The videophone. The bar code. The computer mouse. The digital audio player. The personal digital assistant. Each was innovative. Each was ahead of its time. Each solved a problem that nobody had. So, if nobody could or even wanted to use those inventions, were they really innovative?
The videophone first appeared in the mid 1930s -- before there were even TVs – yet no one seemed to need it (and, besides, it was enormous). When the technology re-appeared at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, people viewed it as a Jetsons-like device of a rocketship future (and the cost was astronomical, as well). The technology was an improvement on audio-only telephony, but no one considered it vital.
When bar codes first turned up in the ’40s, the concept was accepted as useful… in theory. Yet without accompanying scanning capabilities and interpretative software, which wouldn’t come along for almost 25 years, the problem that bar codes might have solved proved insoluble.
In 1984, Apple put the mouse to use in a practical way, but it had been hiding in labs for a decade at least, trying to navigate a maze of different systems. Of course, by now, everyone assumes that Apple and Steve Jobs held a monopoly on innovative “stuff,” but the Newton personal digital assistant was a bust.
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