While there have been numerous inventions over the last 100 years that have made our lives better in some way, some more than others have significantly changed the way we do things in our everyday lives, and had the ability to change industries and markets.
We present 15 of them (in no particular order). Click on the Commodore 64 below to start the slideshow, and let us know, in the comments section below, if you agree with us, or if we missed something big.
It can be argued that the birth of personal computing began with the Commodore 64, introduced in January 1982 by Commodore International. Some even claim the computer remains the highest selling computer of all time, although itís difficult to prove. Claim notwithstanding, the Commodore 64 certainly made the PC accessible to a wide audience and ushered in the now-thriving market for home computing systems. The Commodore 64 also provided a platform for a new generation of computer programmers that would change the world with their inventions years later. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
Great slideshow, Liz. Regarding the Commodore 64 volume sales claim, that's got the be bunk based on math and common sense alone. Most people back then didn't have a PC and didn't even know what they were or why you'd want one. Several years later everything had changed and the market became a saturated one, meaning, most people that were going to buy one had.
I think the reason for the big number on the C64 is that the machine was a specific model. I'm sure the x86 platform has sold far more units, but the number of units is spread across tens of thousands of different models rather than a single specific model.
I remember when the VIC20 debuted with a $300 price tag, and it was worth every 1980 penny back then. The next four years really added excitement to the CES, until the big crash in 1984.
I had a feeling the claim was due to some such juggling of sales figures. I still think it's highly unlikely that this model sold more than, say certain Win '95 models after Intel's "Intel Inside" campaign--that's when people who knew nothing about PCs started buying them in high volumes.
Thanks, Ann. Yes, I am sure that claim is bunk as well, it's funny that people would even try to make it. But I guess it just shows what impact the Commodore 64 had at the time it was released, which I guess is the point.
I really enjoyed the slide show - it brought back some great memories. I do remember Netscape and my first computer was the TI99/4A which was of the same era as the Commodore. One invention that I wish never came to pass is that of the game console. I teach at the college level and it saddens me to see the number of hours young people waste on playing video games. I am not against video games in general as a form of entertainment and relaxation, but so many tend to obsess over them and are wasting time that could be so much better spent. They are also losing social skills as their main interaction is in cyberspace. I vote to remove gaming from the list.
@Nancy yes there was a time when not only students but a great part of the population was involved in these game console bu we cant say that it is totall waste of time because these days research has shown that people who play these video games or computer games have higher IQ level and analytucal skills as compared to those who dont because it opens or broadens the mind and vision .
@Debera I agree with your initial statement since many players develop strategic thinking through gaming, but I can't agree with your second statement. I see too many young people with an unhealthy balance of too many hours in front of video games - which does not lend themselves to opening their mind and vision since they are constantly stuck in front of a console. Limit gaming to a reasonable amount of time and pursue other activities that include both expanding one's horizons by exploring different fields and engaging in social interaction would be much more conducive to producing a healthy and productive outlook on life.
Hello Nancy. I agree with you on this one, BUT without the invention of the "joy stick" we would not have the marvelous capability of directional movement for some motorized wheel chairs. Also, I may be incorrect about this, but I think all military drones use a joy stick device when the need for changing direction occurs. There is no doubt in my mind (due to witnessing my two grandsons) that overuse of gaming devices relative to ligit. outdoor activities is a huge problem with our kids today.
Yes, Nancy, I know what you mean, and that is one of the reasons I included it on the list. I think the game console changed our lives in a big way and not necessarily for the better, as you mention. While I believe some games kids play actually can teach them things, I do also think a lot of time is wasted. I suppose, though, that maybe there are some skills being learned in game playing that people might use in their every-day lives, but I can't say off the top of my head what they might be.
Actually, Elizabeth - you might be surprised at the amount of strategy that is required to play the new Pokemon games. While it does encourage strategic thinking, I just wish that the nature of video games didn't lend itself to obsessive behavior.
I know what you mean, Nancy. When I've watched my nephews play games and tried to play myself, it always seems far more difficult for me to catch on, while they--having played so often--just whiz through the games. I like to think they are learning something from the games but you are right, all things in moderation. I think they spend far too much time infront of the TV playing and not enough time outdoors or reading, etc.
Nancy Golden, now I am working on a list of inventions that didn't quite live up to their hype (think Segway scooter, Microsoft Zune etc.). Can you or any other of my clever readers suggest ones for the list?
Thanks, Jim. It's on the list. The dotcoms suggestion is a good one but I think there would be too many to name! I am highlighting Webvan and Internet grocery delivery in general, as it didn't really take off the way it was supposed to.
The Dot-Coms. (hundreds - maybe thousands-? – I wonder if you can research that) The one that sticks hard in my mind was Pets.Com, who I remember had a Sock Puppet as their mascot, paid $2M for a Super-Bowl ad in 2000, and went bankrupt later that year. All hype, no content. They were the poster-child for the dot-com bubble bursting.
Great slideshow. All of these are really strong entries, but the most underrated (and often the most forgotten) is Netscape. Someone else would surely have gotten there eventually, but Netscape changed the world in ways no one had imagined by linking it to the web.
Thanks, Chuck, I agree (which is why I put Netscape on the list!). I think people forget about Netscape. Until we had the browser, the Internet was used in the world of military and research. Netscape's software was the real key for giving the world the Internet. it's a shame what happened to the software and the company, but no one can deny the impact it had on the world, or take that away from the folks who invented it.
Slide 14 reminds us that Kodak invented the digital camera. But Kodak execs decided to quash the invention (or at least de-emphasize it) because it might hurt their film business. Kodak used to make copiers and printers. Kodak filed bankruptcy and quit making film. Now it just prints stuff and will transcribe your family Super8 movies and VCRs into DVDs. This is a classic case study for the business courses.
I believe that Kodak is currently the worlds largest producer of lithographic printing plates. They're somewhat similar to photographic film or prints in that they have a photo-sensitive coating and get processed for use. These plates are used for printing on most every hard-copy item we see: newspapers, magazines, product packaging, etc. Processed plates will either accept or repel water in specific areas, so they're coated with water, followed by an oil based ink. Since oil does not stick to water, the accepted ink is transfered to the paper or box. Paper may travel through a lithographic press at 50 mph or more.
Kodak certainly did invent the electronic and then digital camera. They also did sell them, at least for awhile. The DSC series were the first professional digital cameras on the market, using Nikon and, at least once, Canon bodies fitted with Kodak sensors and electronics. I think the first one was done in conjunction with the Associated Press, and even though it cost over $20,000, working AP photographers looked on that as a bargain, versus the cost of film and processing... and, of course, the ability to send in photos via modem.
Kodak did kind of lose their way once the camera companies took that business in-house. The old saying about understanding what business you're actually in kind of applies (eg, film or imaging)... only, at least some factions at Kodak really did understand that their business was imaging. They were one of the first companies to make sensors that actually delivered enough quality to replace film. And they did enter the consumer market: Kodak was the #1 digital camera brand among consumers by 2005. They got into printers, too, but far too late. And they just never figured out how to make money at this. They also got clobbered by the smartphone becoming the Instamatic of the 21rst century, Kodak targeting only the mass-market, low-end digital cameras.
Some of it, too, is just plain bad luck. As much as Kodak was transitioning to digital imaginging, they were still just too dependent on film. They got into a losing price war against Fujifilm, which sucked off a great deal of the cash they needed for new technology (curiously, Fujifilm is doing quite well these days, having transitioned their technology to higher-end digital cameras, LCD screens, and even cosmetics). Kodak was a culture of moving slowly, which didn't help. Even though they got into other markets, it was an uphill climb.
And kind of out of nowhere, the SAG strike in 2008(?) had a totally unintended consequence: it pushed the whole US television industry from film to digital in under a year. See, there was this loophole: SAG represented actors on film, AFTRA represented actors shot on digital. So during the SAG strike, actors could still work if shot on digital... so the TV studios went digital, and didn't look back. And of course, Hollywood, Inc. has been forcing theaters to go digital. A major film release can run $35,000+ per print; digital distribution is cheap and essentially unlimited. So studios have even been helping to pay for the transisition to digital projectors. No wonder Fujifilm stopped making cinema film in 2012.
Many scientists believe the most important invention of the 20th Century was the Haber process which converts atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia. Fritz Haber was a German Jew who invented this process. In the first World War, Germany was cut off from its supply of saltpeter from Chile. Chile saltpeter was required to make explosives. Were it not for the Haber process, Germany would not have been able to make ammonia and thereto wage war.
In the 1950s, China was suffering extreme famine which killed 30 million people. Exports of fertilizer, much of it from the U.S. saved China from worse disaster. This fertilizer was made possible by the Haber process. Now, scientists tell us that this fertizer is a mixed blessing. It increases crop yields, but it has contributed to the human population of 7 billion which threatens the planet. The human population could not have grown to this level without the Haber process. The fertilizer is overused; Farming in the Midwest causes algae blooms that suffocate lakes and causes dead zones from the Mississippi River drainage into the Gulf.
Ironically, Germany forced the exile of the Jew Haber in the 1930s. Of course it also forced exile of the great theoretical physicists who brought us into the nuclear age. Haters always lose.
That's interesting, 78RPM, I didn't know about this process. Obviously I couldn't put everything on the list and I tried to stick to devices and software rather than chemical processes. But you are right in that this sounds like a key invention of the 20th century that greatly affected life as we know it.
While the article opens with a comment about the last 100 years, this slide show favors only the last 30 years. But I asked my father born in 1926, now 87, about the life-changing developments he experienced, and he said, without pause, "the refrigerator". Growing up during the Great Depression on a Farm near Buffalo, NY, he remembers cutting the blocks of ice from the pond in the winter and storing them all summer long in the cellar.
Yes, Jim, people of the World War II generation consider the refrigerator a huge step forward, whereas we just take it for granted. Many people from the pre-refrigerator era still use the term "ice box."
Good point, JimT, i seem to have missed the refigerator. Although in doing some research it seems the modern refrigerator was invented in 1913, which just misses the 100-year mark if you are going back to 1914 from 2014! But still you make a very good point--that this was an incredibly life-changing device.
Liz, I'm not surprised you missed it; because really, so did I. I had that conversation with my dad probably 10 or 15 years ago, as we were together marveling at the advancements he had seen in his life. His refrigerator story blew me away, because we totally take them (fridges) as "granted". So I'll never forget his description of retrieving Ice Blocks from under piles of Sawdust in the Farm-Cellar in July & August. ,,,and I thought they were "roughing-it" where they had to use an Out-House!!
It's really great to hear from people who were alive many years ago how inventions that came along really changed their lives, JimT, and nice that you could share that moment with your dad. I am not surprised by what an effect refrigerators had on people--imagine when the power goes out during a storm, how worrisome it is that the refrigerator will go warm and spoil all the food in there. I guess in some ways people wasted less food, though, because how many times do things we put in the fridge thinking we will eat it later gets tossed in the trash?
Well, in my house, that happens most of the time!! After every meal, if a left-over portion is deemed "enough to save" it has been sentenced to a slow death. The process is, "Refrigerate until Moldy; Discard".
Yes, JimT, that's exactly my point! I imagine people didn't make as much food to consume before refigeration or ate everything they made immediately. Now we take the whole "leftover" thing for granted but many people don't finish leftovers. And often fruit or vegetables spoil as well because they aren't consumed. Well, progress, for all its benefits, does usually have drawbacks as well!
OK, JimT and everyone else, now I am working on a list of inventions that didn't quite live up to their hype (think Segway scooter, Microsoft Zune etc.). Can you or any other of my clever readers suggest ones for the list?
i try to stay on top of things in terms of not allowing foods to spoil too badly in the refrigerator, but I do know what the "refrigerate until moldy" edict is like. Whenever I visit my dad in the U.S., which I usually do a couple of times a year, I always go through his refrigerator and find things that must have been there since my last visit like six months before! Not a pretty scene. So again here we have the "good with the bad" theory of great inventions.
Thanks Elizebeth for such an interesting post , it actually recalled my memory of cameras there was a time when people used to carry cameras and then there was a long procedure of developing the film but technology has moved so ahead when i look at digital cameras .Now its just a matter of few minutes to take a click and get the pic on either mobile or laptop .Thats really very great and thoughtfull to see how technology is moving ahead .
@Ipods no doubt were very interesting and very famous invention of its times . I still can remember that in 2004 every student in the university used to carry ipod to listen music. It always fascinated me because it made the lives of music lovers very easy and portable . It was just a matter of a wireless gadget that composed of songs .
Again, let's not give Steve too much credit. There were plenty of MP3 players out before the iPod. I had a player in `98 and I don't think that Apple had the iPod until `01. By then Creative already had the Nomad with a hard drive and Pocket PCs came equipped with portable players.
Apple had a nice gadget, but Steve didn't invent the portable player he just knew how to advertise it.
They had a hard drive MP3 player before the iPhone, they had a portable media player before the iPod-with-video, they had larger format tablets before the iPad, and they're still around. However, being (originally) a small French company rather than Apple, their stuff was never as culturally "sticky" as Apple's. And honestly, not as slick... early Archos devices were always a little rough around the edges. Of course, when you're first, you have to set the example that will be bested by others.
I know, Debera, the digital camera made it much easier to take photos and capture our lives. One thing is that people don't seem to print photos as much as they used to--but in a way it's more efficient and economical, in that they only print the good ones rather than getting back all of these prints (also a waste of paper/materials), some of which aren't very good or memorable.
Dec 22, 1947. Bell Labs invents the transistor! Without the fundamental building block of the transistor, both what it does and how it can be fabricated, most of the other inventions listed were not feasable.
Yes the Transistor revolutionized the electronics Industry, as did breaking the DNA/RNA codes for the Medical industry. Third, was the breaking of the atom as an atomic particle, and these three enormous breakthroughs defined whole new fields opened to the 21st century.
Elizabeth, it is certainly true tha5t the things listed had an impact, but as somebody else states, the transistor was far more fundamental, and did result in enabling many of the other changes.
And several of those changes were in the form of DAMAGE. It is important to realize that only about half of all changes are improvements.
All of those neat little application programs will reduce the battery charge life on your phone, as a real example. And while the proliferation of video games certainly created an industry that supports a lot of people, those games certainly waste a huge number of hours on completely nonproductive activity. Those are two examples. The smartphone enabling those short text messages and such has reduced person to person contact, which the internet has also done, although it has also enabled keeping up with distant friends in an easier and cheaper manner.
The portable music carrirs have lead to a whole lot of people on the street being much less aware of their surroundings. Have you ever had to very quickly avoid a jogger with earphones on who never heard your car? It is a quite uncomfortable experience, and when it happens once a week or more it becomes really irritating.
And it is certainly not a "given" that society is better off with everybody having a computer and instant communication over all the world. Of course there are a few benefits, but there is also a large level of de-personalization, and one huge amount of totally incorrect information floating around. And consider that porn is now available instantly everywhere, including all kinds of unsolicited stuff on facebook.
Those are some examples of the changes that are really not ikprovements in the quality of life.
Good point on "damage". One thing not generally mentioned is that the transition from CD to MP3/AAC download was perhaps the largest self-imposed downgrade in music quality that consumers embraced. The combination of psychoacoustic compression (and originally, way too much of it), audio concerns given low priority over cost and battery life (unless you had a higher-end MP3 player from Cowon), and cheesy earbuds made us all audio-gourmands. Sure, it also opened the door to services like HDTracks, in time. But it's still primarily a big step backwards in quality.
The same could originally be said about digital photography, but that's since matured to match and then exceed film in most applications. That evolution also completely changed the way photography is done. The fact that the next photo is free, and that in practical terms, I'll never run out of shots (that's a 128GB SD card in my EOS 6D) makes digital a revolution. Naturally, the same can be said about digital editing, but it was always possible to apply that to film... back in the Photoshop 3/4 days, I was only editing from my fillm scanner.
D.H. I had not even considered the damage to the quality of music that so many play constantly into their earphones. But you are certainly correct. And that is almost funny, given the incredibly low total distortion levels available from some audio equipment today. So the good gets better while the "fair" gets much worse. But those are probably the folks who don't notice the 10% harmonic distortion at max output on a whole lot of cheap-quality audio junk.
And quite possibly the worst change associated with that audio development is the creation of thousands of isolated "zombies" all off in thier own world and totally separated from everything and everybody else. I see them running on our raods almost every day, unable to hear approaching cars and motorcycles. That is completely a change for the worse.
And a comment about jet engines and spacecraft. It was probably the development of the turbine pumps that enabled the rockets, since it was, and probably still is, simply not possible to deliver enough fuel and oxidizer into the combustion area of a rocket engine by any other means. But some of those first turbines were driven by steam, produced by the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. Not the 3% solution, but the pure stuff. Later on came hydrazine, which contains more energy per weight, but is really quite nasty to work with.
Thank you for clarifying that point about jet engines, William K. I think probably the combination of technologies eventually led to the development of rocket engines, so I still believe jet propulsion had a role to play there.
It is important that you listed the limitation of the last 100 years. If not, the most impactful inventions overall were from the dawn of man, such as fire and the wheel. Every invention builds upon the inventions, science, and engineering from the past. Because of that, early, fundamental things are more impactful.
However, even for the last 100 years, the list is quite narrow, primariy within the field of electronics which is actually a small percentage of man's endeavors. I would argue that the most impactful things are within the fields of chemistry, biology, medical, agricultural, and structural engineering. These things have greatly lengthened our lives, fed us, sheltered us, and made us physically comfortable. Removing pain and serving fundamental needs takes precedence according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Agreed – the slide show favors only the last 30 years. Yes, there have been numerous paradigm shifts in those 3 decades (a favorite memory was my daughter asking, "what kind of cell phone did you have when you were little-?") But over 100 years, you have to include refrigeration, air-conditioning, jet engines, RADAR, Nuclear fission, and on and on and on ,,,,
I think that before the iPod, the digital camera, the iPad, and all the other digital inventions, we need to pay homage to the solid state memory. I received my first thumb drive from our company, and I believe that the capacity was measured in Kilobytes, and now they are measured in Gigabytes. These replaced the magnetic memory Floppy Discs with a more stable platform with no moving parts.
Without solid state memory, none of these other inventions would be possible.
These are good ones that could've gone on the list, too, ChuckMahoney. I decided to narrow it down and sort of stick to a theme of more commercial-type inventions, but air conditioning and GPS both definitely changed the way we live. GPS would have definitely fit in on this list, as it also was an enabling technology for some of the inventions I mention.
I agree with those who point out that all the electronic inventions depended on the invention of the transistor, which in-turn paved the way for integrated circuits, and so on to the ubiquous chips we all take for granted. Another invention that had a profound affect on those of us old enough to remember starting our engineering degree classes with slide rules was the introduction of the scientific calculator. I still have my first working HP-35 - made in the USA and cost me a whole Summer's wages. Great list - lots of fun... so many alternate possibilities.
I agree, Bill. My neighbor down the street was an engineer who worked for TI in the 50s. I remember asking to interview him for a school assignment (I had to interview someone in a profession I would like to do when I grew up and he was an engineer) and he told me about the invention of the transistor by Bell Labs and the work that TI did with silicon transistors. It was pretty funny - he mentioned that they considered transistors "just a fad" at the time. It's importance to the evolution of electronics cannot be overstated - great choice!
billkfromva and everyone else who mentioned the transistor: I agree, this is a profoundly important device and definitely should be included on a list like this. I am thinking to do another slideshow that focuses less on consumer and commercial inventions and more on the components of those inventions, or inventions that had a different type of impact. The transistor should be on that list for sure.
Yes, the transistor was monumentally important, Liz. You could do a massive slideshow just on the inventions spawned by the transistor. For a great take on that subject, read Tom Wolfe's story, "Two Young Men Who Went West" (it's from his book, "Hooking Up"). It's a profile of Robert Noyce and William Shockley.
Hey, Chuck, that is a good idea, actually, for another slideshow. This slideshow may actually spawn more than one sequel. :) I don't know that story but I will take a look, it sounds interesting and informative.
Great post Elizabeth. My first thought--I remember and lived through all of those inventions. My grandkids think I'm old as dirt but all of these marvelous devices have truly propelled our lives and an enjoyment of our lives to a new level. There are several non-consumer devices that really contribute on a daily basis. I might mention:
1.) Bar code labeling and RFID
2.) 3-D printing
3.) The technology involved with atmospheric gas burners.
4.) Great advances in adhesives
5.) Cryogenic technology
6.) MRI and CAT-Scan technology
7.) Internal combustion engine
I could go on and on BUT to your point, we recognize those devices, as given by you slide show, that bring enjoyment to our lives. These we remember first. Again--great presentation.
Hi, bobjengr, thank you! And yes, you're right, there could've been about 50 inventions on this slideshow. I tried to narrow it down and sort of stick to a theme, and you're right, it was more consumer device-y. But all the things you mentioned could've been on this list as well, which makes me think perhaps I need to do another slideshow on less consumer-oriented inventions!
I think that computer is a commodore 128, not a commodore 64. I had a commodore 64, the tape drive (!), the 1541 disk drive, and I used a color tv. none of my pieces of equipment looked anything like the picture, which is a commodore 128 system.
Yeah, that's the C=64C. It was a cosmetic update designed to match the C=128. When the C=128 was released, there was a big surge in C=64 sales. Inside, I think it started with the "D" revision of the C=64 hardware, and transitioned to the "E" version a year or two later, which had a big gate array implementing just about everything but the VIC-II, SID, 6510 processor, and memory. As I recall, the cost to Commodore for the whole computer, in a box, was about $35 near the end of its life.
The Commodore 64 sold around 26 million units. The first single model of a personal computing device to outsell it: the iPad 1.
I don't think the Commodore 64 has any more in common with the IBM PC, and what "PC" came to mean, than the iPad.
Prior to the PC(tm), folks sometimes applied the term "pc" to a personal computer, sometimes not. The point of saying "personal computer", at the time, in the early 80s, was to differentiate from a hobby computer. A personal computer, like my buddy Scott's PET 2001 in 1977, was an all-in-one that you bought.
And in the pre-IBM days, there were, of course, all different sorts of personal computers: Commodore's, Ataris, the Apple ][, Cromemco, Kaypro, Osborne, the MSX standard, etc. "Personal computer" didn't mean just one CPU type, or just one operating system, or really anything that specific.
The iPad, Android tablets, these are all very capable at personal computing. My tablet today (Galaxy Note Pro 12.2) is considerably faster, with way more RAM and storage, than my desktop PC of ten years ago... not all that long. So no, these devices are PC(tm), but they are very much personal computers. That's something Microsoft came to grok, albeit some years too late.
Interesting points about what constitutes a "PC," Dave Haynie. You make a good argument that iPads and other tables are more PC than merely smart device, which I guess adds another point to what a great innovation they are.
Ok, sure, Apple made some nice gadgets. The iPhone was certainly a nice upgrade from a Palm Treo or TX, the iPod was certainly one of the slicker portable music players. But just as you mention "The Portable Phone" as being the actual thing that changed my life, it was really "the smartphone", not the iPhone; it was really the portable media player, not the iPod, that did it for me and many. Apple wasn't the first one to make any of these things.
Not to write off Apple, either, but their innovation wasn't in the hardware design. Sure, they made a slick product. Most other companies couldn't expect to sell things for the price Apple did, so, less slickness, in general.
No, what Apple did was figure out how to make those already existing things sell like crazy. So many early MP3 players (I still have an RCA "K@ZOO" around here somewhere) were, let's face it, kind of made for geeks. I had no problem ripping my CDs and loading them into my player. Other people did. Apple made it very easy, and then offered to sell the music directly -- pretty much reinventing the music single as they did. That's why the iPod did so much better than every other MP3 player.
Similarly, Apple made a nice smartphone in the iPhone. Take the screen from the Palm TX, change the touchscreen so it works with your fingers (yeah, I was always losing the stylus, too), and you had a nice picece of kit... even though the iPhone wasn't really a smartphone (no apps) for the first year. But what Apple really "did different" there was to target consumers. It was, after all, common knowledge at Palm, Microsoft, RIM, and even Nokia that consumers really didn't want smartphones. So they didn't even try to make a consumer smartphone.
In short, Apple's big innovations are in the business and support for these devices, not the device itself. Even just that idea -- smartphones for consumers -- was enough to basically kill off every smartphone platform that wasn't for consumers, and in less than five years. It should have been obvious: every consumer may not be a businessman, but every businessman is a consumer.
You make some good points, Dave Haynie, and I admit I am an Apple fan. But I still really believe that even if Apple didn't "invent," as you say, some of these things, it was when the company came out with a product that it really took off and had an impact. There may have been MP3 players before the iPod, but who really remembers specific brands, and where are they now? There may have been smartphones before the iPhone, but it was the iPhone that really ushered in the era of the smartphone and was the impetus for Android. Now we have numerous Android-based devices that rival the iPhone and are arguably better for many users. But that would not really have happened without the iPhone.
One thing I really should've put on this list, in sticking with my theme, was Windows. I thought about it a lot and didn't, but it did really change how people used PCs. And that is a good point of discussion for why I believe Apple should be on this list. Apple gave the consumer market the first windows-based OS, and Microsoft took it and mass produced it on a lot of devices. This same model has followed with Android--Apple gave us the iPhone and iOS, but then Google gave us Android, which is now available on alot of devices. That model obviously works. But what company, really, besides Apple, can keep their technology proprietary, on their own devices, and still continue to sell lots of products. If Google made an Android phone itself, I doubt it would've been so successful.
I don't think Apple with do as well with the passing of Steve Jobs, but I still stick by the impact I believe Apple has had on bringing life-changing devices to the consumer market.
Kind of to my point: Apple "ushered in" the era of the consumer smartphone. They made a slick device, sure, and combined what was essentially the program launcher from PalmOS with this fairly annoying, but great for beginners, dedication to skeuomorphism. And they used a capactive touchscreen.
Of course, you can find Apple in there earlier, with the Newton, as a source of inspiration to Jeff Hawkins on how NOT to make a personal digital assistant (along with the Psion and various other early attempts at "pocket computer"... the smartphone, of course, is just a PDA with a cellular modem).
But it was targeting the consumer directly, against all of the wisdom of the existing smartphone industry, and using the pre-existing iTunes infrastructure to make that work as well in smartphones as it did with MP3 players that really made the iPhone. Before Apple, smartphone apps were sold just like PC apps: go find a store (sure, many were eStores, but still). After Apple, the integrated app store was a necessary component for success.
Android was already happening and already consumer-oriented before the iPhone shipped; the influence of Apple is overstated in Android. After all, they started in 2003, not 2007, and even the very first product, the HTC Dream, looked like a cross between a Palm TX and the Danger Hiptop... Danger, of course, Andy Rubin's former company. Google bought Android before the iPhone was out, too. So Android was happening anyway. Sure, they managed to borrow some OS ideas from Apple, much as Apple's been borrowing from Android in recent years. But Android itself was a very long development project... it's a very different kind of OS at the API layer, insanely modular, designed from the get-go to react to device differences, and far more net-centric than anything that evolved out of the 1990s. That didn't happen in a year.
You also have to look at the weird things that inspire people. The GUI people at Apple, Android, and Microsoft had all see Spielberg's "Minority Report" in 2002, which showed off a bunch of John Underkoffler's user interface ideas.... about five years later, we get the iPhone, we get Android, and we get Microsoft's tabletop Surface. Engineering is the art of taking an idea, building a complete model of that idea, then making it real. Lots of different teams have the same inspirations.
Yes, Apple delivered the first real consumer GUI. But lots of people had seen the Xerox Alto and Star.. they had these at CMU in the early 80s when I was in school. And of course, most engineers encounted GUIs on more mainstream workstations, like the Sun 2, well before Apple came along. Ok, Microsoft is well known to have been working Apple's GUIs... I saw the Lisa at Microsoft in early 1983. But others were doing GUI things. The Amiga, for example, was only a year after the Macintosh, and had a very different approach to the GUI. So once again, yes, Apple popularized a thing by bringing it mainsteam first. But that would have happened anyway, and at about the same time, without Apple.
And that's actually pointing at another one of Apple's superpowers: they did the Mac and the did the iPhone as a well established, successful, and particularly in the latter case very large company. The competition in both cases I mentioned was often from small or startup companies boosted by a large company acquisition (Commodore for Amiga, Google for Android). It's going to be interesting to see if Apple continues to be first-mover on these new things that lots of people are working on, without SJ.
Interesting the cell phone shown in slide 8 had the British Telecom logo. Of course that was the Motorola DynaTac 8000. With all the Apple-Love in the article, I have to point out the Cellular phone technology was invented my Motorola in 1973.
Thanks Dave, that was my point, and I think it's important to give Apple and Steve Jobs credit for their true accomplishments; they didn't invent a technology, they invented the demand for the technology. One only has to look as far as a "Dilbert" comic to understand Engineering's typical opinion of Marketing, but for Steve Jobs Marketing wasn't just a limitless expense account with a two drink minimum, it was what made Apple the consumer electronics giant it is today. I think it discredits Steve Jobs to ascribe accomplishments that he didn't achieve because it suggests that marketing, his real accomplishment, has no value. We should celebrate Steve's unsurpassed marketing savvy, instead the public has a cognitive dissonance; marketing has no value, inventing has value, therefore Steve MUST have invented the device because Steve has very real value. It wasn't Apple's invention and Steve Jobs didn't design Apple's embodiment of the invention, but Steve packaged and created a need for the invention that was so strong that people stood in line for Apple's embodiment of the invention for each and every iteration.
Great points, tekochip. Steve Jobs' main talents were his marketing savvy and vision, and I say that not to detract from what he did, but to praise his real accomplishments. Others could have built (and probably did build) what Apple did, but they couldn't have created the same market. Jobs deeply understood the needs of the consumer (or at least one swath of consumers), and drove the engineering teams to deliver on his vision.
I agree with you on some level, tekochip--Steve Jobs and Apple definitely invented the need for these gadgets in the marketplace. But I disagree that they didn't exactly invent technology. I do believe the iPhone was the first device to put all of the smartphone components together, so while perhaps Apple didn't invent the individual technologies, Apple's engineers did find a way to put them all together in one device, thereby inventing this combination of features. And innovative and attractive design was always Apple's strong point, an invention in and of itself in an industry that wasn't exactly big on it before Apple came along--devices and PCs were clunky and functional, not cute. So you are definitely right, but I will stick by my Apple and Steve Jobs love. ;)
Exactly! Yes, Apple has had some slick looking hardware... some of it even well designed (the early Mac architecture was HORRIBLE.. but they got better, and these days, Intel's doing most of the design in any PC).
But lots of companies have had better hardware, and that's not always what's needed to turn innovation into revolution. Apple's ability to figure out not just the technololgy, but how to make it sell, that was SJ's real genius. Even in the Mac's case, with 5% of the desktop PC market, Apple figured out how to inspire a loyalty never seen in other mainstream consumer electronics. And that's why they're making 5x as much per PC as HP (and HP's even got high margins compared to the Chinese).
Even today, Apple's doing amazingly well given their one-or-two model per product line per year dedication. I'm not sure that can last forever, but it's hard to argue against that kind of success. That's the thing that made Apple different, and it's not really about the hardware.
Hi Liz, as always great slide show although I think the comments about iPod type devices preceding Apple is quite valid. One thing that puzzled me though "Jet propulsion also made space exploration possible" I don't believe a jet engine will work in space, due to a lack of air, rocket engines are structurally different. The turbine engine perhaps? That was John Barber around 1791, although this isn't used in rocket engines either. They do however use turbine pumps to transfer liquid fuels which can in one form or another be dated back to 350AD although the timeline gets squishy with something that old.
Hi, etmax, sorry if I got something wrong in terms of jet propulsion, but I am under the understanding that NASA uses it to power some of its space craft? So I guess I meant that the jet engine and the new type of propulsion system paved the way for these different technologies. But if I am wrong, I apologize. I do appreciate all the clarification and comments from readers.
Hi Liz, I wasn't expecting an appology, and one is certainly not necessary. As I'm not a rocket scientist (humour intended) I was actually expecting you to provide a gem that explained the connection as I had presented what I thought to be the case. It wouldn't have been the first time I was missing all the facts.
NASA cerrtainly does use turbine pumps to force liquid hydrogen and oxygen into the rocket's combustion chamber at a fast enough rate to get sufficient thrust (for the space shuttle it was an enormous challenge to get the throughput for the size) but I now think you might have been talking about the plans to use scramjets (a dual pupose engine being worked on) to make a lower cost shuttle type craft (the Space Shuttle costed a fortune per launch) but I'm not sure how far down the track that is, certainly not ready for the limelight.
THAT would certainly revolutionise space travel because it could take off like a jet plane using aerodynamic lift and air and then when the atmosphere thins out and while already doing mach 3 or 4 fade into rocket mode with onboard oxygen and go to mach 27.
@ Ann R. Thryft, I agree that Commodore 64 might not have more sales than many of other models to date. It might be just that it was the only one available at that time and the new technology, so it got the much bigger fanfare than we could ever have again. As people got more aware of the computers, it started getting less noticeable owing one.
@ Nancy Golden, I understand and share your sentiments regarding gaming consoles. You have a solid reason for thinking so. Even when one feels nostalgic, one wishes that certain technologies had never come. Excess of everything is bad and so is the use of gaming. It has this dangerous capability of consuming precious time and skills of children as well as elderly.
OK, AnandY and everyone else, now I am working on a list of inventions that didn't quite live up to their hype (think Segway scooter, Microsoft Zune etc.). Can you or any other of my clever readers suggest ones for the list?
Agree with some of you that this list is primarily the last 30 years. Listing the last 100 years would be huge, ranging from the ubiquitous television, the 'lowly' transistor to the powerful nuclear fission. Even the first satellite (1957) changed the way we live (ever use a GPS, watch satelitte TV, watch video of hurricanes, etc).
This is a great list (of the past ~30 years) and ponders what will we be talking about in the next 30 years? Crytopcoins (e.g. bitcoins), nanatubes, personalized medicine (via DNA scypting), 3-D printing/additive manufacturing, self-driving vehicles (thus 30 years later noone knows how to drive) just to name a few potentials.
Thanks for your comment, spencestan, and I agree the list is a bit "last 30 years" heavy but I appreciate all the discussion points it's brought up. Everyone's comments have led me to consider doing another slideshow and dipping even further into some of these inventions that have been so influential in the last 100 years.
With major product releases coming from big names like Sony, Microsoft, and Samsung, and big investments by companies like Facebook, 2015 could be the year that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) finally pop. Here's take a look back at some of the technologies that got us here (for better and worse).
Good engineering designs are those that work in the real world; bad designs are those that donít. If we agree to set our egos aside and let the real world be our guide, we can resolve nearly any disagreement.
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