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Apple Computer Changes Name to Apple Inc

The shift from computing to consumer devices

Summary

Today Apple Computer announced that it's changing its name to Apple Inc. to better reflect the shift from computers to consumer devices. They released plans for their new iPhone and Apple TV in support of their new consumer product goals.

Name Changes Hail the Maturation of New Technologies

What I find interesting about this piece of news is that it marks a milestone in recent technology trends and solidifies computers as not just a common device, but one we now take for granted.

I recently gave a talk on web technology and in an effort to put it into perspective I compared computing and the web to older technologies like the telephone and automobile. In the early days of these two technologies (around a century ago), infrastructure was terrible. Roads were muddy and in disrepair if you could even find a road where you were going. And in the early days of the telephone streets were darkened in New York City by the miasma of wires strung from building to building. Eventually, we got interstates and telephone wires became a permanent part of the hidden infrastructure, either underground or on more organized utility poles.

There is a certain life cycle for new technologies which begins with a kind of chaos and irrational exuberance. The 1990s and the dotcom rush hailed the web as an exciting new technology, but it wasn't yet clear if the reality could measure up to the hype. It's still not clear in my opinion, but one sign to look for when assessing whether a new technologoy will last is when it starts to fade into the background of our daily lives. And one distinct marker of this change is when companies start changing their names.

Consider for example that automobiles were called horseless carriages in the early days. They were, in fact, defined by what they were not rather than what they were. Eventually, as the automobile became a more prevalent mainstay of daily life, the "horseless" part became irrelevant and was dropped from company and business names. Cars were so ubiquitous that no one even thought of horse travel anymore. For children born in the 1920s, travel on horseback might have been positively quaint in the same way that TVs getting only 3 channels and the absence of cell phones would be to the teenagers of the early 21st century.

Speaking of cell phones, here's another more recent example of companies changing their names. Just a few years ago every cell phone company had the word "wireless" in the name. AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless. Look around and you'll see they are starting to drop the "wireless." As wireless becomes commonplace, a fixture of daily life, it no longer needs to be defined by what it is not.

And so this is why I was struck today by Apple's announcement that they are dropping the word "computer" from their business name? Is this an indication that computers have now taken their rightful, and permanent, place in our society? I suspect some of you are laughing at me right now and thinking, "Well, of course, computers have been around for ages." But to that I would disagree. Computers have only been around a few decades and the average person has only been using computers in the last 10 or 15 years. The web itself is only 15 years old. These technologies are still very, very young. While they have proven very useful, they are still not well standardized. The world of technology is one of chaos. We are swimming in techplex (my new word for technological complexity). Will this clear up in time or will it just get worse? I don't know the answer to that, but what I do know is that we are only at the very beginning of the age of technology and as I look around I am starting to see signs of technology coming into its own and starting to sink into the fabric of society, not as a novelty, but as a cornerstone in the same way that the telephone and the automobile did.

Interestingly, the automobile and telephone didn't change very much for nearly 100 years. What will the computer and the world wide web look like in 100 years? Something tells me they'll change a little faster than the phone and the car.