December 2, 2011
5 Apple Products That Revolutionized Modern Technology
The last 30 or so years have utterly changed the landscape of computing. While it was a forgone conclusion that computers and technology in general would get smaller, key products along the way almost single-handedly ushered in new ways of doing things. At the very least they set a higher precedent that seemed impossible in the years before it.
Products like the first electronic digital watch (Hamilton’s Pulsar prototype, 1970) to the first wireless remote control (Zenith Space Command, 1956) to the first handheld LED calculator (HP-35, 1972) have brought in new, compact designs of common items and have since created generations of people that simply don’t know what it’s like not to have these things.
In the process they have changed the way we do things; the way we create, problem solve and in many respects, live.
Apple had several hits in this timespan. Here are five products that came from Apple that changed the way we do things today.
Desktop publishing wouldn’t exist – or at least, would be years and years behind had it not been for the LaserWriter. On the shoulders of changes in how type is used on computers by both professional designers and home publishers, Apple introduced the LaserWriter printer in 1985. The LaserWriter was not the first laser printer (three had come before it), but it was the first available for the Macintosh.
What made the LaserWriter a true innovation was it’s use of Adobe’s PostScript interpreter, a language that controls page description for the computer. PostScript in the LaserWriter defined fonts as an outline, which let John Q. Public now have almost complete creative control over rotation, size, position and fonts on the page. It could tackle complex pages unlike any other mass market competitor, letting the publisher lay out pages with bitmap & vector images and outline fonts… all at high resolution. The LaserWriter also touted 8 pages a minutes (egads, how speedy!) and printed at 300dpi, and set a standard in industrial design with it’s small, sleek form-fitting case.
After a while, the competition began using PostScript and Apple’s lead in the printer business was minimized to the point they stopped making printers altogether in 1999.
Nonetheless, the era of Desktop Publishing ushered in by Apple with this single device had arrived.
PowerBook 100 (1991)
Design innovations brought about by the PowerBook 100 are industry-standards we accept today. Prior to this single laptop, notebook computers were heavy, clunky things reserved for computer geeks (geeks who would have to work out and stay beefy in order to carry them around).
The PowerBook 100 brought us one single thing that’s just the way things are now: It moved the keyboard up under the screen. In the space where the keyboard used to be (at the front edge of the machine) they put a trackball, and later trackpad. Within months, most other laptops boasted this same layout.
Nowadays, we simply accept this as the way it is. Uniformly, across the board, this is how a laptop should be built.
PowerBook 500 (1994)
This machine heralded a lot of changes that are now in common use industry-wide. The PowerBook 500 had the first touch pad (in that space now available in front of the keyboard, thanks PowerBook 100), the first expansion bay, the first stereo speakers on a laptop, the first smart battery that communicated it’s charge status to the operating system itself. And, just for the eyes the first curved case.
This machine single handedly set the trend for a decade of laptop design and set the technology bar for laptops forever.
Despite bringing in many years of trendy, curvy laptop cases, Apple would later go back to the early days of laptop looks. Notebooks from Apple in the early 21st Century had gone back to the squared style of yore.
Mobile music had existed long before the first iPod sold. Digital music had been available for three years before it (Diamond Rio 300, from 1998), but the iPod made mobile music ubiquitous. Granted it took a while to catch on, a problem which Apple tried to solve by also marketing the iPod as a portable hard drive. Along came the Shuffle, the Mini (now Nano) and Touch.
The iPod made it popular to take your music with you. It created the soundtrack for your day (to the detriment of a little human interaction, however). Other companies have tried to dent it’s success, and have only achieved status as second-rate devices – even as their quality and functionality is not in doubt. For most people, there is simply the iPod and No iPod.
Ironically, trends toward touch screen devices have prompted some to speculate the iPod Classic (as it’s now called) is on the brink of extinction.
It isn’t up for argument that Apple was the first to produce a touchscreen handheld device (they weren’t), but the original iPhone in 2007 changed the way we use smartphones today – some have said it made smartphones smart. The iPhone was derided by critics for only having one button (most cell phones until then had more buttons than a late-model Countach had vents). The original iPhone put emphasis on software that runs the device, not the hardware it’s on. Following the success of the iPhone, other big players entered the market, with both popular handsets and operating systems.
It may not have been the first, but few can argue it was the game changer that brought us what we take for granted today.