Remembering the ‘i’ in Broadband: A Memorium

Broadband's Impact, People, The Innovation Economy, Wireless October 5th, 2012


By Stephen Bone

October 5, 2012 – It has been fourteen years now, so the “i” has simply become a trademark, almost a cliché of itself, something to be parodied. Consequently, many have forgotten that the “i” in iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad all stand for something, for the same thing — the “i” stands for “internet.” It was Apple’s Steve Jobs, who passed away one year ago today, who put that “i” into the world’s lexicon. Along with Tim Berners Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, it was Steve Jobs who also become foremost instrumental in putting the Internet within easy reach of the common man.

With the introduction of the iMac in 1998, Apple stopped including floppy drives in its computers, because with an iMac you could take the computer out of the box, plug it in, and without having any networking experience whatsoever be connected to the Internet within minutes. With an iMac, you could email your files, rather than run them from computer-to-computer using the “sneaker net.” Soon thereafter, with the introduction of iTunes for Apple’s new iPod, you also stopped needing CDs because you could by then simply download your music. More significantly, you could pay a reasonable price for music rather than be forced to steal it in order to get it onto a portable music player. The iPhone took a bit longer to appear, but it was even more revolutionary. It disconnected the computer altogether and let us take our internet connection with us wherever we could pick up a cell or WiFi signal. The iPad did the same thing, but in a form factor that reinvented our entire concept of computing, using an operating system that raised the bar on our ease-of-use-expectations as much as did the original Macintosh’s GUI (graphical user interface).

Oh, certainly the Internet has been around a long time. It much proceeded Apple, but it proceeded Apple within the realm of university laboratories and military research installations. It preceded Apple on computers that were so expensive and complex that only the wealthy and the bizarrely brilliant could afford to own and operate them. Other companies had even talked of an “internet computer” before Apple, companies such as IBM and Oracle. However, it was Steve Jobs’ vision that actually willed the internet computer into existence, in forms that no one had imagined, and made the internet computer both accessible and affordable for the masses.

Steve Jobs’ internet computer would not be a dumb terminal sitting on a desk, or wired to a wall as almost everyone had imagined. Jobs’ internet computer would turn out to something every so much more magical: a sliver of polished metal and crystalline glass, small enough to fit in your pocket, and able to connect you to the entire world. It would turn out to be wireless, mobile, and as powerful as any computer imagined only a generation before. It would quickly become so inexpensive, that only two days before Job’s death, Apple would announce that one model of iPhone would soon be available for free on contract. A year later, the iPhone no longer even requires a contract and will soon be available in 100 countries.

The politicians, the academics, the activists… we all talk about making broadband a reality, about making the Internet an easily accessible technology, about making worldwide communications available to everyone, but we seem to have forgotten that prefacing letter, that “i” — the “i” that has been connecting people to the Internet for almost a decade-and-a-half already. We forget that much of what we aspire to has been accomplished, that much of what we dream of has only become fathomable because Steve Jobs already imagined the roadmap ahead of us. We forget that we are the followers, not the leaders – that we stand on the shoulders of a giant. This is humbling to acknowledge, but by recognizing where we have been, what has already has been achieved, we can better allocate our resources and priorities in charting a path forward.

Stephen Bone is a retired maritime I.T. officer, and early adopter of broadband on both land and sea.

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