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What Apple does best: reinventing, not inventing

John Moltz | May 31, 2013
Apple does invent things, but John Moltz argues that what the company really should be known for is reinventing existing product ideas.

If you've ever been in an online forum or on a general technology news site's comment thread pertaining to an article about Apple, well, God help you. But if you are such a glutton for punishment, you've probably heard it before: "Apple never invented anything!"

This is literally false, of course. Apple has many patents and has invented anynumber of individual technologies. If nothing else, the company has apparently invented some kind of ray-beam that emanates from Cupertino and drives certain forum denizens insane.

But this claim is at least more accurate than another I've noticed recently: that Apple hasn't invented anything lately. These folks claim Apple did invent the personal computer and the smartphone and the tablet, but because it hasn't invented anything in the year and a half since Steve Jobs died, the company must therefore be doomed.

Heads Apple loses, tails Apple also loses. Or, as I like to call it, Rorschach's cat, which is like Schrödinger's cat, but it's dead or alive depending on what you want to see.

For its own part, Apple does not claim to have invented the personal computer or the smartphone or the tablet computer or lunar-based death lasers--oops, I've said too much. Rather, the company for years used the same boilerplate text at the bottom of every press release:

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh.

These days at the bottom of an Apple press release you'll find:

Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store...

That wording is not accidental. It doesn't say Apple invented these things, it says it reinvented them. There's a huge difference.

Now, that Apple-never-invented-anything troll might not really be arguing against Apple, but rather against ill-informed Apple defenders, or, more likely, against himself or the voices in his head.

But Apple didn't invent any of the product categories that it has become famous for flipping upside down like a cheap card table. It reinvented existing markets by making the user experience easier, richer, and more pleasant. This is Apple's signature competency.

It didn't invent home-brew computing with the Apple I. Years before Apple came along, neck-bearded loners had been cobbling together computers from parts they'd bought--like X-ray spectacles--out of the back pages of magazines. But Apple did make home-brew computing easier by selling a fully assembled circuit board.

Nor did the company invent personal computing with the Macintosh. Prior to the Mac's 1984 announcement, there was the Commodore PET, as well as several other equally awkward attempts to bring computers into the home. Apple didn't invent the PDA with the Newton, or the MP3 player with the iPod. It certainly didn't invent the smartphone. And, as Microsoft enthusiasts will tell you, it didn't invent the tablet. It just made all those products better.


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