6 Things Apple Did Not Invent

Apple receives — and deserves — a lot of respect. They’re absolutely incredible innovators… But were they really the first to envision, manufacture, or sell many of the tech products we take for granted today?

An Apple-loathing friend told me over the weekend that my favorite tech company “ripped off” loads of other tech companies with all of their most popular products. He said they weren’t really the “first” to market with much of anything. I was riled, and certain he was wrong. So I did some digging. Much to my surprise… it turns out, he was right.

That’s not to say that Apple doesn’t deserve its accolades. Where Apple’s many competitors preoccupy themselves with function, Apple is equally concerned with form. Other companies have never put much emphasis on the user experience, Apple’s approach to everything it does is to design software and hardware with the user in mind. The competition may have gotten there first in many cases, but Apple refined and perfected the entire product class.

There’s a reason every tech company in the world follows Apple’s lead, rushing new products to market to compete with Apple’s latest and greatest products. But as my friend pointed out… We shouldn’t assign more credit to Cupertino than they deserve.

Personal Computers

Micral N

Who was first: Depending on who you talk to and who you believe, there are several claims to the throne of the “first personal computer.” There were “microcomputers,” BASIC computers, even computers that came in kits that you had to assemble yourself. My research indicates that the Micral N, from French company R2E was the earliest commercial, non-kit PC to be based on a microprocessor. It was used in niche markets for “process control,” but was never intended for public use.

Apple II

What Apple did: Most historians seem to agree that the Apple II was the first truly successful personal computer to be mass produced, though some will argue that the Commodore PET, which preceded the Apple II by five months. Sales figures are hard to come by for the Commodore PET, but they don’t appear to be anywhere close to the Apple II’s cumulative sales, which topped out at six million before it was discontinued in 1993.

Portable Digital Music Players

Audio Highway's "Listen Up"

Who was first: A company called Audio Highway was the first to manufacture a portable digital music player. Dubbed the “Listen Up” player, it hit the market in September of 1997, but Audio Highway never mass produced them, making only 25 units. The first digital music player to be mass produced was the “MPMan” player by South Korean company Saehan Information Systems. It became available in April 1998, but it could only hold about six songs. Several other companies subsequently introduced digital music devices, including Diamond, Compaq, Creative, and more. Apple’s first-generation iPod didn’t come along until 2001.

iPod

What Apple did: Apple created a product that was significantly smaller and sleeker than its competitors, with a minimalistic user interface that encapsulated the company’s design philosophy for the next decade and beyond. The “click wheel,” in true Apple fashion, made navigating one’s music collection easy and even fun. (It could be argued that the click wheel was a precursor to the modern touchscreen interface.) Once iTunes came along, Apple became the first company to have an integrated ecosystem for both purchasing digital media and then easily transferring that media to a dedicated device. The iPod became such an enormous success that its name is now synonymous with an entire product class.

Online Music/Media Store

Ritmoteca.com

Who was first: It’s easy to assume that iTunes was the first online music store because it was such an enormous success. But the first true online music store was Ritmoteca.com, which debuted in 1998. Although it initially specialized primarily in Latin music, it eventually grew to encompass a much larger library of music, with a catalog of more than 300,000 songs. Ritmoteca.com lays claim to a number of firsts — all of which Apple would later use in iTunes. Among them: it organized songs by album; it sold individual songs for $.99 and full albums for $9.99; it offered 30-second preview clips; it allowed customers to download songs and burn them onto a CD; and it was the first to sign distribution deals with major music distributors like BMG, Sony, Universal, and Warner. It’s also remembered for being the first online store to utilize a GUI (graphical user interface) for browsing and purchasing digital media files. Sadly, Ritmoteca.com was hit hard by the dotcom bubble crash and the rise of Napster. It closed in 2005.

iTunes Store

What Apple did: As with most of its products, Apple may not have been the first to market with its digital media store, but Apple was the first one to get it right. After Ritmoteca.com, all of the major music publishers attempted to create their own digital media stores, but every one ended in disaster — mostly due to DRM issues and outrageously high prices (Sony famously priced singles on its store at a whopping $3.50 per song!). And then came Napster. We all know what happened next: the music biz panicked in the face of “file-sharing” downloads that went around them and cost nothing, Napster was sued out the wazoo and forced to shut down, and music lovers were left without a reliable source of music downloads. Until iTunes came along. Initially it was available only to Mac users, but Apple wisely opened it to Windows users as well just five months after launch, and the rest is history. Steve Jobs told the world in one of his signature keynote moments that it turns out that most people really do want to pay for and download songs legally — they’d just been waiting on someone to make it possible. As he often did, Jobs saw the future before anyone else did, and seized the moment. Apple became the world’s leading music vendor in 2010, iTunes changed the entire music industry forever, and the success of the powerhouse combo of iPod and iTunes transformed “Apple Computers” into “Apple, Inc.”

Smartphones

IBM Simon

Who was first: The word “smartphone” was coined in 1997 to describe a concept phone by Ericsson called the GS88, but the first true smartphone came four years earlier. IBM’s Simon, released in 1993, was the world’s first real smartphone, running not only mobile phone technology but also an address book, calendar, calculator, email client, fax, games, note pad, and world clock. Remarkably, it also featured a touchscreen, albeit a primitive one by today’s standards.

iPhone

What Apple did: After Simon, other companies like Palm, Nokia, and RIM got into the smartphone game. In 2007, the first iPhone debuted, and it rocked the world with its huge touchscreen, sexy steel-and-glass design, and all-in-one features (it also incorporated the ability to listen to music, watch videos, etc.). It was the first smartphone to use a multi-touch display, bringing loads of innovations along with it that still influence handheld devices of all kinds. When the App Store arrived a year later, it marked the first time that apps could be purchased from and installed directly onto a handheld device without the need to sync with a computer. Android devices hit the market about a year after the iPhone, and instantly the two smartphones became the leading contenders for the smartphone throne — and bitter rivals. (The debate rages on about whether Android or iOS came first; it’s difficult to say because their earliest “drawing board” origins date back to around the same time in 2003.) But the iPhone’s arrival was the magic moment that Apple had been waiting for since its birth, a convergence of everything that makes Apple stand out — its design philosophy, its innovation, Jobs’ uncanny knack for predicting the future, and more — in a single device. It inspired fan devotion on levels that Apple had long desired but never been able to achieve. Put simply, the iPhone was the first consumer gadget outside of a video game console to cause wrap-around-the-block lines of customers to wait hours or even days on end because they were so eager to get their hands on it.

Touchscreens

G. Samuel Hurst, inventor of the touchscreen

Who was first: Touch-sensitive screens have become a fairly common part of our everyday lives. Apple certainly deserves its share of the credit for leveraging them as a feasible user interface, but would you believe the first touchscreen was created all the way back in 1965. An inventor named G. Samuel Hurst created the first touchscreen and published his work in 1967. It was never manufactured for consumers. The first touchscreen consumer device worth mentioning was the Nintendo DS game console in 2004. But even that device’s screen was rather old-school, as it could only sense a single point of contact. Multitouch arrived early in the 21st Centur in the form of table-sized devices like Microsoft’s Surface.

John Elias and Wayne Westerman, founders of Fingerworks

What Apple did: One of the great modern pioneers of multitouch technologies was a company named Fingerworks, founded in 1998. They manufactured multitouch input devices like keyboards and “gesture pads.” Probably sensing the potential in blending multitouch technology and display screens, Steve Jobs had Apple purchase Fingerworks in 2005. The first product to come out of this innovation was the original iPhone. Apple has gone on to make multitouch displays a cornerstone of its “post-PC” devices. By the way… Seven years after that acquisition, the two men who founded Fingerworks are still senior engineers at Apple.

Tablet Computers

Microsoft Tablet PC

Who was first: Apple’s old rival, Microsoft, was the first company to mass produce a tablet computer, with its Microsoft Tablet PC back in 2002. This new class of product ran a specialized version of Windows XP, sometimes converted between a laptop and a tablet with a swiveling screen, and always came with a stylus. Try as they might to lead the tablet revolution, Microsoft’s tablets never caught on outside of niche markets like hospital workers or designers.

iPad

What Apple did: Apple learned a lot from Microsoft’s mistakes, and basically succeeded in every area where Microsoft failed. The Windows devices were focused mainly on content creation, where the iPad is largely dedicated to content consumption. Apple ditched the stylus, doggedly in favor of finger input (though styluses can be purchased from third-party vendors). These two factors put the focus on intuitive human interaction; manipulating virtual objects on Apple’s touchscreen was just like interacting with objects in real life. This simplicity, elegance, and ease-of-use (Apple doesn’t ship the iPad with a user manual, because “you already know how to use it”) made for a far more appealing device. Sweetening the deal was the iPad’s price; it started at just $499, a drastically lower price point than Microsoft’s expensive tablets. In the end, using an iPad literally felt like playing with technology from the future. Microsoft’s tablets may have been decent tools, but Apple’s were more like cool toys. But that was only the beginning. In the last year or so, the public has embraced the iPads as a real productivity device, implementing them in offices, hospitals, schools, and much more.

About Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

Comments

  1. Saskatchewan_Poodle says:

    “But were they really the first to envision, manufacture, or sell many of the tech products we take for granted today?”
    I don’t think it’s commonly held that Apple _was_ the first. I’m afraid you must’ve been under the influence of the Reality Distortion Field. :)

    • So… you’re an Apple hater, then? ;)

      • No, he isn’t.

        Apple wasn’t the first to manufacture.
        But Apple was the first to produce good products, and to make a commercial success.

        • And just as Apple took one innovation and improved on it so did Samsung. And in a hypocritical fit of rage Apple sued Samsung for patent infringement, and due to the overwhelmingly biased environment, won a case that shouldn’t have even been determined by a jury

  2. Kiljoy616 says:

    Inventing is over rated and up there with Elephant hunting and victorian area. What matter is can you make a product people want and understand and Apple is good at that. Considering the guy who invented the Color TV died broke. Or Tesla which we tend to read and know as well as some of the incredible things he invented was basically destetute by the time he died. Inventing is fine if you can make money from it, but useless if its just to have a patent no one cares about.

  3. immovableobject says:

    Great article!

    Apple is proof that being the first to employ a new technology is not as important to success as being the first to do it right. Apple controls the whole widget which means that its products integrate numerous cutting edge technologies so that the whole is greater that the sum of its parts. Apple sells a complete user experience and not just not collection of specs and bullet points.

  4. You know, the Wright Brothers didn’t invent flight, either. There were lots of others. Balloons. Lighter than air craft. Many attempts were made.

    Innovations are dreamed of first by a whole culture. Various people make attempts. The Wright Brothers made huge contributions, and were most likely the first to take flight in a heaver-than-air craft. And of course, we now all fly on the Wright Airlines– oh, no, we don’t.

    Apple’s got a long history of making something that is the first to come close to the initial idea of a personal computer, or a music player, or a GUI, or a touchscreen smartphone. They’re rewarded by commercial success.

    I say the Apple haters are a lot like people who insist that flight was invented by the Soviet Union, or Britain or France, not by the ugly Americans. What they mean is, “we thought of it first.” Yes, and then brought out a truly ugly phone like the one in the picture.

  5. Abraham says:

    Great article! :)

  6. I don’t think Apple has claimed to be first to market with any of these, except the personal computer.

  7. Joe Cassara says:

    Im a diehard Commodore aficionado, and I’ll be first in line to tell you it was the Tandy TRS-80 that “primed the pump” for the personal computer revolution in the united states. The Commore PET/CBM line (the entire series) , while a distant third in the US, reigned in the UK for business.

    Arguably, the most successful pre IBM PC personal computer, in terms of sales and number of households it introduced to the world of personal computing, is the Commodore 64. It outsold in its lifetime every Apple II model by an order of magnitude.

    Sales information is available at my website.

    • But the Commodore 64 debuted 6 months after the IBM PC so it wasn’t pre-IBM PC. I was in to computers in those days an the Apple II ruled.

  8. WaterLily says:

    Apple never claimed to invent – rather they innovated.
    Enough said.

  9. WaterLily says:

    Innovation is similar to design… you gather, find and allow things around you to inspire that concept into reality; building on many parts – piecing together influences and advancements that occur from New Technologies – borrowed at key moments in time and used in harmony within that special idea – to become realized and alive. And ultimately mass-produced and commercial for the public.
    That is innovating. Invent is a rather different process.

  10. A good read!

  11. I am sure that Fujitsu mass produced a tablet before microsoft did back in the 486 days as i had one and one of its replacement pentium models . it had a screen which responded to my finger (and the pentium one didnt oddly!) and the supplied stylus, came with changable batteries and a customised version of windows!
    http://pencomputing.com/features/fujitsus.html
    What has made the ipad a much better tablet is the advancement of technology to make a smaller faster tablet with a better screen! Apple just seem to know when the technology is at the right level to bring out a pretty good product which has a good consumer user experience.

  12. WaterLily says:

    Mass market?
    The Apple Newton was a hand held, touch screen computer portable post pc – far before the PC Tablets. And I believe Apple sold enough Newtons to suggest it was mass marketed.

  13. WaterLily says:

    @ Robin Parrish,

    Apple uses Multi-touch – not the basic single touch or pen press. Apple never claimed to have invented that and nor did Apple claim they invented the screens or the touch input.

    Apple patented the gestural inputs for the UI in accordance to the device they had developed and the new OS which ran it. Patents cover the gestures which came from FingerWorks who Apple bought out before the iPhone came alive. The Screen technology for Muti-Touch just so happened to become a breakthrough around the same the time iPhone OS was finished.

    Apple innovated these key processes and produced the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad from which adopted many other key technologies that Apple never invented also.

    • I never meant to suggest that Apple invented these things or not… The point of the article was that these things are commonly attributed to Apple because they’ve had so much success with them.

    • Craig Mason says:

      Actually Apple did claim to invent multi-touch. When presenting the iPhone in 2007 Steve Jobs said “”We have invented a new technology called ‘multi-touch’ which is phenomenal. It works like magic.” “Boy, have we patented it!”

      This is the issue. Most will agree Apple is exceptional at implementing technology better than anyone else. But they are patenting ideas and concepts that have been well developed by others (multi-touch, slide-to-unlock etc) and then aggressively trying to enforce those patents. They do indeed claim to invent things that they have no real right to. Also the patent system is broken and Apple is capitalizing on that with their vast financial resources.

  14. I believe Apple re-invented all of these.

  15. It just goes to show that with the right leader and teams in place, with imagination, tenacity, hard work and being visionary, that Apple figured out a way to make all of these things the right way, make them unique, desirable, something that people wanted and things that “just worked”. LOL

  16. The newton wasn’t a tablet computer but an organizer designed to compete with the psion one, but they chose to use a phrase which was coined later for all similar devices, PDA personal digital assistant, so not even claiming to be a computer more of a digital calender and note taker. so as far as i can see it cant be cited as the first tablet computer, i cant so far see any one older than about a pc 486 which would class as a tablet computer or even marketed as such. windows for pen computing released at the very beginning of the 1990s was an add on for windows 3.1 and these are the first systems which i would class as a true tablet computer. not organizers or pda’s, due to the fact that they were multi-functional and complex, although they did have a couple of the functions which would later be included in tablet computer

  17. A few other points Sony Ericsson using the Symbian software had a touchscreen phone (I800, I900 & I910) all came out before the iphone.
    The ipod & iphone also uses the same connector as the Creative devices
    Iphone name had to be purchased from another company before Apple could even consider launching the device.
    Apple stole the company name from Beatles and then busted the agreements they then setup with regards to music.

    Apple is very good at advertising and design and re-inventing technology/history

  18. How can anyone claim that a box w/toggles & switches that required an operating system be written & installed be called a personal computer? Wozniak’s wooden box w/typewriter keyboard implementation is the first design that deserves the title.

  19. I’ve been thinking why no company patented a portable personal computer (laptop) that has a monitor one side and a keypad on the other side, that can be opened and use as a computer and closed by folding into a briefcase? If a company does win such a patent, a table may be invented earlier. But we may need to pay a lot more for each.

  20. this is so stupid. Apple invented many things that your’e saying they didn’t invent.
    read they’re history before you post this kinds of stupid things.

    • Ignorance, ladies and gentlemen, at its finest. Clearly you need to read a little more history, not the OP. You think Apple invented the personal computer, the smartphone, the tablet, the touchscreen, the media store, the portable music player? Prove it. You can’t without rewriting history. Go read a book, please, preferably one about sentence structure and grammar in the English language.

      Apple doesn’t “invent”, they innovate. They even say so themselves. Although I’m sure you were too distracted by the shininess of their products to actually listening to anything they said.

  21. When the App Store arrived a year later, it marked the first time that apps could be purchased from and installed directly onto a handheld device without the need to sync with a computer.

    Are you sure about the above? I have not researched it yet, but I think Symbian was able to purchase and download apps directly to the smartphone quite sometime before Apple implemented it. Nokia is a good example of what stands opposite Apple. A Giant (since fallen) with vast resources it used to innovate and invent new technologies but less skilled at applying and marketing those ideas and patents.

  22. BIG UP TO APPLE

  23. A lot of crap. Seems like people forgot about Napster already, when they went from sharing to selling. And it was quite a large music shop with software pretty much.

    About tablets, I think comparing Tablet PC with tons of functions with an giant ipod is not much to say. I don’t think an oversize iPod can play games like a nice tablet PC can. The big difference is that you own a laptop for just web browsing, no dvd playing, installing heavy software, then get an iPad, otherwise get a laptop. For Tablet PC, I got one for drawing, as many did for the same purpose and others for using a digital signature. Not for just clicking with a pen on neopets and emails.

    They have applied technology that other people were making, and made but never got around getting patented as many don’t know, it is hard, due people at the patent office stopping you from, but take a look at the patent and documents and guess where do they end up with.

    They are a bunch of companies made out of thieves.

  24. There are too many Apple fanboys here. Apple isn’t the best and they’re NOT innovative. They release the same product every year and people grab their tents and rush to the closest Apple near them. I’m not an Apple hater, but it’s agitating watching you people think you have the absolute best that money can buy when you don’t.

    I meant look at Samsung’s latest phone: the Note 2. Now look at Apple’s latest phone: the i5. Apple consistently advertises the charging size, noise cancelation, 4 inch screen, and 4g LTE on the iPhone 5.

    The Note 2 has a small charger, two microphones (instead of i5′s one) for noise cancelation, has 5.5 inch screen, and of course 4g LTE. The Note 2 also also offers a plethora of features iPhone will never touch like NFC, split screen, motion controls, sense-eye, pop-up play, etc.

    iPhone 5 has a clear screen.

    Apple is quite behind in technology these days and the sooner you fanboys wake up, the sooner Apple will be forced to start making GOOD products. I feel sorry for all of you.

  25. Keith Gellar says:

    I don’t like Apple because the company *focuses* on making things pretty with mediocre functionality.

  26. You are an apple fanboy undercover. The greatest proof is the mp3 player.Mp3 players existed long before apple and until a few years ago there where like 300% better and nicer than any ipod. I know because I bought some. You only mention the first mp3 players without saying that a crative or iriver mp3 player not only gave you the same amount of songs (and more) than an ipod, but the sound quality was and is so much better. There are many such things, but this is the one I will comment because I had the opportunity to play with mp3 players and an ipod. The iPod sucks in every way. From the time that it takes for the battery to discharge, to the fact that you cannot use reserve batteries on it, to the fact that it does not hold so many songs as they say , to the fact that the sound quality is poor. Also tested at full volume a creative or an iriver gives twice as much decibels without destroying the quality of the sound. Also the fact you claim about they inventing that wheel system, many mp3 players already had that for a while.

  27. I would describe Apple as a “recipe company” – they exciting technology and add a little more flavour. I’m an owner of a few Apple products and to be honest, and I know I’m going to get slack for this; it’s all a bit overrated …and they do give the impression they have invented things, when they haven’t. There are a lot people out who think that Apple do innovate, because give that impression.

    They’re the best at marketing and generating interest around their products. I’ve seen most people buy their products because it’s a fashion statement as much as anything else.

    The one thing I’m not happy about as a consumer is them patenting everything. Some of the things they are just ridiculous. For example, patenting rectangles with rounds corners?? And wedge shaped laptops?? Come ‘on you got to admit that’s just silly. This is only going to push other to do the same and as consumers, we miss out.

  28. Your historical perspective does seem to be somewhat slanted/blinkered.

    For example, you discuss smartphones, yet omit to make any mention of Windows Mobile. There were already WM units with screens far larger than the iphone. Apps could be downloaded directly to the handset in the form of cabs, or via a pc as exe files. Indeed WM was far more feature rich than the iphone. Some even had finger gestures and tap to zoom.

    It is true that (pre the iphone) they used single point resistive screens and that the iphone was the first to adopt multi-touch capacitive screens but perhaps Apple owe far more to the likes of JazzMutant than they care to admit. JazzMutant looked at the advances made by fingerworks and decided to use capacitive screens in the music controllers long before apple. Doubtless JazzMutant took a degree of inspiration form Jeff Hann and his ground breaking pinch to zoom work.

  29. Who was really the first to invent rectangular phones?

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