Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 30th Jun 2017 23:23 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Ars has started a series on the advent of the IBM PC, and today they published part one.

The machine that would become known as the real IBM PC begins, of all places, at Atari. Apparently feeling their oats in the wake of the Atari VCS' sudden Space Invaders-driven explosion in popularity and the release of its own first PCs, the Atari 400 and 800, they made a proposal to IBM's chairman Frank Cary in July of 1980: if IBM wished to have a PC of its own, Atari would deign to build it for them.

Fascinating history of the most influential computing platform in history, a statement that will surely ruffle a lot of feathers. The IBM PC compatible put a computer on every desk and in every home, and managed to convince hundreds of millions of people of the need of a computer - no small feat in a world where a computer was anything but a normal household item. In turn, this widespread adoption of the IBM PC compatible platform paved the way for the internet to become a success.

With yesterday's ten year anniversary of the original iPhone going on sale, a number of people understandably went for the hyperbole, such as proclaiming the iPhone the most important computer in history, or, and I wish I was making this up, claiming the development of the iPhone was more important to the world than the work at Xerox PARC - and since this was apparently a competition, John Gruber decided to exaggerate the claim even more.

There's no denying the iPhone has had a huge impact on the world, and that the engineers at Apple deserve all the credit and praise they're getting for delivering an amazing product that created a whole new category overnight. However, there is a distinct difference between what the iPhone achieved, and what the people at Xerox PARC did, or what IBM and Microsoft did.

The men and women at PARC literally invented and implemented the graphical user interface, bitmap graphics, Ethernet, laser printing, object-oriented programming, the concept of MVC, the personal computer (networked together!), and so much more - and all this in an era when computers were gigantic mainframes and home computing didn't exist.

As for the IBM PC compatible and Wintel - while nowhere near the level of PARC, it did have a profound and huge impact on the world that in my view is far greater than that of the iPhone. People always scoff at IBM and Microsoft when it comes to PCs and DOS/Windows, but they did put a computer on every desk and in every home, at affordable prices, on a relatively open and compatible platform (especially compared to what came before). From the most overpaid CEO down to the most underpaid dock worker - everybody could eventually afford a PC, paving the way for the internet to become as popular and ubiquitous as it is.

The iPhone is a hugely important milestone and did indeed have a huge impact on the world - but developing and marketing an amazing and one-of-a-kind smartphone in a world where computing was ubiquitous, where everybody had a mobile phone, and where PDAs existed, is nowhere near the level of extraordinary vision and starting-with-literally-nothing that the people at PARC had, and certainly not as impactful as the rise of the IBM PC compatible and Wintel.

It's fine to be celebratory on the iPhone's birthday - Apple and its engineers deserve it - but let's keep at least one foot planted in reality.

Thread beginning with comment 646190
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
Who gets more credit?
by decuser on Sat 1st Jul 2017 13:32 UTC
Member since:

While you made a valiant attempt to highlight folks who deserve credit for their efforts and impact, you did it in a way that seems to diminish the world changing impact of others. This PC on the desk of every household world you imagine - is ridiculously overstated. To someone who's traveled the first, second, and third world, it sounds quite parochial. The mobile smart phone's impact is significantly larger than you portray it to be. It's penetrated much, much further than desktop PCs ever will. Walk around a developing third world country today and you will see farmers talking on their phones and checking the weather - not every farmer to be sure, but more of them than have or will ever have desktop PC's. Equally parochial is your view of technological discovery. It's never a one-person (or company) show. I would recommend Bruno Latour's Science in Action, if you're interested in a more thoughtful discussion of how technology is practiced.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Who gets more credit?
by raglan on Sat 1st Jul 2017 16:09 in reply to "Who gets more credit?"
raglan Member since:

The iPhone launched the smartphone movement that has put computers in the hands of 10X as many people as desktop computers ever did in a far shorter period of time.

Reply Parent Score: 0

Thom_Holwerda Member since:

The iPhone launched the smartphone movement that has put computers in the hands of 10X as many people as desktop computers ever did in a far shorter period of time.

Something is clearly wrong with that chart - there are obviously more than ~300 million PCs in the world, and the number of PCs clearly isn't going down either. My guess it that while the smartphone line charts *total* smartphone sales, the PC line charts *yearly* PC sales.

EDIT: Haha the longer you look at that chart, the more craziness you discover. According to this chart, 2 billion smartphones are sold per year? Are you serious?

Edited 2017-07-01 16:38 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: Who gets more credit?
by Sidux on Tue 4th Jul 2017 09:56 in reply to "RE: Who gets more credit?"
Sidux Member since:

This just shows OEM PC's sold worldwide comparing to smartphones. It's misleading because any sane person buying a PC right now will actually resort to building one by himself or paying someone else to build it for him.
Information like this will never show on a nice graph like the one above.

Edited 2017-07-04 09:57 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE: Who gets more credit?
by dionicio on Mon 3rd Jul 2017 14:46 in reply to "Who gets more credit?"
dionicio Member since:

Having smart phones arrived first at most of the World is -in my view- one of the greatest lost opportunities.

Sitcoms are totally pro-consuming. And that's what the "rest of the world" got. Those are not tools, just spy-agents and front-stores.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Who gets more credit?
by jgfenix on Tue 4th Jul 2017 10:55 in reply to "Who gets more credit?"
jgfenix Member since:

And obviously those farmers in developing use 700$ iPhones in those developing third world countries instead of feature phones.
That change began before the iPhone with Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Ericsson etc and the iPhone contributed little to it. The iPhone didn´t start the mobile revolution, it´s just the mos successful player in developed countries.

Reply Parent Score: 2