Seven unexpected Apple products that influenced tech | by Michael Beausoleil | Sep, 2021

Michael Beausoleil

When people think of Apple, they often think of a highly innovative brand. We’ve seen a dozen iPhones, generations of iPads, and decades of computers. While they’ve certainly given us a lot of great products, sometimes their influence isn’t headlining news. Over the years, we’ve seen features introduced on devices that seemed minor at first. Years later, most hardware brands would be mimicking Apple.

Upon debuting, these features would be one aspect of a seemingly groundbreaking device. Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, or another Apple representative might have spent a minute highlighting the features. It seemed like Apple was proud of these features, but didn’t expect them to be the sole reason for an upgrade. Eventually, users would come to expect these features and other brands would try to emulate Apple’s usability.

Let’s be honest, Apple usually doesn’t invent these features. Rather, they did a good job of integrating them into their existing lineups and demonstrating their benefit in the user experience. As such, customers come to expect them. Other brands know Apple set the gold standard, and technology moves forward thanks to Apple’s little features.

via James Martin / CNET

Anyone who owned a laptop in the early-to-mid 00’s knew the struggles of powering their computer. Most chargers had long wires, a bulky power brick, and snapped into the computer. If someone tripped over the cord, the laptop could fall onto the ground rather than release from its charging port. MagSafe changed this. The charger was sleek, snapped into place magnetically, and would become unplugged sooner than it would pull a laptop.

For over a decade, it seemed magnetic charging became the gold standard in the computing world. You can still see this technology in devices like the Microsoft Surface, but Apple has replaced the MagSafe with USB-C. This change has not gone unnoticed, though USB-C gives computers much more functionality with a single port. When MagSafe existed, it was simple, effective, and (as the name implies) safe.

via arstechnica

When Apple first released its iTunes software in 2001, they had no idea how central this would become to their business model. It was a visually simple “digital jukebox,” available months before the first iPod. Then they would release the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, and additional media formats. As Apple evolved, the importance of iTunes as a digital hub became more prominent and influential.

Now iTunes is going extinct in favor of more compartmentalized apps, but it was a trailblazer for digital media. Other software services, most notably Windows Media Player, could only hope to replicate the user experience on iTunes. Eventually the software would become bloated as the iPhone required more than just tunes out of iTunes. In the hay-day of the iPod, no digital media player could touch Apple’s service, and it was a free piece of software.

Apple 2008 Keynote

During his lifetime, Steve Jobs apparently believed users didn’t need more than one button on their mouse. If the user interface was strong enough, two buttons weren’t necessary. I assume this logic can be applied to the MacBook as well, because the first time I bought one it had a single button beneath the trackpad. In 2008, Steve Jobs may have proved himself wrong when he introduced the unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro. These computers had a single trackpad that supported four fingers and gestures: no buttons needed.

Though the design has been improved, current MacBook models still use this technology. Most other brands have also implemented single-piece trackpads into their laptops. The sleek design works well, gives users maximum control, and can be customized to user preference. You can even thank the gestures on this trackpad for influencing the functionality of buttonless smartphones a decade later.

via Cult of Mac

In the early days of iPhones and iPads, Apple wanted customers to get acclimated with the concept of using touchscreens. For this, they used a skeuomorphic design which used layered graphics to replicate real-life objects. For example, the Books app looked like a bookshelf and had shading to imitate the 3D object. After a few years, Apple wanted a change. They thought their customers got the hang of things, and they went flat.

iOS7 introduced a “flat design” which removed the layering of skeuomorphism. Software designers assumed customers were familiar with mobile devices and could use apps without the software exactly replicating real-world objects. iOS was simplified, and other developers took notice. You can see the impacts of flat designs on most software and websites. Recently I was updating the software on my Nintendo Switch, and recognized that I’ve become blind to the fact that flat design is everywhere. Apple didn’t invent this design style, but they did go flat when the rest of the world wanted layers.

via Sarah Tew / CNET

In 2008, the MacBook Air was introduced. For the first time, Apple offered a laptop without a disc drive. This may have surprised people because people relied on physical media at the time. However, Air users quickly came to appreciate the speed of the solid-state drive and portability of the thin computer. Customers accepted the Air as the hyper-portable model, but the real shocker came in 2012 when the year’s new MacBook lineup was entirely devoid of disc drives. By the end of the decade, Apple didn’t offer any computers with disc drives. If you shop another brand, you’d have to intentionally seek a laptop that can play CDs and DVDs.

This is a case of Apple knowing what we didn’t need so they could introduce features we do need. In the 2020’s we live in a portable world. Few people need to burn a CD because streaming has taken over. We do need light devices with secure parts. Removing the optical drive allowed Apple to remove moving hard drives. We now have faster memory, fewer moving parts, and non-tangible media. Since nixing the disc drive, Apple has removed more ports and headphone jacks. Those decisions haven’t been failures, but they haven’t aged as gracefully or had the same influence in the tech world.

via The Verge

Like any portable device, Apple products are prone to get lost. Even worse, technology can be stolen and resold. To help customers, Apple introduced Find My iPhone in 2010. The service allowed users to identify their device’s last registered location. If needed, they could play a sound to locate, wipe all data, or lock the phone to outsiders. Thanks to this service, millions of iPhones have been found and device theft has been significantly decreased.

Similar tracking features have become standard in most devices, and other brands have tried to offer similar services with products such as Tile. Even Apple has expanded their tracking services by introducing the AirTag. In the digital age, this technology was bound to appear, but Apple knew their users (and their nosy parents) would need this type of a feature.

via Wired

While Apple certainly can’t claim ownership of touchscreen technology, the iPhone has a big role in the formation of the modern smartphone. When the original model was introduced, many Apple fans were shocked to see the lack of a physical keyboard. At the time, Blackberries and T-Mobile Sidekicks were the standard for smartphones; they had miniature, mechanical keyboards.

Steve Jobs wanted a device that didn’t have small pieces or required a stylus. So, the iPhone used its touchscreen for typing. This also allowed users to modify the keyboard in ways tangible keyboards could not. People adapted, and other smartphone brands quickly learned that people would use a digital keyboard if it meant emojis were just a tap away.

When it comes to using an Apple product, much of the joy comes from the user experience. The technology itself can be influential, but the lasting impact often comes from the features. These features may not be the most important when they are released, but over time they emerge as critical aspects of product use.

Apple isn’t the only brand to have this kind of influence. However, they have successfully altered the course of technology multiple times. As a brand, they have many fans. It’s easy to understand why this is the case. Even their understated features become integral parts of daily life.

Of course, Apple isn’t always the originator. Much of their success can be attributed to the customers and their willingness to adapt to new technologies. Apple has waited to follow some tech trends until they are certified successes. More likely, you will find Apple as a tech influencer rather than a follower.

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