10 ways Apple changed the world
10th Mar 2013 | 12:00
From Macs and iPhones to apps and iPads
Steve Jobs believed in a simple fact: everything around you "was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things that people can use."
Jobs definitely practised what he preached. While all the other technology firms were churning out products with all the wow factor of a tumble dryer, Apple set out to change the world with innovative computers and gadgets, again and again and again.
As we'll discover, Apple products have revolutionised the way we work and play and listen to music. It has transformed entire industries, created new kinds of computing and done some truly frightening things to bridges. Read on and be inspired.
1. The Apple-1
"No more switches, no more lights"
It didn't sell a massive number of units, but 1976's Apple-1 was the first modern personal computer as most of us would understand the term. Before the Apple-1 came along, computers were sold in kit form, not as assembled machines, and they used switches and lights instead of keyboards and monitors for their input and output. You still had to bring some of your own bits, such as a power supply, keyboard and display, but as Apple promised, "initial setup is essentially 'hassle-free' and you can be running within minutes." The Apple-1 was expandable - for example, it could be connected to "almost any audio-grade cassette recorder" - and came with a free tape copy of the Apple Basic programming language.
The Apple-1 initially cost $666.66 "including 4K bytes RAM!", but rarity has pushed the price up a bit since the 1970s: in 2012, Sotheby's sold one for $374,500.
"Chic, not geek"
The original iMac was significant for three main reasons. It was the first legacy-free PC, with Steve Jobs killing off the floppy disk - to howls of protest - and betting on USB connections instead of expansion cards. It was designed as an internet-focused computer, with Apple describing it as "the ultimate internet appliance" and "the first computer to bring the ease of use long associated with Macintosh computers to the arcane world of the internet". And it looked completely different to any other PC on the market, its bright, translucent plastics and swooping curves, ahem, 'inspiring' not just other computer manufacturers, but makers of grilling machines, games consoles, steam irons and many other consumer products. The 2007-2012 iMac's fusion of aluminium and glass was also widely imitated, and the thinner, even more desirable new iMac should keep the plagiarists busy for a while.
"An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator"
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was so different from other devices that he had to explain what it was. "An iPod. A phone. An internet communicator. This is one device, and we are calling it iPhone."
It turned out to be very popular and hugely influential: before the iPhone, smartphones either looked like BlackBerries or were weird things from Nokia. After the iPhone, they looked and worked like iPhones.
The iPhone transformed the industry too, with BlackBerry and Nokia left behind and Microsoft binning its mobile platform altogether.
It changed the way we go online and it's transformed Apple, too – thanks to its worldwide sales Apple is now the world's richest technology company.
4. iPod + iTunes
"1,000 songs in your pocket"
The iPod made digital music mainstream. The original 2001 iPod didn't have the impressive tech specs of the Creative Nomad MP3 player – but the Creative Nomad didn't have the iPod's stunning good looks and ease of use, and neither did any other MP3 player. They didn't have Apple's clever marketing either.
iTunes made it easy to transfer music you'd ripped or downloaded to your iPod, but there was a piece of the jigsaw missing. That piece turned up in iTunes 4 in the form of the iTunes Store. iTunes made it easy to get music, and effectively locked you to the iPod – copy protection meant you couldn't take your music with you to rival devices. That protection is gone, but the business model with Apple providing the player, the software and the shop – continues to work well for the company in music, movies and apps.
"A radical change in how users work with computers"
The graphical user interface, or GUI for short, was a huge leap forward: instead of trying to remember commands and their syntax, you could control your computer by pointing, clicking and moving things around with a mouse. Apple didn't invent the idea - some of its GUI was based on a system by Xerox PARC, who invested in Apple - but it was the first company to ship a commercial GUI-based computer, the 1983 Apple Lisa.
However, Apple's GUI was refined for the Macintosh; the first popular computer with a GUI. Its MacPaint software brought digital art to ordinary computer users, and its GUI enabled the creation of programs such as PageMaker and Photoshop, apps that would go on to transform publishing.
"A truly magical and revolutionary product"
It's impossible to overstate how important the iPad was, and is. Before the iPad, if you wanted to do something on a computer you needed to learn how to use the computer first. With the iPad, you just do what you want to do. Play piano? The iPad's a piano. Write a letter? It's a typewriter. Read a book? It's a book. Fire exploding birds? It's a catapult.
The iPad created a new category of computer, which has been bad news for Intel and Microsoft. Analysts agree that sales of tablets will outnumber sales of laptops within one or two years. Apple could remain the biggest single manufacturer of tablet computers, meaning people are buying devices running ARM/Apple processors and Apple's OS, not Intel chips and Windows. The whole personal computing landscape is gradually changing.
"...and there's one more thing"
Steve Jobs' keynote speeches were legendary, and they've been widely imitated - with good reason, because Jobs was an extraordinary and disciplined showman. He focused on the details, refining and simplifying and using positive language, real-world scenarios, humour and passion to get the message across - and then he'd rehearse until the whole thing was effortless. Whenever you see a CEO deliver a three-act presentation with numbers at the beginning, a simple, positive message, then a big reveal at the end, you're watching someone who's watched Jobs.
For the launch of the original MacBook Air, other presenters would have stuck a spec sheet on a slide, showing its dimensions. Steve Jobs put the Air in an envelope and showed that instead.
8. The App Store
"We're going to put it on every single iPhone"
The iPhone launched without apps, but that decision was quickly reversed. Tim Cook says that "the average customer is now using over 100 apps. It's phenomenal." iOS and its App Store is the same closed-ecosystem model as the iPod and iTunes one, and, like that ecosystem, the App Store has been copied by everyone else.
Apple's approvals process can sometimes seem a bit heavy-handed, but that policy has kept malware and scams away.
The combination of safe apps and low prices encourages people to buy more software, and Apple's helped drive that by pricing its own apps at exceptionally low prices. £2.99 for Garageband is the software bargain of the century, and it's a direct link with the Apple-1's bundling of Apple Basic. As the ads put it back in the 1970s, "our philosophy is to provide software for our machines free or at minimal cost".
Apple has also now brought the model to OS X.
"It's a liberating experience"
One of our favourite Steve Jobs moments was when he showed off the new iBook at MacWorld Expo in 1999. He started web browsing, picked up the computer, took it for a walk and then passed it through a hula hoop.
The audience cheered, yet wondered what kind of witchcraft they were seeing. The internet? Without wires? Apple didn't invent Wi-Fi, but it worked with Lucent to give the nascent IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence WLAN technology a new name. The result was AirPort and the innovative AirPort Wireless Base Station. Before AirPort, wireless networking was too expensive for the home. Now you could do it for $299 - and because it was Apple, it just worked.
10. iOS 6
"Maps take a whole new turn"
iOS 6's Maps app changed the world, but not in the way Apple expected: Apple's replacement for Google Maps came with a lovely interface, turn-by-turn navigation - and maps of a strange, not-quite-Earth planet where familiar landmarks morphed into sinister, surreal shapes, long-dead retailers (Our Price) sprang back into existence, half of Cambridge vanished and Leeds was just a confusing mess (which is fair enough, really).
Maps' errors made it a laughing stock. The mess was satirised by Mad Magazine, which revisited an iconic New Yorker cover and claimed to use Apple Maps data: in its version, New York's 9th Avenue joined the Champs-Élysées, just down the road from the Sea of Galilee, Kuala Lumpur and Chad. One wag on the London Underground wrote on a poster: "For the benefit of passengers using Apple iOS 6, local area maps are available from the booking office."