Monday, January 9, 2017

There was something big behind the iPhone, and it wasn't just Apple

     Alexander Graham Bell was not trying to invent the telephone when he did just that. What he was trying to do, at first, was make a better telegraph. It was the 1870s, and the telegraph was 30 years old — about as old as cellphones are now. Like cellphones, the telegraph had become enormously popular, so popular that messages backed up at telegraph offices, waiting to be sent. The problem had to be solved; there was no point in telegraphing a message from Washington to Baltimore if it took three days for operators to get around to tapping out your message. You could walk it there in two.
     Bell was working on sending many messages simultaneously through the same line in the form of different tones, then stumbled onto the idea that these tones could be a voice, a reminder of the often accidental nature of technological advancement.

     So it is fitting that when Apple  founder and
chief executive Steve Jobs began to develop the iPhone, which he unveiled on Jan. 9, 2007 — 10 years ago Monday — what he was trying to do was safeguard the iPod, his wildly popular music player responsible for nearly half of Apple's revenue. Jobs saw how cellphones decimated the digital camera industry, and worried his competitors would include music too. Then Apple might become Kodak: just another once-hot tech company.
     Jan. 9, 2007, was also the day Apple dropped the word "Computer" from its corporate name, because it was going to be more than a computer company. You can't sail across the ocean without leaving the shore.
     When Jobs announced the iPhone, at the company's MacWorld convention in San Francisco, he telegraphed his priorities by the order he listed them....

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  1. Interesting your should call the Apple Watch a curiosity. It is the rest of the iPhone, the part you didn't know you needed until you found that you did; it completes the iPhone. It eliminates all those bothersome times of hauling the iPhone out of your pocket to check why it vibrated; it previews what's on your iPhone.

  2. The one word that for me illustrates both the strength and the weakness of current economic theory is "externality." It's usually used to describe the costs of economic activity that are left out of the equation. For example, the benefits of fracking usually don't account for the costs of the earthquakes and other environmental devastation that the companies involved need not pay. But I believe that government participation in technological development could also be called an "externality," in that the benefits are not paid for directly by the beneficiaries of the technology. Whereas if Samsung uses Apple technology, it must pay Apple and vice versa. I doubt that factoring the costs of externalities into the grand economic equation would work, but at least the government, maligned as it is likely to be over the next few years especially by those most in control of what it does, should get a modicum of credit for its input. And I don't think doing so will tarnish the reputation for genius ascribed to entrepeneurs such as Steve Jobs.


  3. That many of the radical changes in the way we live have been spearheaded by govenments has been true for a long time. Double entry accounting, the basis for all business systems, was created by municiple administrations in 13th Century Italy; large scale mechanical computation was developed in this country by the Census Bureau; the first operational electronic computer, "Goliath," was built by British Postal System engineers for Blechly Park code breaking; the internet began as a Pentagon project; the statisical control systems which make possibe efficient mass production came out of government armories and shipyards. Etc., etc.

    The fact is that govenments face situations, like going to war or the need to count millions of its citizens, that justify enormous investments that can't be assessed in bottom-line terms.

    Tom Evans


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