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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
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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

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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The iMac appeared before USB 1.1. –  Henry May 4 '11 at 11:50
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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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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 over-charging 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.

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

There are two events that, in combination, are far, far more likely to have "jump started" USB adoption.

The first was the release of Windows 98 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. Windows 98 added extra functionality and fixed many bugs.

The second was the release of the USB 1.1 Specification 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:

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.

Published just after Windows 98, this article does a decent job at summarising the 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, penned a deal with Microsoft to get Office on the Mac for at least 5 years, and was pushing both firewire and USB as standards. USB at the time didn't support high speeds - the aim was for Apple to be interoperable with the world of PC peripherals that had largely had not been interoperable with Macs.

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. Mentioning a 14-step plan, Jobs said Mac users should have faith in Apple's new board of directors, which includes industry insiders such as Oracle Chair Larry Ellison and Intuit CEO Bill Campbell.

He reiterated the company's pledge to pare down its product line and focus on "the 30 percent of our product line [that is] fantastic."

Apple will add some new products to its line next year, Jobs said, although he offered no specifics. 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 his announcement that Apple would likely support USB in 1998, 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

Retail computer sales in November 1998. Over 84% are PCs from the top 4 brands at the time, with Apple coming in at under 5%. This doesn't even take into account business PC sales, which were likely to be more heavily lopsided in the PCs favour.

When you consider that Apple accounted for less than 5% of the desktop OS share at the time, and the fact that all major PC manufacturers were including USB ports on their computers, and that peripheral manufacturers were releasing either USB-only or dual-connection devices, it puts the claim into the realm of the extraordinary, and I've seen no extraordinary evidence backing it up.

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The kickstart claim has more to do with what apple chose to leave out of their hardware (forcing adoption of the new technology). When they adopted USB they abandoned the legacy ports forcing their peripheral manufacturers to use USB or nothing. PC manufacturers typically took a different view and retained legacy ports such as PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports (and often still did after a decade). While this meant old kit still worked, it also meant that manufacturers didn't have the same incentive to go with the new standard so they moved slowly. –  matt_black Jul 13 '12 at 10:45
    
They abandoned their own proprietary legacy ports, so anyone making Apple ADB peripherals were forced to make USB peripherals. You'd be hard pressed to say that would represent a large portion of the market. My answer shows that other manufacturers were adopting USB for peripherals prior to Apple even announcing that they would support USB, let alone the fact that they would be abandoning ADB altogether. –  jozzas Jul 13 '12 at 12:34
    
I'd settle for a simple tally of when different manufacturers brought in USB products possibly alongside the Apple iMac timeline (maybe plus market share of Apple and PC markets of USB). If PC USB peripheral growth was fast before iMac, I'd say your case was proved (I think the problem with most of the answers is they confuse the inclusion of USB ports on PCs with the actual market for peripherals). –  matt_black Jul 16 '12 at 8:09
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You're completely misunderstanding me. One of the points of USB was to eventually lower cost and be adopted into commodity devices. It's even under "Goals" in the USB 1.1 specification. My argument is that Apple had absolutely nothing to do with the hundreds of manufacturers that were developing USB devices in 1997, many of which happened to be released in 1998 (as your ref shows). If your argument is that the iMac forced Apple peripheral makers to innovate and that they could then sell cross-platform USB devices, how about some evidence supporting that? –  jozzas Jul 17 '12 at 6:58
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Hundreds of devices were on the market before the launch of the iMac. That is the point of my argument. You disagree with the USB-IF, with companies like Texas Instruments that actually made USB hardware, and with the technology journalists at the time - I suggest you actually read my answer. All you keep doing is restating the claim that Apple drove peripheral development, and you've provided zero evidence of any influence. Not even one Apple USB peripheral maker that benefited. Link me to an article lauding Apple for jumpstarting USB. There are plenty for USB 1.1 and Win98. –  jozzas Jul 18 '12 at 22:15
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USB 1.1 especially was not a replacement for firewire. It was a replacement for Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) and the PS/2 and earlier keyboard and mouse ports. It nicely meshed as a replacement for ADB in the Apple world as the topology was similar and it was purposed similarly. Until USB 2.0 USB did not allow reservation of bandwidth so was not appropriate for audio and video processing (which happened anyway), and was not fast enough for mass storage (which happened anyway) in those areas Firewire / 1394 was king.

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Welcome to Skeptics! Please provide some references to support your claims. –  Sklivvz Jul 12 '12 at 22:10
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