Feb 9, 2011
It was November 2000: Apple has just released the public beta of Mac OS X; George W Bush defeated Al Gore, a future Apple board member, in the US presidential election; Netscape Navigator 6 is released; and I sat down in front of a “tangerine” iMac G3 for my first day as online editor for MacUser.
A few things have changed since then: OS X is old, George “Dubya” daren’t travel to Europe in case he’s arrested; Netscape is makes ageing geeks wistful; and the iMac G3 is a museum piece.
But in my life one thing has been constant — a seat in front of a Mac to populate and curate the news pages of macuser.co.uk. Yesterday that came to an end. The website passes to an old hand and I set out in search of pastures new.
Time then, for reflection on the past decade and the almighty changes that I had the fortune to report. So, cue At The Sign of the Swinging Cymbal, these are my top 10 tech developments of the last 10 years.
September 1997: Google
So the name was registered three years earlier, but no discussion of tech in the noughties can ignore the search and advertising giant. Not only did it make the web truly searchable, Google also worked out how to make money from it. It also gave us Gmail, just as email began to give way to the social web, a number of failed projects such as Buzz and Wave and one hugely expensive success, YouTube. Then with its Android OS for smartphones and Chrome browser, Google is showing signs that it can diversify what has become a multi-billion dollar advertising business.
March 2001: Mac OS X
Only with the benefit of hindsight can we appreciate how important was Apple’s decision to replace its ailing Macintosh OS with Mac OS X. Together with another key decision of the decade — of which more in a moment — it rescued Apple from a seemingly inexorable decline. Mac OS X 10.0 went on sale in March 2001, though it was 10.1, released six months later, that many consider to be the first version that could be relied upon for real work. I switched in January 2002 and never looked back. Of course Apple’s core market at the time — graphics professionals — waited much longer, not least because key developers took some time before warming to Apple’s new world.
October 2001: iPod
“Rip. Mix. Burn.” Apple proclaimed in January, as it belatedly woke up to the MP3 revolution and released iTunes. Great, we thought, a nicely designed music player for the Mac. Some nine months later the company unveiled what it had promised would be a “breakthrough digital device”. Not everyone was impressed when that turned out to be the iPod. Obviously, being the omniscient tech journo, I was hooked. “iPod embodies all of the things for which Apple is quite justifiably renowned – great design, simple but sophisticated functionality and the kind of understated elegance that other manufacturers never quite seem to capture,” I wrote at the time. That has remained largely true in the following nine years and Apple has sold 300 million. iTunes, on the other, had has become a grey, bloated beast, although, at its heart, it’s still a great music player.
March 2002: Flash video
Flash is certainly not universally popular but it’s easy to forget how awful web video was before Adobe added movie playback to its already ubiquitous Flash Player. Now we take it for granted. Within a generation, the web may be the only way we watch video, though hopefully we’ll have moved on from Flash.
March 2002: social networking
It’s impossible to pin down a date for something so ethereal, but in March 2002 Jonathan Abrams and Peter Chin launched Friendster. And, as it says in the Old Testament, Friendster begat MySpace and Facebook. Then along came Twitter, which begat a lot of lame puns. Forget email, so last century, Facebook and Twitter are how we communicate on the web (for expats such as me, they provide a connection back home that we never got from email).
November 2004: Firefox
No-one saw it at the time but the open source web browser set up as an experimental spin-off from Mozilla, itself a spin-off from Netscape, has had a huge impact on both the way we use the web and the way the web is built. Internet Explorer was the dominant force, websites were coded to obey its idiosyncrasies that rode roughshod over standards and innovation was minimal. In 2003 Apple released Safari, which at least gave Mac users an alternative, but it was the emergence of Firefox that finally broke IE’s hegemony. Standards came back into fashion; security was no longer an afterthought; extensions turned the browser into a powerful tool; and the web became a software platform.
June 2005: Intel
It was an open secret that Apple maintained an Intel-compatible version of OS X should its relationship with its existing CPU suppliers break down. And so it proved when, at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Steve Jobs revealed that the first Mac running an Intel CPU would be released within a year and that, by 2007, all Macs would be Intel-based. Together with the release of OS X 10.4 Tiger a month earlier, Intel hardware would transform the Mac market. Intel chips helped to make Macs cheaper and, crucially, no longer did they fail to match up when comparing headline performance stats with Windows PCs. In calendar 2004 Apple sold 3.5 million computers; in 2007 it sold 7.7 million; in 2010 14.4 million.
January 2007: iPhone
Unveiled in January, on sale in June, Apple’s phone transformed the industry, mobile computing, gaming, software development and the software market, and sold millions — the most revolutionary technological development of the decade. iPhone also ushered in iOS, the App Store — changing forever the way software is sold, a new mobile gaming platform that found a huge audience with the release of the iPod touch, and the iPad.
November 2007: Amazon Kindle
Arguably the ugliest* device to have such a game-changing impact, the Kindle took the ebook out of a niche and turned it into a mass-market. Amazon’s genius move was to provide readers with free wireless downloads direct to the device, so wherever they are in the world, a new book is only seconds away. Such was the Kindle’s success that just over two years later Steve “people don’t read anymore” Jobs unveiled iBooks, Apple’s own ebook reader. (*Subsequent versions have toned down the ugliness.)
April 2010: iPad
iPod, iPhone, iPad: Apple scored a hat-trick of game-changing devices when the iPad went on sale last year. If any indication of its success was required — other than sales in excess of 15 million — it’s the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, held every January. Exhibitors showed more than 100 tablet devices bidding to be the “iPad killer”. Good luck with that.