Ten things Apple killed, and why it was right
As Apple lives to see its 40th birthday, what better time is there to remember the technology which it left by the wayside. The company has never been averse to doing away with technology that’s gone past its sell-by date – and often it’s been brave enough to make those changes long before the other big-name manufacturers dared to do the same.
A case in point: rumours that the next iPhone will finally do away with the analogue headphone jack are so persistent that they might even be true. Users seem unimpressed at the prospect of having to switch to wireless or Lightning headphones or pay £25 for a fiddly adaptor. Tsk, Luddites.
The analogue jack dates back to 1878, though, so it might just possibly be time to move on. Apple, especially under Steve Jobs, has a proud history of being first to ditch tech that’s passed its prime – regardless of the howls of “but I was using that!” from industry partners, customers and other irrelevant recalcitrants.
These are our favourite examples.
1. The floppy drive
Used both to load software from and to save files to, the removable floppy disk was the sole storage medium of early PCs, and survived into the age of hard disks as a handy file transfer and archive medium.
And there it stayed until Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and launched the dramatically streamlined iMac. Aimed at the internet and entertainment, it had a DVD tray, but nowhere to put floppies. What the what?
It turned out this really was the future and, when Wi-Fi came along a year later, we missed removable disks even less. A floppy wouldn’t be a lot of use now anyway, being too small to store a single image from your phone camera.
2. The parallel port
For years, printers connected to PCs via the “Centronics” interface. Back then, an interface was often called a “bus” because the plug was roughly as big as one of those red things that drive around London.
If you’ve ever watched a 1980s movie and giggled at a skyscraper labelled “Wang”, credit goes to computer company founder Dr An Wang. In 1970, he had 20,000 spare ribbon cables lying around, so he based the interface for the Centronics Model 101 printer on their specification.
Naturally, we were still using the same pile of junk 28 years later when Steve Jobs decided the iMac didn’t need it.
Replacing all the existing ports with USB, he not only marked out the new computer as a groundbreaker, but also managed to make USB, invented by a group including Intel and Microsoft, look like Apple’s idea.
3. The serial port
Still used by specialist equipment manufacturers and electronics hobbyists today, RS-232 was one of the most versatile interfaces in computing.
Embodied in the same DB25 connector as the Centronics, it was more commonly encountered in the less cumbersome DB9 format, enabling PC users to endlessly confuse it with the VGA port instead of the parallel port.
Long story short, the iMac ditched it, everyone else ditched it, people moaned for about five minutes and then moved to USB. Good call, Apple. You still didn’t invent USB, though.
4. The stylus
From some of the earliest prototypes, tablet devices always had styluses, including Apple’s Newton – championed by John Sculley, the man who ousted Steve Jobs – and the rival PDAs that emerged in the 1990s. In 2002, the first Microsoft-based tablet PCs appeared with styluses.
By total coincidence, Steve Jobs had a personal hatred of styluses, commenting soon after the launch of the stylus-free iPad: “If you see a stylus, they blew it.” By refining multi-touch capacitive displays to the point where they could form the basis of a mobile device – the iPhone – Apple killed the stylus by making it unnecessary.
Nobody at Apple was ever brave enough to mention styluses to Steve Jobs again, but even he might grudgingly admit that the iPad Pro’s Pencil makes styluses interesting after all.
The list continues on page two