What two people could be more synonymous with 'Science' and 'Technology' than 'Isaac Newton' and 'Steve Jobs'? Both are found in various 'Most influential people' lists, both are household names and both conjure up the image of an apple. But which 'apple' has had most influence on today's world?
The popular cartoon depiction of Newton's 'apple incident' shows an apple falling and hitting his head which, in turn, leads to an "Eureka moment" and the birth of the laws of gravitation. While it is widely accepted within modern science that he did not arrive at this theory in any single moment, watching an apple fall from a tree certainly raised questions that would have contributed to his notion. Besides, it describes a beautiful analogy with which to demonstrate the earth's gravitational pull: the apple always falls toward the earth's centre. The brilliance of much of Newton's most significant work was documented in 1687 in his seminal work Principia. In what is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of modern science, he formulated his laws of motion which form the basis of classical mechanics and combined them with his law of gravity to explain forces and motion in many systems, including the sun and planets. This work advanced the scientific revolution and formed the basis of classical physics as we know it. However, Newton's breadth and depth of work meant he has changed the way we see the world (literally) in other areas too. He showed that white light was comprised of component colours by shining it through a prism and he revolutionised the design of telescopes by replacing lenses with mirrors. Newton's work on mathematics was said to have 'distinctly advanced every branch of mathematics then studied' and he played a large part in the development of calculus. In sum, he gave us a unified, quantitative explanation for a range of physical phenomena that we could never comprehend.
Fast forward around four hundred years and there was the launch of the first Apple computer. Apple Inc, co founded by the late Steve Jobs in 1976, was to become the largest technology company in the world in terms of revenue and profit. In the last 40 years it has introduced innovations in mobile phones, portable music players and personal computers. It brought the graphical user interface to the PC market, forever changing the human-machine interaction and striving to make this interface as simple as possible. It moved to smaller disk sizes so that they could build smaller computers, brought us cut and paste, incorporated CD-Rom drives into their design, popularised the multimedia computer and developed post-script laser printers at an affordable price, resulting in a desktop publishing solution that has undoubtedly changed the world of graphic design and publishing. Its influence within the PC industry is one thing but the influence it has had and will continue to have in other spheres is testament to its global impact. The iPod, the iPhone and the iPad have all been big players in the modern development of a new digital landscape, but beyond the devices, Apple's stamp can be seen in marketing and the idea of 'brand communities' to changing people's conceptions about looks and design. In fact, BMW Designworks lead designer Sandy McGill was recently quoted as attributing the shift in most popular car colour from Silver (most popular for a decade up to 2012) to white claiming: "Apple made white valuable".
Steve Jobs added a human aspect to the sterile notion of computing by "starting with the customer experience and working backwards to the technology". On a deeper level again, Apple's products have helped integrate technology into people's daily lives. We have entered the 'post-PC' era and compute on the go devices that have been stripped of the unneeded leaving beautifully lean technological masterpieces.
Both Steve jobs and Apple are not without their critics. The Samsung-Apple war rolls on, business, environmental and labour practices will continue to be questioned. But then again, neither was Newton. To suggest that such a large, invisible force was able to act across such vast distances caused him to be criticised of introducing occult agencies into science and indeed, more sophisticated theory was developed to explain what he could not. Both 'apples' have changed the way people think; have had an unfathomable impact on the modern world and influenced others to push the boundaries of understanding and discovery. So what is the difference? Apple and Steve Jobs' impact is certainly more obvious as we look around us on the U-bahn but I'm sure you will be reminded of Newton's influence the next time the train suddenly stops and your iWhatever descends quickly towards the floor!