Apple has a large fan following, and Steve Jobs was famous for his reality distortion field. Some people can get caught up in that. Rumors, misinformation, and propaganda have made it difficult to separate the facts from the fiction. You might be surprised: Apple didn’t invent as many things as you think…
For instance, take the recent controversy started by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, one of the must-follow Twitter accounts for Apple fanboys. On a podcast, Gruber claimed that Apple “basically invented” the new USB-C standard, without offering any substantial proof. This myth was busted, but not before being picked up by several other blogs and getting people talking about it.
Fascinating – Apple invented USB-C and gave it away for free http://t.co/9eBPsi7A2K
— Joel Washington (@joelwashington) March 16, 2015
Don’t be surprised if a few years later, you hear about how USB-C was an Apple invention. The company is full of innovators and inventors, and they deserve credit for the amazing things they create. But often, credit is misplaced. And even Steve Jobs admits that the company steals…
“Steals” is a strong word. Apple is arguably the best in the world at taking existing technologies and cohesively meshing them into a single product. Former executive John-Louise Gassee wrote that Apple hasn’t invented anything, but is more like a great chef. Their expertise lies in taking existing ingredients available to everyone and bringing them together into a delicious dish never imagined before.
MacWorld’s John Moltz describes this as “reinventing, not inventing“. It’s an argument that often dissolves into the semantic meaning of “invention”, “basically invented”, “innovation”, “reinvented”, and other variants. Let’s not get into that.
What we do want to talk about is the notion among a large part of the public that Apple envisioned and created something new and spectacular, which no one had thought of before them. Often, that’s not true.
Myth 1: Apple Invented the Computer Mouse and GUI
Just a reminder that apple was the one that invented PC and GUI :)
— Mariam Salah (@MSmariamsalah) September 15, 2014
Computers used to be all about keyboards and command lines. Apple is often credited with changing that by inventing the computer mouse and operating system that uses it. The graphical user interface (GUI), in particular, is something many people believe Apple created.
But that’s not the case. Xerox actually invented the GUI and the mouse at its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). The rise and fall and rise of Apple makes it clear that when Jobs visited the PARC, he was so impressed by the Xerox Alto computer’s GUI and mouse, and decided he needed it in Apple.
Just knew that #SteveJobs is one of the man behind a creation of "mouse" so everyone uses his invention although u never have Apple things!
— carrie bradshaw (@bua) October 6, 2011
Jobs actually completely believed that he was the inventor of the GUI and not Xerox, and accused Microsoft CEO Bill Gates (who had also seen the Xerox Alto) of stealing the idea. In the authorized Steve Jobs biography, author Walter Isaacson recalls the event:
“You’re ripping us off!” Jobs shouted. “I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!” Gates just sat there coolly, looking Steve in the eye, before hurling back, in his squeaky voice, what became a classic zinger. “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”
If you want to know more about how Apple stole Xerox’s idea, check out part three of the Everything Is A Remix series.
Myth 2: Apple Invented Touchscreen Phones
Did Apple change the smartphone industry with the iPhone? Definitely!
Did Apple make the very first touchscreen phone? Nope. Not even close.
@Steven_P_Jobs because there is a general belief that touchscreen phones were invented first by Apple (include myself in that)
— Gareth Thomas (@quattrofan) August 22, 2010
For years before the iPhone came out, Palm was the king of the smartphone world. They were called Pocket PCs then, and they mostly ran on Windows Mobile. The Palm T5 is often cited as an example of a great touchscreen phone that came out years before the iPhone.
The iPhone did a great job of making it easier to use smartphones, and make it a technology for regular users and not just professionals, among other things that make it a great mobile. Jobs was adamant that ditching the stylus and using human fingers was the way forward, which was only one of the great innovations in the iPhone.
— Chris Leckness (@ChrisLeckness) November 24, 2011
But the iPhone was definitely not the first touchscreen phone around, it wasn’t even the first iPhone-like smartphone: the LG Prada beat it by a month.
Myth 3: Apple Invented “Retina Display”
LOVE my new MacBook Pro. Once you’ve seen the retina display, you can’t go back. So nice.
— Dominic Polo Nanni (@dominicnanni) September 25, 2015
This is perhaps the most infuriating of all of Apple’s supposed inventions. People swear by the “Retina Display”, but it’s actually nothing more than a high resolution screen – something that’s been around for ages.
Retina Display is actually just marketing lingo for existing tech, and one of those common display technologies you should know. In simple terms, it indicates that the pixel density on the screen is higher than can be distinguished by the human eye at a normal distance.
Can't wait for the 4.6" retina display iPhone 5!
I simply can't go back to anything non-retina display!
— Hoe Teck Hwa (@javahoe) March 22, 2012
However, screen size and “normal distance” changes according to the gadget used. So while “Full HD” means 1920×1080 pixels no matter what screen you’re talking about, the definition of “Retina Display” can change according to resolution, ideal normal distance, and screen size.
More importantly, before Apple ever introduced the term, there were several phones and laptops which had resolutions higher than Retina Display on iPhones or MacBooks. While Retina Display can be a game-changer, it’s not an Apple invention: it’s just marketing.
Myth 4: Apple Invented Video Calling
100% sure FaceTime is the best invention that apple has ever made
— annika marks (@annikamarks45) August 26, 2013
Once again, this is a great example of marketing. “FaceTime” is just a type of video chat, but video chat itself has been around for a long, long time before that. Heck, by the time FaceTime debuted, Skype was already a big deal.
There is actually nothing innovative about FaceTime when you compare it to many of the existing video chat services available at that time. In fact, FaceTime offered fewer features and didn’t work as well as many of them. Its only appeal was how easy it was to use if you already had an iPhone and so did the person you wanted to talk to.
Since then, not much has changed honestly. Current video calling solutions still continue to outpace FaceTime in innovation, and in fact you can make cross-platform video calls for free, so there really is no reason to keep yourself hooked into the FaceTime world alone.
Apple hasn’t given up on FaceTime, which was recently heavily featured in hit TV show Modern Family – an entire episode was set in it. Yet another example of how Apple makes you buy stuff through Hollywood influences. But even if you continue to use it, please know that the company didn’t invent video chat, it has been around for long before Apple ever made it.
Myth 5: Apple Invented the MP3 Player and Digital Music Store
The iPod was the breakout product that put Apple back on the map as a serious technology company, complete with the iTunes digital music store. But Apple wasn’t the first to do either of those things.
In the history of portable music players, several MP3 players came before we ever saw the iPod in 2001. Among them, the Diamond Rio PMP3000 and the Creative Nomad were probably the most famous, but several other companies released portable MP3 players too.
To its credit, the iPod was easier to use, in no small part because of the new click wheel — a genuine Apple invention that it deserves credit for. However, even if the iPod is one of those iconic Apple products that some people might still want to buy, you’re mistaken in thinking Apple invented MP3 players.
You know what the funny part is? So many people still think Apple invented the iPod, but Apple itself admitted it didn’t.
God I love my iPod. Literally the best invention ever @apple
— Alejandro (@peaceof_mind_) December 26, 2014
As for the digital music store, Ritmoteca was selling music in 1998 and signed up major labels like Sony, Warner, and Universal, which meant it distributed some of the hottest musical stars at the time, including U2 and Britney Spears. Ritmoteca went belly-up in the dot-com bubble burst, partly because of the combination of iTunes and iPod.
Be that as it may, Apple didn’t come up with the idea of selling MP3s, and it also didn’t come up with the idea of streaming music with Apple Music. Spotify has existed for some time, and is partly the reason music consumption has evolved in a way where even iTunes sales and paid music downloads are declining now.
Did Steve Jobs Take Everyone for a Ride?
Picasso had a saying, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas. — Steve Jobs