11 innovations Apple 'copied' (but not from the companies you'd expect)

Apple is constantly accused of copying other companies' inventions. Sometimes that reputation is deserved, sometimes it's not - and sometimes the truth is stranger still

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  • Steve Jobs 800home Who invented what?
  • Xerox Alto 800 Windows
  • iOS App Store 1000 App Store
  • Commodore PET 2001 1000 All-in-ones
  • Neonode N1M swipe to unlock 800 Swipe to unlock
  • Alan Kay Dynabook 1000 Tablets
  • Telephonoscope 800 Video phone
  • Seiko Data 2000 800 Smartwatches
  • Apple Music For You Choose Music streaming
  • Siri Funny things Voice-based personal assistant
  • Security ID theft 800home Fingerprint ID
  • Original iPhone launch 1000 Touchscreen
  • More stories
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Who invented what?

Apple has dazzled consumers with some fabulous cutting-edge features over the years, from touchscreen technology to fingerprint identification. Compared to the past, our life is much more organised with Siri; our personal information is much safer with Touch ID; our train journeys are far more pleasant thanks to tablets.

But did Apple really invent all these things? Or is it, as followers of rival companies often claim, simply very good at perfecting and popularising the innovations of others?

The truth, of course, sits somewhere between the two. Apple does specialise in identifying vulnerable markets, then sweeping in with a killer product that's a better version of what's available already. But by doing this Apple consistently moves the industry forward, setting the bar higher in every market it enters. Take Apple out of the equation and the technology world would be very much the poorer, in terms of innovation as well as quality.

In any case, as we will discover in this article, a lot of the innovations and inventions that Apple is supposed to have copied from rival companies have been around a lot longer than you'd think. Read on to find out the truth behind those 'copycat' accusations.

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Next Prev Steve Jobs 800home

Apple has dazzled consumers with some fabulous cutting-edge features over the years, from touchscreen technology to fingerprint identification. Compared to the past, our life is much more organised with Siri; our personal information is much safer with Touch ID; our train journeys are far more pleasant thanks to tablets.

But did Apple really invent all these things? Or is it, as followers of rival companies often claim, simply very good at perfecting and popularising the innovations of others?

The truth, of course, sits somewhere between the two. Apple does specialise in identifying vulnerable markets, then sweeping in with a killer product that's a better version of what's available already. But by doing this Apple consistently moves the industry forward, setting the bar higher in every market it enters. Take Apple out of the equation and the technology world would be very much the poorer, in terms of innovation as well as quality.

In any case, as we will discover in this article, a lot of the innovations and inventions that Apple is supposed to have copied from rival companies have been around a lot longer than you'd think. Read on to find out the truth behind those 'copycat' accusations.

 

Windows-based graphical user interface

Let's start with the computer desktop. Who first developed a window-based graphical interface?

The word 'windows' might be a red herring here, because the answer isn't Microsoft - not by a long shot. With 1984's Macintosh, Apple itself beats Windows 1.0 (released in 1985), but we have to go back to the previous decade for the answer to this riddle.

Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) designed the first graphical user interface (or GUI) in the 1970s. Three years later, Xerox PARC developed the Alto computer, the first device to use a GUI.

GUI is a system of interaction between humans and computers that uses windows, icons and pointing devices. It was a remarkable invention, replacing the archaic and complicated textual interface of the earliest computers; at a stroke, using computers became faster and more intuitive.

The first innovator was Douglas Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute. In 1968 he gave the first public presentation of windows, introducing a machine with hyperlinked text, keyboard, function keypad and mouse-driven cursor. Engelbart's innovations were then used at Xerox PARC, to which many of his team moved.

In 1973, the company developed the Alto computer. It displayed bitmaps; everything in it was an icon which corresponded to a specific bit of information. Icons displayed office stuff, such as printed documents. By clicking over one of them, a signal was implemented.

The Apple connection: In 1979, Steve Jobs visited Xerox's headquarters, where he was hugely impressed by the Alto and got (shall we say) inspired. Some years later, Apple developed an operating system with a similar GUI-based design. It was incorporated into the Macintosh, released in 1984.

Read next: Apple history: the story of Apple

 

App Store

Surely Apple has the original app store, given that it's tried (unsuccessfully) to trademark the term?

Not so. It certainly got there ahead of Google, its great rival in this space, but there were app stores of one sort or another long before that.

We're inclined to give the title to Handango - whose Handango InHand app store came along in 2003 - because InHand sat on the device itself. If you include any old online portal where you could buy mobile software, you need to go back to the early 90s.

The Apple connection: The iOS App Store launched on 10 July 2008, and was available with iPhone 2.0. Shortly afterwards, the iPhone 3G appeared, featuring preloaded App Store support. At the time of the release, iTunes App Store provided 552 apps, 135 of which were free. The most common prices were 99 cents and $9.99.

Read next: Best ways of finding apps on the App Store

 

The all-in-one computer

It was Commodore International that designed the first all-in-one personal computer, integrating monitor and system components in the same case, back in 1977.

The Commodore PET 2001 consisted of a solid white chassis that wrapped up a 9in integrated blue or white monitor, built-in cassette drive, 4K of RAM and many expansion sockets and ports. Its keyboard was quite unworkable; it was known as 'chiclet' because it had tiny keys - very difficult to click on.

The Apple connection: Apple developed its first all-in-one Macintosh computer in 1984: the Macintosh 128K. Its beige chassis contained a 9in black-and-white display, a keyboard, and a single 400KB floppy disk drive.

Read next: 2013's Mac Pro vs. 1984's Macintosh 128K | Macintosh 128K unboxing

 

Swipe to unlock

A small Swedish company, Neonode, filed a patent for swipe to unlock touchscreen in December 2002; this was several years before Apple released its first device with the swipe to unlock function.

The swipe to unlock technology firstly appeared on the Neonode N1m, which was launched in 2005. It worked similarly to Apple's well-known touch-and-glide touchscreen. You had to swipe from left to right to give a 'yes' command or to unlock the phone.

Neonode's prior use of the slide to unlock feature proved significant in the legal showdown between Apple and Samsung.

The Apple connection: Apple filed its own patent for slide to unlock in December 2005 and launched the technology in 2007, with the first iPhone.

 

The tablet computer

The computer scientist Alan Kay envisioned the first tablet computing, the Dynabook, back in 1968.

In 1968 Alan Kay produced a pioneering paper, entitled A personal computer for children of all ages. It was a draft for a portable computer aimed at children. The tablet was conceived as a notebook-size device, with dynamic graphic, audio and document files. Children would had been able to carry around their own school in small, sub-4lb portable computer.

Sadly, the Dynabook was never built: it was too advanced a concept for the technology available in the 1960s. But this groundbreaking idea paved the way for the development of later tablet computers.

(In the same year as Kay's paper, mind you, something that looked suspiciously like a tablet appeared in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. This fact was seized upon by Samsung as evidence against an iPad design patent.)

The Apple connection: Apple's first tablet was the Newton MessagePad 100, released in 1993. It was a tiny device with many functions, such as sending and receiving emails and fax, organising applications and the ability to recognise words typed on the screen.

 

Video calling

The telephone was invented in 1876, which even the most hardened of Apple fans will concede is a few years ahead of the first iPhone. But what about the video phone?

Funnily enough, the concept was around at roughly the same time. It's a story that will be familiar to anyone who follows Apple coverage today: the public loved the new invention, and promptly started to speculate about a follow-up that would include all the features they felt were missing from the original. This speculation centred around the telephonoscope, a video phone that would combine images and sound, and illustrations of such a machine started to appear in the late 1870s.

Unsurprisingly, it took a while for this concept to become a reality - the best part of a century, in fact. AT&T started work on a video phone system in 1927, but it wasn't until 1964 that the company showed off its Picturephone at the New York World Fair. The Picturephone consisted of a screen with a video camera, speakers, a button to place a call and a power supply. It was then connected to a telephone.

Sadly, the Picturephone was a failure. The price for a call was too high; a three-minute call was charged the equivalent of $200 in today's money. Early users were concerned about their appearance, the screen was too small and the control system was pretty cold and unfriendly.

The Apple connection: Apple launched its videotelephony system, FaceTime, on 24 June 2010. It was launched together with the iPhone 4, at 2010's Worldwide Developers Conference.

Read next: FaceTime isn't working: 11 great FaceTime troubleshooting tips

 

The smartwatch

In 1972 the first digital wristwatch, the Pulsar NLC01, was launched by Hamilton Watch Company. The pulsar had a programmable memory and could store up to 24 digits. It was the first 'memorybank' watch. Its original version come out in an 18K golden case, and sold for $2,100.

A proper smart watch, however, in the sense of a device that had more functions than merely displaying the date and time, didn't come out until 1983. The Japanese watchmaker Seiko manufactured the Seiko Data 2000, a digital watch paired with a keyboard!

The Apple connection: Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch on 9 September 2014. The smartwatch was then officially released on 10 April 2015.

 

Music streaming

Apple Music is usually seen as a Spotify killer (or copycat), yet music streaming has been around a bit longer than that.

Spotify came along in 2008, having been in development since 2006, but was predated by Last.fm (launched 2002) and Pandora (2000), along with a range of lesser-known online streaming services and web radio stations.

You might be suprised, however, to hear that music streaming, in a slightly different form, can be dated back to the 1920s. That's when a patent was awarded for what would become Muzak, the annoying piped music that you used to enjoy in lifts and department stores.

(Did you know: Muzak used to be played in factories and other workplaces, and was designed in 15-minute sections that would gradually speed up and get louder, because it was found that this made the employees work harder? This was called 'Stimulus Progression'.)

The Apple connection: Apple came out with its own subscription-based music streaming, Apple Music, on June 2015.

Read next: Complete guide to Apple Music

 

Voice-based personal assistant

Wildfire Communications launched the first telephone-based assistant with a natural voice in 1994.

Wildfire was the first virtual assistant on a phone. It had a natural voice that encouraged users to feel at ease and think of Wildfire as a real person. (People usually referred to Wildfire as "She".)

You had merely to talk to Wildfire on your phone and the personal assistant helped you to make calls, and listen to voicemails and emails. Wildfire also managed incoming phone calls and worked as an alarm clock or remainder.

The Apple Connection: Siri, Apple's voice-based personal assistant, debuted with the iPhone 4s in 2011.

Read next: Siri troubleshooting guide: The 10 worst Siri annoyances, and how to fix them

 

Fingerprint-based identification

The patterned ridges on the bulbs of our fingers have fascinated humankind since the prehistoric era. They were first used as a system of identification in 1858 by Sir William Herschel, a British administrator in India, who got the locals to record their fingerprints when signing business documents in order to reduce fraud. Fingerprint identification remained slow and inaccurate until the 1970s and the introduction of computers to the procedure.

But what about mobile devices with fingerprint scanners? For that, we must jump to 2003, when HP launched the iPaq PPC 5500. The iPaq's keyboard featured a reader strip, and you had to swipe your finger on this to unlock the PC.

The Apple connection: Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor first appeared on the iPhone 5s, which was released in September 2013.

 

The touchscreen

The first touchscreen device dates back to 1965, and was invented by EA Johnson at the Royal Radar Establishment.

The first finger-driven touchscreen wasn't that practical, mind you; it could read just one touch at a time (no multitouch here), and it was apparently fairly imprecise. The latter criticism is particularly troubling since it was used for air traffic control.

The Apple connection: The first Apple product with touchscreen technology was the original iPhone, released in 2007.

It's rumoured, incidentally, that Apple designed a prototype of a touchscreen landline telephone back in 1983. The prototype featured a white phone with a built-in touchscreen, and came with a stylus. Sadly, the device was never manufactured.

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