Apple did not invent apps and touchscreen phones! They only made it mainstream!
If you have been a geek for 10 years or more, you probably know that Apple did not invent touchscreen phones and mobile applications (apps). For the rest of you, here is a bit of background information about apps, appstores and touchscreen devices that existed well before the iPhone, well before Apple managed to bring what was essentially made for geeks to the bigger and more profitable mainstream market.
Devices – Palm Pilot, Compaq iPaq and Qtek Pocket PC Phones:
In march 1996, Palm Inc. (which became part of US Robotics later on), launched two truly revolutionary devices: the Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000. These devices were called PDA (Personal Digital Assistants). I remember buying myself a Pilot 1000 and believe me, that device really rocked! It was the first PDA of its kind to offer a touchscreen, a stylus, character recognition that really worked (Graffiti), and a craddle (the ancester of your iPhone dock) that would let you synchronize your contacts, calendars, todos and notes with your PC. If you look at the picture on the right, you’ll notice that the home screen (Palm called it a launcher) was not much different from what your iPhone looks like: a set of icons that you could tap with the stylus (or with your finger), to launch an app….
Palm then released the Palmpilot Personal and Pro, followed by a series of great devices, among others: Palm III, Palm V (oh I remember that one being sleek and slim), Tungsten, before they added telephony features to those devices which became PDA-phones and then smartphones (think Treo).
While Palm was gently settling down as the PDA leader, Microsoft released Windows CE for devices that were called Handheld PC’s. In 2000, Windows CE 3.0 was packaged for palm-size touchscreen devices called Pocket PC. The first successful Pocket PC device I can remember was the Compaq iPaq 3000 series (see picture of the iPaq 3630 above): beautiful color screen, sleek aluminium body, and a fast 206Mhz ARM processor!! That iPaq helped Microsoft take a significant share of the PDA market from Palm. I switched in April 2000! The iPaq was the device to have 10 years ago. And just like every geek today dreams of Apple releasing a new update for their beloved iPhone, we used to drool for Pocket PC 2002, Pocket PC 2003, Windows Mobile 5, etc… Compaq remained a great leader of Pocket PC devices until the Phone Edition was launched. New great smartphones started to launch under the name of Qtek, iMate or Dopod. The Qtek S100 (see picture on the left) was one of my favourite. They were all manufactured by HTC who since then has always been a market leader in Windows Mobile devices (and more recently Android devices).
With decent touchscreens and processors, you guessed it, those Palm and PocketPC devices definitely ran apps! And just like today, there were native apps that came with your phone or PDA as well as free and paid third-party apps that you could download and install to add extra features to your device. There might not have been “an app for everything” but you could easily find thousands of games, productivity tools, travel apps, etc… Some of you surely remember Bejeweled, Agenda Fusion (DeveloperOne), PocketWeather (SBSH) or Pocket Informant (WebIS).
App Stores: Handango and PocketGear
As mentioned earlier, you could download free or paid third-party applications for your Palm or PocketPC devices. A few websites have specialized in cataloguing and selling these apps: Handango.com, PocketGear.com, PalmGear.com, PocketPCFreeware.com were the true ancestors of the Apple AppStore, Android Market, Balckberry World or Windows MarketPlace. And if you ever hear that Apple were the first to bypass the operators in the distribution of such apps, don’t be fooled, those Handango and other PocketGear did not pay a cent to the Telco’s when you bought an app from them.
Well there again, just like you can download the iPhone or Android SDK’s should you want to develop and distribute your own apps for today’s smartphones, you could have bought Code Warrior or Microsoft Visual Studio to do so 10 years ago!
What did Apple really do? Apple revolutionized the distribution of apps
With 1.5 billion downloads in its first 12 months (July 2008-July 2009), the iPhone and Apple App Store definitely revolutionized the mobile application ecosystem:
- Apple launched the first smartphone which was not only meant for geeks. With a cool design, a trendy brand and an intuitive user interface, the iPhone can definitely by used by anyone (from my 3-yr old daughter to my 65-yr old uncle).
- Apple launched the first multi-touch “capacitive” touchscreen, as opposed to “resistive” touchscreen which required you to litterally press the screen with a stylus or finger tip. Up to today (3 years after it was first announced), the iPhone screen remains the best in the market and its multi-touch and sensitivity allow developers to create great user experiences.
- Apple (and I believe this is truly what made a difference with its predecessors) were the first to centralize the distribution of apps in one single store, theirs. And that store is a built-in native application of your phone, it’s right there on the homescreen of every single iPhone and iPod Touch user! Also, that appstore integrates iTunes “one-click/express” purchase with your existing iTunes account that you have been using to buy music for the past few years.
Literrally, Apple did not only deliver a device and SDK which opened the door to great third party applications, Apple revolutionized the distribution of apps, it made sure that every iPhone owner could easily buy an app in less that 4 or 5 clicks! Apple has basically taken the smartphone, the apps and the appstores from a niche market (geeks, early adopters, techno savvy, etc…) to the masses by bridging the gasp from early adopters to mainstream usage.