This Week In Tech History: Steve Jobs And The NeXT Big Thing


October 12, 1988

Steve Jobs unveiled the NeXT Computer at Symphony Hall in San Francisco. A day or two later, I was among a standing-room only crowd at Boston’s Symphony Hall admiring the all-black, beautifully-designed “workstation” with a brand-new optical drive (no hard disk drive in the computer of the future according to Jobs) that played a duet with a human violinist.

That night I sent a gushing memo to my colleagues at DEC, telling them that the future has arrived and that Jobs education-sector-first marketing strategy was brilliant. Indeed, CERN was one of the early adopters and Tim Berners-Lee developed the first WWW browser/editor on the NeXT workstation. But NeXT Computer, Inc. went on to sell only 50,000 beautifully-designed “cubes,” getting out of the hardware business altogether in 1993.

For many years, I have kept in my office the “Computing advances to the NeXT level” poster I got that night as a reminder that forecasting the next big (or small) thing in technology is tough, even impossible.

And yet, many people believe that technology marches according to some “laws” or pre-defined trajectory and that all we have to do is decipher the “evolutionary” path technology (or the economy or society) is destined to follow.

Jobs went on to introduce the iPod and  the iPad, industry-changing devices whose invention was made possible, among other things, by a tiny disk drive. The possibility of a significant boost to the simultaneous shrinking (of size) and enlarging (of capacity) of disk drives was known since the discovery of the giant magnetoresistance effect in the very same year the NeXT Computer was introduced, 1988. Still, no one predicted the iPod.  Similarly, in 1990 no one predicted how the Web will change how we consume and create information or in 2000, how server virtualization will change the cost and availability of IT-on-demand, although both technologies existed at the time.

To quote someone who had the opportunity to meet his future, “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if preserved in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” We cannot predict our future. But, like Ebenezer Scrooge, we can create it. Steve Jobs did.

The move Steve Jobs opened Friday, October 9, 2015, with the launch of the NeXT Computer as one of the three product launches that form its story line.

October 13, 1860

James Wallace Black made the first successful aerial photographs in the United States. He photographed Boston from a hot-air balloon at 1,200 feet. One good print resulted, which Black titled “Boston as the Eagle and the Wild Goose see it.”

October 13, 1983

The wireless industry was born when the head of Ameritech Mobile Communications placed the first commercial cellphone call from Chicago (home of the first city-wide cellular network) to Alexander Graham Bell’s grandson in Germany. By the end of 2014, annual wireless revenues were 187.8 billion, wireless penetration in the U.S. was 110%, and 44% of U.S. households were wireless-only. Annual wirelss data usage rose from 1.468 trillion megabytes in 2012 to 4.06 trillion megabytes in 2014.

October 14, 1888

Louis Le Prince shot Roundhay Garden Scene, the earliest surviving motion picture.


October 15, 1973

Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson presented their first paper on Unix at the Fourth ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles (SOSP). The paper was later published in the July 1974 issue of Communications of the ACM. Ritchie and Thompson received the Turing Award from the ACM in 1983, the Hamming Medal from the IEEE in 1990 and the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999.

October 17, 1907

Guglielmo Marconi inaugurated the first regular transatlantic radio-telegraph service between Clifden, Ireland and Glace Bay, Canada.

October 18, 1954

Texas Instruments announced the first transistor radio, the Regency TR-1, which sold for $49.95 (about $440 in today’s dollars).

October 18, 1999

Steve Jobs was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Jobs talked about his two companies, Apple Computer and Pixar, in “Steve’s Two Jobs” by Michael Krantz. It starts with the sentence: “It’s 3:00 P.M. in Richmond, Calif., and Steve Jobs is micromanaging.”

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