Newsletter #424 Preview: A Realistic Look at Apple’s Innovation

January 13th, 2008

Every press release that emerges from Apple Inc. these days includes the following tag line: “Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh.”

At no time do they claim that they actually invented the first personal computer, although the Apple II made the PC affordable and accessible to a large number of people. I gather Microsoft’s Bill Gates would rather have you believe that his company was responsible for certain inventions in the industry, such as the mouse. But that is strictly an unsupported claim.

So how and where did Apple actually innovate? Well, certainly there were attempts to develop a graphical user interface before the first Lisa and then Macintosh appeared. The computer mouse was actually invented in the 1960s, and the first iteration was encased in wood.

There is an urban legend that Apple executives when to Xerox’s famous Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s, saw what they were doing with user interfaces, and judiciously “borrowed” what they wanted to use for their own products. In fact, they paid Xerox for the rights to use certain technology.

Where Apple innovated here was to meld the previous work of different developers into a cohesive whole, and make it far more user friendly than most any personal computer up till that time. That is the main focal point of Apple’s magic.

Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter.

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