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Steve Jobs and Apple: Masters of refinement, not innovation

Darcy Musings Leave a Comment

I realize that this may ruffle a few feathers but I strongly think that Steve Jobs greatest accomplishment was redefining the word innovate.  I believe that Steve Jobs and Apple are masters of refinement but not innovation.

The story of Apple has been endlessly documented as has the recent Samsung vs. Apple trial.  We are all aware of Apple’s darkest Steve Jobs - Worthy of the CEO title hour followed by how Steve Jobs returned to raise it from the ashes and led it to becoming an industry leader in many areas.   Under Steve Jobs guidance, Apple has brought us wonderful products such as the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and the iPad.  These have all be touted at being innovative and revolutionary and I often read praise from many a blogger about how Apple innovates but every time I here that phrase, I stop and ponder the following:

Haven’t we seen this all before?  If so, how can it be that Apple is being attributed to creating all these technologies?

First off, let me define the word innovate:

Innovate:  to introduce (something new) for or as if for the first time

That definition is taken verbatim from and it is how I’ve always used the word.  I started wondering if perhaps people were misusing the word as it tends to happen quite frequently on the internet.  I decided to do a bit of research on the 5 big apple products that I mentioned above to see if they were indeed innovations.  Here is a quick breakdown along with a few comments.With that in mind, I would like to quickly break down five Apple products that people consider innovative and where we’ve seen them before:


Apple Product (release year) Competing Product (Company – release year)
iMac (1998) Hewlett-Packard – HP 9830 (1972)
The all-in-one PC can probably be considered the closest to innovation out of the five products listed here. They may not have created the initial idea but they turned it into a commercial success with the original Macintosh back in 1984 and then again in 1998 with the iMac.
iPod (2001) Saehan Information Systems – MPMan (1997)
The concept of a music player goes further back that Saehan’s implementation and there were a few others that followed them (Diamond Rio, Creative Nomad) before Apple introduced the iPod.
iPhone (2007) Palm Kyocera 6035 (2001)
The smartphone market was growing and there were many OSes around (Palm, Win CE, and others) but the market exploded when Apple introduced the first iPhone. While I believe the first few iterations were a step back in terms of customization and functionality, it was simple to use and had a form factor that everyone liked.
iTunes – Media Player (2001) Nullsoft – Winamp (1997)
There were sleeker, more responsive and less quirky media players on the market when iTunes appeared but it’s usage was guaranteed after it was endorsed by Apple and was necessary to use an iPod. It was the groundwork laid by Apple for what was to come: A music and application store. Despite it’s success it is still the subject of much debate as there are groups of people who consider it overly complicated, bloated and unnecessary.
iTunes – Music Store (2003) Internet Marketing Consultants Inc – (1998)
iTunes was supported by Apple and while not the first music store, it was marketed as such and if Fox News has taught me anything, it is that if you shout it loud enough and long enough, people will start to believe you.
iTunes – App Store (2008) Handango – Inhand (2003)
App stores existed years before Apple tried to coin the term. They were not as elegant or sleek but they were abundant and was the basis for the iTunes app store.
iPad (2010) Nokia – Nokia 7770 Internet Tablet (2005)
Microsoft also tried to deliver the tablet to the mass market in the early 2000’s era but it wasn’t so successful. Despite that others released touch based tablets but sometimes, the marketing machine can drown out the truth.


I’ve been fascinated by technology for the past 30 years so this list did not surprise me as I’ve used most of the products in the right column as well as the left. I think the key point in all of this is the fact that Apple is probably the most skilled at taking existing ideas/products and refining them into something that is easy to use and is appealing to mass markets. The amazing part is that they are able to do in addition to distorting the truth just enough so that people believe the technology was indeed created by Apple.

Throughout the span of humanity, it has been shown that history is written by the victor. I believe that is what Apple is doing and yet with the advent of the Internet and a plethora of information at our fingertips, most people are not interested in digging into all the claims put forth by Apple.

Steve Jobs was not the first to surround himself with a reality distortion field, nor will he be the last. Steve Jobs was a visionary who masterfully combined his charisma and marketing skills to make his refinements look like innovations. He may have twisted the truth to get Apple into the big leagues, but had that not happened, the tech industry would not be where it is today.

Does it really matter if the definition of the word innovate is being used liberally by every fanboy? I don’t think so. The meanings of words change over time and if a word can be bent to increase sales by x% without consequence, why would someone not do it?  I think the important lesson to understand here is that true innovation can be difficult to achieve in this day and age.  Apple has simply evolved the industries in which they compete.  If you interested in seeing what true innovation is, one simply has to take a gander of the work being done over in Swizterland by the Large Hadron Collider.