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Did Apple "jumpstart the USB market"? An example of the claim is as follows:

When Apple released their iMac there was a rush to release peripherals to support them. Before that nobody really cared about USB despite the fact that it was present on the majority of PCs. People were fine with serial and parallel ports - there was simply insufficient reasons to switch to USB.

The iMac G3 was released August 15, 1998, and according to Wikipedia it was the first Mac to have a USB port. It looks as though USB 1.0 was released November 1995, meaning the timeline correlates.

How much of a factor was the iMac on the pick-up of USB, and in particular was that influence great enough to conclude that the iMac "jumpstarted" the USB Market?

As an objective measure, did the number of USB peripherals measurably increase in production at the time of (and because of) the release of the first iMac?

Even if there was a measurable increase in the production of USB peripherals at the time, is there any evidence to suggest that the use of he USB port would have increased anyway (i.e. for reasons other than the iMac supporting it, e.g. because of the maturity of chipsets/drivers, etc.)?

Thank you for reading.

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I'm not sure why the default is to assume the MAC caused the USB boom(it should probably the other way around). The MAC is not even a dominant player in the PC market. – apoorv020 May 4 '11 at 16:56
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Something doesn't have to be "dominant" to have an influential effect. As for your assertion that it should be "the other way around".... really? You really think people bought iMacs just because they had USB ports? – Heath May 4 '11 at 22:56
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@Heath: I understand @apoonv020s comment, that Macs had USB ports, because USB became dominant at that time. I never heard that Macs caused the USB-boom. Instead, I heard that MAC supported their own interface, Firewire, instead. – user unknown May 5 '11 at 0:20
up vote 34 down vote accepted

It's unlikely that Apple's support for USB had any significant impact on the adoption of the standard.

There are two other events that, in combination, "jump started" USB adoption.


1. Windows 98 release provides comprehensive USB support

Windows 98 was released in June 1998. Prior to Windows 98, USB support in Windows was flaky at best. Support was hastily added to Windows 95 through a patch which was pretty universally panned at the time, with some vendors even disabling the ports if the machine shipped with Windows 95:

We spent hours trying to get the Panasonic notebook's USB port to work, then found out the port had been disabled. Panasonic believes that USB with Windows 95 OSR2.1 is so unreliable that users are better off without it.

If all goes well, the next version of Windows may help. "We acknowledge that support [for USB in Windows 95] is very limited," acknowledges Stacey Breyfogle, a Microsoft product manager.

Vendors must write complex drivers to make their USB peripherals work under Windows 95 OSR2.1, but Microsoft will build more of the USB technology into Windows 98.

Windows 98 added this extra functionality, fixed many bugs and made it easier for vendors to write robust drivers for their devices:

The Windows 98 and Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) operating systems contain second-generation Universal Serial Bus (USB) support from Microsoft. A fundamental assumption in the PC industry is that second-generation software is always more stable and has fewer bugs than the first-generation version. This is partly because the availability of first-generation software encourages IHVs to produce a greater number and variety of devices; therefore, as the second-generation software is developed, it can be tested against many more devices.

This is particularly true for USB device support; only a handful of devices were available for testing the USB support first released to OEMs in October 1996 (in the release known as OEM Service Release [OSR] 2.1). In contrast, the USB support in Windows 98/Windows Me has been tested against over 100 production, pre-production, and engineering prototype USB devices. In particular, more interoperability testing has been done, with multiple USB devices attached to the bus at the same time. In addition to stability and fewer bugs--and therefore a better user experience with USB--USB support in Windows 98/Windows Me has significantly more functionality than the first-generation release.


2. USB 1.1 Specification release

The USB 1.1 Specification was released in August 1998 (though peripheral manufacturers would have had access to draft revisions much earlier than that in order to have 1.1 devices ready for market). The USB 1.1 spec had "Updates to all chapters to fix problems identified".

Texas Instruments' assessment of the adoption of USB identifies the updated standard as a key driver for vendors:

The release of the USB 1.1 specification combined with the native operating system support offered by Microsoft enabled the rapid adoption of USB hosts in the PC. It also drove the conversion of many peripheral devices from legacy interfaces such as serial (RS- 232), PS-2 (mice and keyboards), and parallel ports (Centronix and IEEE-1284 for printers) to this common interface standard.


ComputerWorld released an article in December 1997 which describes in more detail how peripheral manufacturers were waiting for Windows 98 USB driver support before fully backing the standard:

Universal Bus awaits Windows 98 drivers

...Most notebook PCs have come equipped with a USB port since mid 1997, but most vendors aren't yet making the printers, scanners, cameras, mice or monitors that comply with the USB standard.

But at Comdex/Fall '97, held recently in Las Vegas, a handful of vendors displayed USB-compliant devices. They included Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y.; Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif.; Logitech Corp. in Fremont, Calif.; and Connectix Corp in San Mateo, Calif. And 3Com Corp. announced that its new 56K bit/sec voice/fax modem will have USB support.

However, the "one-size-fits-all" port isn't expected to be easy to use until end users upgrade to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98, which has the necessary drivers to support USB devices. Windows 95 doesn't fully support USB.

...

"We're getting close to this being a real product and a real standard with support", said Nathan Nuttall, an analyst at Sherwood Research in Wellesley, Mass. But he said corporate adoption of USB will take two to three years. "If you've got a system [in place], you're not going to throw away all your monitors and printers", he said. "For now, you're looking at a lot of serial connections."

Published just after the release of Windows 98, this CNET article does a good job of summarising the numerous benefits the new OS would bring to peripheral makers:

Peripherals to surge with Win 98

Peripheral vendors--companies that specialize in modems, digital cameras, add-in cards, and the like--will likely experience an upswing in business following Microsoft's Windows 98 rollout, since the new operating system will bring built-in support for a number of emerging hardware technologies. ...

By far the most practical addition to Windows 98 is built-in support for the universal serial bus (USB) connector....

"Up until now, there has been no reason to implement [USB] on low-end products because it adds to cost," Bursley noted. "That said, we expect within the next year some inkjet printers will offer USB connections. Many already offer USB printers in Japan," she added.

But peripherals manufacturers are working on USB devices as PCs, toward the day when Windows 98 and USB connectors become more common. Eventually, economies of scale will help persuade companies to come out with more USB products. "There will be a pretty impressive showing of peripherals this summer," said Rob Bennett, group product manager for Windows 98. "There are 250 devices due to be launched around Windows 98 and 100 in development [to be] released in the next year," he said.

John W. Koon's book USB: Peripheral Design summarised the landscape for USB peripheral manufacturers in 1998:

According to Dataquest and Intel's projectsion (USB conference, July 1996), USB PC shipments were estimated at 20 million units in 1997 and 100 million units in 1999. In addition, the Bishop Report stated that the USB connector market would hit $400 million in 1999. The estimated ratio of peripheral use per host PC is four to one.

Mid 1998 saw an explosion of USB devices onto the market. According to the USB implementers forum chair at the time, Stephen Walley:

Three main factors are credited for the large volume of development activity, according to Whalley. These include: USB becoming mainstream on all consumer desktop and most notebook PCs, the wide availability of building blocks for developing products (such as silicon and development tools), and the upcoming availability of Windows '98.


What About Apple?

Apple's release of the iMac spurred the recovery of the company, but it's difficult to argue that a single computer model (accounting for less than 5% of private desktop computer sales at its peak) influenced the adoption of USB in any great way.

In 1997, Steve Jobs had recently been re-hired as Apple CEO and was trying to put the company back on the path to success. He slashed their product line and penned a deal with Microsoft to get Office on the Mac for at least 5 years, and announced the iMac which did away with all Apple proprietary ports and offered only USB.

USB at the time didn't support high speeds - the aim was for Apple to be interoperable with the world of PC peripherals that was largely incompatible at the time. Apple users had to buy Mac-specific scanners, printers and webcams, and Apple moving to USB would make it easy for peripheral manufacturers to make their products cross compatible, which made the Mac a more attractive platform and made it easier for PC users to switch and keep all of their PC peripherals.

The earliest public hint at Apple support for USB was in October 1997:

Jobs' keynote, meanwhile, offered many promises and few details for the bedraggled company's recovery. ... He also said that in 1998 the company will support FireWire, Apple's high-speed technology for linking Macintoshes with devices such as printers and cameras, and Universal Serial Bus, which links peripherals like scanners and monitors.

However, prior to any indication that Apple would support USB, the following had been ocurring:

Essentially, all of the major technology players had decided to support USB as a standard and peripheral makers were switching over. Prior to the release of the first Apple with USB support, USB devices and computers with USB ports (for example: the Dell GXa, one of the best selling business PCs of the era, IBM's PC 300 Series) were both widespread.

There were well over 50 USB peripherals on the market prior to the launch of the iMac in 1998, and hundreds more came onto the market throughout that year


Another reason that Apple likely had little impact on adoption of USB was their tiny market share at the time. In November 1998, over 84% of retail sales were PCs just from the top 4 brands at the time, with Apple coming in at under 5%. This also doesn't take into account business PC sales, which were at the time even more heavily lopsided in the PCs favour.

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sklivvz Jan 27 at 23:25

USB 1.x introduction

Market share

OS market shares of that time (Source):

  • Windows 95/98 69.4%,
  • Windows NT Workstation 9.2%,
  • Windows 3.x (with DOS) 7.7%,
  • Mac OS 4.6%,
  • Linux 2.4%,
  • DOS (IBM, Digital Research, Microsoft) 2.3%,
  • Unix 1.0%,
  • OS/2 Warp 0.8%,
  • other 2.7%

Windows 95 OSR2 released on 27 August 1997 included USB support and Windows 98 introduced further improvements in USB handling.

Thus Windows users were 15 times more than Mac users, and have had USB support one year before it was introduced in Apple products.

USB creators

USB 1.1 was joint effort of Compaq, Intel, Microsoft and NEC. Note, that Apple is not mentioned.

USB 1.1 specification cover page

Source: USB 1.1 specification cover page

USB 2.0

Main driving factor behind introduction of USB 2.0 was Apple planning to over-charge for Firewire licenses. So yes, in that way Apple "contributed" to its proliferation.

USB 3.0

First USB 3.0 product was introduced in mid-2009, first laptops with USB 3.0 appeared in Q1 2010, and currently pretty much standard in all mainstream PCs. As of now (Q1 2012) it's not yet introduced in Apple products. History repeats itself. This time it's not USB 2.0 vs Firewire, but USB 3.0 vs Thunderbolt.

Update: Apple has introduced USB 3.0 in some of it products in late 2012 while introducing Retina MacBooks. This happened when USB 3.0 was already on the market for more than 3 years, while Thunderbolt failed to gain any significant traction.

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The "apple overcharged for firewire" reference also says the licence fees should not be a barrier to adoption. Moreover it also explicitly makes the claim that apple's decision to ditch non-USB ports was a big influence on peripheral makers decision to use it. In fact as a general point it is not the adoption of USB that is significant but the removal of legacy ports. This forced peripheral manufactures to move to new technology. PC makers mostly didn't so I've only recently had my first laptop that doesn't waste space on a PS/2 keyboard/mouse socket. – matt_black Nov 25 '11 at 21:34
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Fixed the link. Removal significant? Apple significant? I don't think so. – vartec Nov 25 '11 at 22:05
    
The USB support in Windows 95 seriously sucked. But that wasn't the main problem. It was the fact that Although Windows might have supported it, most PC's simply didn't have any USB ports (and those that had were 1.0, which wasn't that useful as generic ports). You had to buy USB ports as extension cards for most PC's. Therefore this is not an argument against Apple "jumpstarting" the USB market. – Lennart Regebro Jul 17 '12 at 6:09
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@LennartRegebro: unless you're in Australia, January is hardly summer. And it wasn't the first chipset to include USB support. Intel PIIX3 already had USB support in 1996. – vartec Jul 17 '12 at 9:19
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@LennartRegebro: the chipset was announced and made available to OEMs in January, I've had computer with this chipset buy mid-1998. Which is before Mac with any kind of USB came out. And I have had computer with USB 1.0 long before that. So Mac being "first computer with USB" is total BS. – vartec Jul 17 '12 at 12:47

The iMac was not only the first Mac to include USB, it was one of the first computers in general to have USB 1.1 ports. USB 1.1 fixed a lot of minor glitches with 1.0, and the rise of USB might very well be attributable to that instead.

But the iMac may have helped, not so much by including USB ports, but by not including any legacy ports. That means that you now had to buy new USB peripherals instead of your old ones. But since PC providers also started including USB it meant that the manufacturers of peripherals now could make one peripheral that would work on both platforms, and that, in my opinion, is the real reason USB took off, as hardware manufacturers had a good reason to switch to USB.

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Some references for para. 2 would be lovely! :) – Brian M. Hunt May 3 '11 at 20:24
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@Henry: No. The iMac G3 was introduces a couple of weeks before the 1.1 specification was approved and published, which is very different from "appearing". Apple, as a part of the USB-IF, would have had access to the USB 1.1 spec and USB 1.1 implementations way ahead of that. – Lennart Regebro May 4 '11 at 12:58
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The Dell GXa was released in early 1998 with USB 1.1 ports, and anyone building a PC could purchase a motherboard with USB 1.1 ports for months prior to that - similar to manufacturers including USB3 ports before the spec was finalised. And the Dell GX1, released in June "Along with the IBM 300PL, was one of the most widely used business desktops of the 1999–2005 era." – jozzas Apr 28 '12 at 13:09
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It's a good answer, except for the part about "in my opinion." Nothing wrong with your opinion (I actually share it)... but that doesn't make for a good answer on Skeptics. :( – Flimzy Jul 17 '12 at 5:58
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referenced article states: "the first Mac to include USB ports", not "the first computers in general " – vartec Jul 18 '12 at 8:23

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