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7 technologies Apple brought to the mainstream

Apple Innovations

With news that Apple, with the iPhone 7, may completely abandon the tried and true 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, we’re reminded that the company has absolutely no qualms about abandoning technological standards, no matter how crazy it may seem at the time. Indeed, Apple’s penchant for tossing aside the old and ushering in the new, while frustrating and misapplied at times, is also what makes the company great.

Over the course of Apple’s history, the company has helped popularize a number of technologies quickly became commonplace across the industry. While Apple doesn’t often invent new technologies out of thin air, it has a long history of repurposing and refining existing technologies in ways that fundamentally resonate with end users, and ultimately prompt competitors to follow suit.

Listed below are 7 such examples.

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1. Multitouch

Multitouch technology is an obvious place to start. Now contrary to what Steve Jobs may have said when introducing the original iPhone back in 2007, multitouch was not some magical technology invented deep within Apple’s R&D labs. Quite the opposite, the technology existed long before the iPhone and was even publicly demoed to much acclaim back in February 2006 by Jeff Han during TED Talk.

What’s more, Apple’s own take on multitouch was the result of its 2005 acquisition of a Delaware-based company called FingerWorks.

Nonetheless, it’s indisputable that the original iPhone brought multitouch technology into the mainstream. Following the iPhone, it wasn’t long before we began seeing multitouch smartphones from a variety of different handset manufacturers. Multitouch may not have been a feature developed at Apple, but the company’s implementation of the technology on the iPhone is what truly made it a household name and, more importantly, accessible to the masses.

2. Mouse

The computer mouse represents yet another technological innovation that, while not invented by Apple, was popularized by an Apple product. During the mid-1980s, back when most people were still interfacing with computers via a command line, Apple helped change the world of computing when it introduced the original Mac. Anchored by an intuitive and revolutionary graphical user interface, Apple popularized the idea of using a mouse as the primary way to interact with computers.

Funny thing is, the history of the modern mouse actually dates all the way back to the 1960s when it was invented Douglas Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute. What’s more, the Mac wasn’t even the first computer to ship with a mouse; that honor goes to a 1981 Xerox Star workstation. Still, it wasn’t until Apple released the Mac in 1984 that the mouse truly began to seep into the mainstream.

3. Laptop trackpads

These days, trackpads come standard on about any laptop you’re likely to come across. But for those old enough to remember the early 90s, that wasn’t always the case. Way back when, many computer notebooks used a rather bulky trackball as the primary input mechanism. However, once Apple released its series of PowerBook 500 notebooks in May of 1994, computing would never be the same. Apple’s PowerBook 500 notebooks did away with the trackball and replaced it with a much more elegant and efficient two-inch square trackpad.

3. Fingerprint Sensors

While fingerprint sensor technology was hardly new in 2012, the vast majority of consumers had never used it until Apple rolled out TouchID with the iPhone 5s. Shortly thereafter, other handset manufacturers began clamoring to implement biometric technologies on their own devices.

Consider this: in one fell swoop, Apple managed to normalize a technology that, for most people at the time, was nothing more than a cool technology relegated to TV shows or movies. And in what may be something of a theme here, it’s worth noting, again, that Apple didn’t magically come up with TouchID all on its own. Rather, the company brought the requisite technology behind TouchID in-house when it acquired the mobile security firm Authentec back in 2012.

So while Apple didn’t invent fingerprint recognition technology, its extremely intuitive implementation of the technology finally brought it into the mainstream.

5. Graphical User Interface

The history of the GUI famously stretches back to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s. And there it remained until Apple introduced the Lisa computer in 1983, soon followed by the Mac in 1984. Though the technology had existed for years previous, it wasn’t until Apple incorporated it into its own computers that the concept of a GUI truly began to gained traction amongst mainstream computer users.

While some naysayers still like to claim that Apple “stole” the GUI concept from Xerox, there are a few key facts worth mentioning. First, Apple licensed many GUI features from Xerox. Second, some of the more common GUI concepts that are now considered standard and essential aspects of the computing experience were developed by Apple engineers during the course of developing the original Mac. Regardless, it’s hard to deny that the GUI on the original Mac represents a monumental and landmark moment in the history of computing.

6. USB

The original Bondi Blue iMac was a bold and ambitious product, and arguably a risky computer for Apple to release. Not only did the iMac come without a floppy disk drive, it was also the first computer to ship  exclusively with USB ports. In the process, Apple did away with legacy ports like ADB and SCSI and ultimately helped transform USB into a defacto peripheral standard across the industry.

Though some PCs at the time did come with USB ports, the iMac, again, was the first computer to completely break backwards compatibility with older ports. As a result, the iMac helped kickstart more widespread adoption of USB. Once the iMac began shipping, the number of USB compatible peripherals began to increase dramatically. And in turn, the number of computers that supported USB began to grow as well.

7. 3D Touch

3D Touch is one of the more interesting and exciting smartphone advancements we’ve seen in quite some time. But as a new technology, we won’t fully be able to appreciate how 3D Touch will change the way we use our devices until more developers begin taking advantage of it. Still, some of the ways that iOS apps already utilize 3D Touch serve to show how much potential the technology has. It therefore stands to reason that it won’t be long before pressure sensitive multitouch displays become the norm on smartphones across the board. Not too surprisingly, we’ve already seen reports that 3D Touch-esque technology is likely to hit flagship Android devices sometime in 2016.

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.