Game Changers: Apple

This is intended to be the first of seven (possibly more) posts on game-changing business ideas.

It’s often difficult to recognize when something changes the game. A few months or years down the road, you can usually trace a trail of copycats and wannabes back to the original idea, but even then, sometimes it’s not immediately apparent how something changed the game, or which aspect of the thing was responsible.

Other game changers are instantly recognizable. The first game changer I planned to write about was the Apple iPhone, but after thinking about it for a few seconds, I decided to inaugurate this series of posts with an ode to Apple in general.

The Mouse and GUI (1983)

Apple has built its house on one game changer after another. They introduced the mouse and GUI concept to the mass market way back in 1983, which may be the biggest game change in the history of personal computing. In many ways, the mouse and GUI is the very essence of personal computing. If you’re not a developer or a sysadmin, can you even imagine a command-prompt universe?

“Lifesavers candy” iMacs (1998)

In 1998, Apple released its candy-colored “Bondi Blue” iMac, and the world said “hold on, you can design a computer?” Now every previously overlooked appliance and utensil is designed, from toothbrushes to toilet brushes.

The iPod and iTunes (2001)

In 2001, Apple unveiled the first iPod. Portable music wasn’t revolutionary (Sony’s walkman was first to blaze that trail). The ability to carry all your music with you was new, but not revolutionary either. The scroll wheel UI was innovative, and super efficient, but not game changing. The real game changing thing about the iPod was what it did for MP3. The iPod made MP3s mainstream, and it’s no coincidence that the music industry killed Napster just as the iPod took off, paving the way for the iTunes Store (or iTunes Music Store as it was called at the time).

The iPhone (2007)

In 2007, Apple launched the first iPhone. Hard to believe it was only four years ago, since it’s become so deeply nested in my life. Everyone was wowed by the touchscreen. So sensitive, responsive and precise. And the way it bounces! So kinetic! But it’s not the screen that makes the iPhone a game changer. I played with various touchscreen prototype devices back in 2002-2003 when I worked for Vodafone. I recognized the touchscreen as the future of mobile phones, and so did everyone else who used them. The touchscreen was simply inevitable.

So it’s not the screen that changed the game. It’s the App Store. Apple opened the mobile phone up to developers, and lo the developers didst come. Now there are lots and lots of touchscreen smartphones, and lots of would-be App Stores. There’s the Android Marketplace, Blackberry App World and the Nokia Ovi Store, not to mention app stores launched by the various carriers. But if you ask iPhone users why they don’t want to switch to Android (or ask users who did switch what they miss most), many will still say it’s the apps.