|Apple I (Wikipedia), circa 1976.|
|Apple II with floppy disks|
|Apple II - case open|
Michael Dell founded Dell Computer in his dormroom at the U. of Texas, Austin (1984). The era of extreme PC competition was here. Apple struggled due to the relative dearth of software compared to IBM compatible PCs. The network effect was in full force. With 90% market share, people wrote code for the dominant OS - Microsoft's.
|NeXT Cube circa 1990 (via wikipedia)|
|Sony Walkman, circa 1980|
Could a digital semiconductor memory device be used instead of a moving disk in a portable music player? As digital hardware became cheaper, more powerful, and less power-hungry, complex portable devices became feasible. At the same time, digital signal processing (DSP) and ideas from data compression and perceptual coding led to the development of "lossy" compression schemes such as jpeg, and importantly for audio, mp3 (MPEG audio layer 3). Lossy compression allows for significant reduction in bit-rate and file sizes. For mp3, compression by a factor of ten is quite common compared to CD audio rates.
|iPod ca 2003|
In January of 2007, Apple unveiled it's first iPhone smartphone. The phone was a leap forward in functionality compared to it's contemporaries. A sensitive capacitive touchscreen, which used one or more real finger tips, replace the then common stylus-based version. The phone was very similar to an earlier model by LG - they claimed that Apple had copied their device. LG's phone was popular but it lacked the 3rd party software distribution channel (App Store) and the scale of the Apple effort. For text input the iPhone uses a virtual keboard on the screen saving weight and volume. Current versions have two cameras, front-facing for video telephony and rear for high-res still and video capture. A native web-browser (Safari) is included. A wide range of free and paid apps for many needs and purposes has increased the iPhone's popularity.
Not surprisingly, Google and Microsoft have challenged Apple in the smartphone arena. Now Google's Android OS, and open hardware approach, is recapitulating the OS war between Microsoft's Windows and Apple's OS. In terms of market share, Google is gaining fast and will likely grab a large share of the market. Microsoft's smartphone OS is good and getting better.
|Steve Jobs with iPad - 2010|
Tablet (aka slate) computers are thin, flat devices with a screen area about the size of letter paper (or A4 in ISO). The don't have a physical keyboard and use touchscreen for input via a virtual keyboard and touch gestures for pointing, etc. via a fingertip or a stylus. They have been around in some form since the invention of the writing slate made of actual slate (stone). Touchscreen technology has improved a lot over the past ten years. Capacitive touchscreens are sensitive to light touch of a finger tip. Multi-touch allows two or more fingers to be tracked simultaneously. This allows for two-finger gestures (for zooming, etc.) and also better virtual keyboard function.
Apple's tablet device is called the iPad. More than 30 million iPads have been sold since it was released in April, 2010 - !@@!!
One important feature that's missing from Apple's touch input devices is called Swype (R). It's a natural for virtual keyboards expecially on small screens. You enter words by sliding your finger from letter to letter to spell out the word. The traced path is matched with likely words and you select the one you want. It's pretty good. A small keyboard is actually easier to use with Swype(R) since distance traced is smaller and thus faster.
What can we expect from Apple now that Steve is not with us? I'm sure more improvements in the current line of products. The issue for the long term is new stuff. To quote Alan Kay, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."