably better alternative to USB created by Apple, was first made available in 1999 with the Power Mac G3. FireWire is a major contribution to the tech world, having seen widespread use in the video editing and data storage industries for both Macs and PCs. Still, the stronger push given to USB has made it far more popular with consumers.
7. Look mom, no wires!
As if the trackpad wasn’t enough to boast about, Apple’s portables were also the first to be sold with integrated wireless networking capabilities. Specifically, it was the iBook G3 in 1999 that essentially brought WiFi to the world. With an amusing Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller keynote demonstration, internet to go became a reality.
8. Mega-fast gigabit ethernet
With the introduction of the Power Mac G4 in 2000, Apple became the first company to offer gigabit ethernet as a standard feature on their computers. Shockingly, many of Apple’s competitors still don’t use the fast network interface card as the standard on their products — nine years later.
9. CRT kicked to the curb
While LCD screens have mostly been the norm for the past five years or so, those old clunky CRT monitors are still floating around. Not at Apple headquarters, though. The Mac-maker was the first computer company to completely drop CRTs from their product lineup in 2006 — a plus for both the environment and our desks.
10. DisplayPort for the future
With the unveiling of Apple’s updated notebooks in October 2008, it was announced that the license-free DisplayPort would soon be used as the standard video-out connector on all new Macs. That means VGA and DVI are gone for good. Old monitors will still work with the help of video adapters, but Apple’s again looking towards the future here. This is still a touchy subject for some people (as was most of this list at some point) and it remains to be seen whether it will really take off as expected. Other companies (Intel, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, NVIDIA, etc.) have already expressed commitment to the standard, however, and given Apple’s track record I wouldn’t bet against their choice to adopt it first.