There's many things that Apple might not have invented, but did nonetheless popularize.
It was IBM who "popularized" the PC among the ranks of accountants and economists and statisticians and MBAs who never felt the magic of the cramped Apple II keyboard or the 40 column display with no lowercase letters. These dullards constituted a far larger market than Apple commanded until the distant dawn of gadget manna.
For the tablet, some company that loomed large in the public imagination needed to step up and offer legitimacy that this wasn't just a niche product doomed to forever remain a niche product, just as IBM did with the original PC—this while Xerox already had the bones of the Apple Lisa/Macintosh with mice and networking in an advanced state of development within their research lab.
Funny how the worm turns.
The entirely of the PC revolution was set in motion by a combination of Leibniz/Babbage and the invention of solid state semiconductors and would have unfolded much as it has without any of the companies we know today who muscled their way into the vanguard of brand recognition by some combination of skill and luck (far more luck than usually admitted in the retrospective hagiography).
Bell Labs' attorneys soon discovered Shockley's field effect principle had been anticipated and devices based on it patented in 1930 by Julius Lilienfeld, who filed his MESFET-like patent in Canada on October 22, 1925.
Fifty years later, we arrive at Apple's founding moment:
The MOS Technology 6502 is an 8-bit microprocessor that was designed by Chuck Peddle and Bill Mensch for MOS Technology in 1975. When it was introduced, the 6502 was by a considerable margin, the least expensive full-featured microprocessor on the market, selling for less than one-sixth the cost of competing designs from larger companies, such as Motorola and Intel.
Innovation is a fifty-lap relay race around a marathon track. I'd also give props to Colossus, System/360 (mainframe), the Unix philosophy, and the massive scale of Google's data center search appliance (cloudframe). Apple never made it into this league.
Throughout this period the Colossus remained secret, long after any of its technical details were of any importance. This was due to the UK's intelligence agencies use of Enigma-like machines which they promoted and sold to other governments, and then broke the codes using a variety of methods. Had the knowledge of the codebreaking machines been widely known, no one would have accepted these machines; rather, they would have developed their own methods for encryption, methods that the UK services might not have been able to break.
The scope of PRISM is a big surprise? To anyone? Really?
It's pretty obvious with Coke that cultivating their global brand was their core innovation. This is less obvious with Apple, but closer to the mark than most suppose.
How Amazon Followed Google Into the World of Secret Servers
Pinkham was struck by how different the machines looked â" and how hot they were. Even then, Google was running its website on dirt-cheap, stripped-down servers slotted into extremely tight spaces. They didnâ(TM)t even have plastic cases.
This was at least as central to Google's business model as their brand-building Page Rank algorithm. And it requires building a robust data-center OS.
If I had to name one thing that Apple innovated outside of brand/fit-and-finish (and gleanings from NeXT) while doing the lion's share of the work themselves, it would be this:
The combination of the LaserWriter, PostScript, PageMaker and the Mac's GUI and built-in AppleTalk networking would ultimately transform the landscape of computer desktop publishing.
For me the iPhone is a story of execution, balls, and charisma. I regard the LaserWriter as more innovative in its separation from competing products than the iPhone, for all its sleekness. Spending $150 million to create the iPhone should buy you some kick-ass industrial design. A little more than that buys you Titanic, Avatar or John Carter. Kudos to Apple that the end result of their big, scary investment was more like Titanic and less like John Carter. Kudos that it was the right product at the right time. Still, it's spit and polish innovation, lacking technical depth.
For innovation on steroids, take a look at $1,000 genome:
Human Genome Project 1990-2003: $2.7 billion
Full genome 2007: $1 million
Full genome circa 2015: $1000
One fresh-faced combatant, Genia, has recently received a large grant, and issued a press release proposing commercial introduction at the end of 2014. Here's an older article describing the seriously impressive shit they are slinging together:
Geniaâ(TM)s Nanopore/Microchip Technology Gains Life Technologiesâ(TM) Support
Maybe they do, maybe they don't make this work. That's another clue that real innovation has a pizza baking in the Tokamak pizza oven. For the antipode, consider how Slashcode handles simple Unicode code points.