A History of Apple & Innovation: Apple’s “Innovative” use of Existing Technologies & Design Concepts
Both the concepts of touch screen user interaction and tablet based computing have existed for decades, but as well as the concepts, the technology to facilitate the ideations have also existed for nearly as long. Hewlett Packard developed a PC with touch screen commands in the 1983;
“HP allows users to activate features on their PCs simply by touching the screen when it introduces its first touchscreen personal computer, the HP-150.” - (HP, 2010)
Apple’s original PDA or tablet like device was the Apple MessagePad, more commonly known as the Newton. The Newton was released 10 years after Hewlett Packard developed the HP 150 touch screen computer.
“Released much ahead of its time in 1993, the Newton (official name was MessagePad) was touted as the future of computing. It would be the first in a new line of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). The MessagePad was the first pen based system running on the Newton Intelligence OS. It was powered by a ARM 610 processor at 20 MHz and 640k RAM / 4 MB ROM. It sported a reflective black and white touchscreen with a resolution of 336 x 240, PCMCIA card slot for expansion and Infrared port for communication between MP’s.” - (Newlaunches, 2010)
Despite generally been considered as a “flop”, the Apple Newton was in fact produced for six years. Perhaps its eventual failure can be attributed less to the strength of its concept and more to the market readiness and available technology of the time. At the time of the Newton Apple were an extremely “closed” company, in that they were wary of the open source development of applications that could have provided rich functionality for the Newton.
“The Newton was developed and released during the time in which Steve Jobs was “exiled” from the company and was deemed to be a huge commercial failure, due to its high cost and difficult and highly proprietary development platform which hampered the amount of 3rd-party applications which were created for the device.” - (ZDNet, 2010)
The concept of the tablet computer has truly moved on from devices such as the Newton and so too have the attitudes of Apple. Society looks to mobile computing today as much as a facet of life and entertainment as a mode of computing as it was thought of at the time of the Newton. If we consider the relative success of the Newton’s modern equivalent, the Apple iTouch, it must be noted that while it offers immense computing power and convenience in comparison with the Newton, that the progression in product range leading to its introduction stems from that of the iPod, a device which is centrally marketed as a form of personal entertainment rather than computing. Thus it would seem evident that audience perception, product marketing and positioning are as important to a product’s success or failure as the capabilities of the device in question. It must also be noted, that in stark contrast to the time of the Newton, that Apple now allows third party developers to produce applications for its mobile devices, this is a move that will likely see the use of these devices multiply with some speed, since they essentially facilitate an open market of sorts.
Apple’s Product Design Influences
A great deal of Apple’s contribution to the market place involves the precise aesthetic presentation of their products, ensuring they develop products with appealing physical qualities that even technophobes can admire and appreciate on a purely emotional level; this cannot be defined as innovation in a strict sense, however Apple’s success in the areas of product design and creativity are often misinterpreted as innovation by their audiences. So are we to believe that Apple should be accredited with all of the design concepts and product design principles exemplified by their products? Or like many forms of creativity within the design industries, did Apple have any key influences? The following contrasts some of Apple’s product designs by Jonathan Ive and the 1960’s modernist product designs of Dieter Ram for Braun.
“When you look at the Braun products by Dieter Ram—many of them at New York’s MoMA—and compare them to Ive’s work at Apple, you can clearly see the similarities in their philosophies way beyond the sparse use of colour, the selection of materials and how the products are shaped around the function with no artificial design, keeping the design “honest.”” - (Gizmodo, 2010)
As well as Apple’s ability to draw upon product design influences ahead of their time, Apple is also successful in providing a range of products that possess consistency. The visual continuity across their product range provides consumers with a feeling of reassurance and trust in the evolution of the Apple’s product design principles. As people become familiar and reassured by their Apple purchases, they experience little inhibition when buying additional products. Apple’s tight control over their brand and associated product ranges allows them to harness consistency as a selling point far more than the competing notion of “PC”.
“Take a look at the back of the iPhone. It’s silver on top, black on the bottom. Then take a look at the new iMac. It’s is black on top, silver on the bottom. The top of the iMac looks like an iPhone rotated to horizontal orientation.” – (37 Signals, 2007)