I’ve had many high tech jobs in my career, but I think my favorite was when I was a failure analysis technician at IBM. Actually, it didn’t matter if you were a janitor or a research scientist, there was a certain prestige that came with working for Big Blue, and that prestige was well deserved.
International Business Machines was THE technology company back in the 60s 70s and 80s. IBM created and sold the systems that ran governments and corporations. Its stock was considered a precious commodity, its products were coveted, and its services was the absolute best industry had to offer. You paid dearly for IBM products, but you got what you paid for. And that led to the saying, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”
The thing about IBM wasn’t so much its products and services as it was its people. At one time IBM employed the highest number of PhDs of any company outside of Los Alamos, and they weren’t just trying to figure out how to write a better program, though there was plenty of that.
IBM’s brain trust, the highest concentration resided at Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, were free to pursue just about anything they wanted. They could tackle world hunger, building space stations, or the sex habits of Blind Mole Rats.
It wasn’t because IBM was so magnanimous in its reward of intelligence. What Big Blue figured was that a train of thought pulls behind it a long list of ideas, and those ideas could be profitable. So the brainy folks got to play and IBM’s R&D warehouse filled with stuff that was years, sometimes decades ahead of current technology, and more often than not, that technology never made it to production or consumers. At least not through IBM.
I’m writing this article on an excellent example of how far ahead IBM’s R&D technology was.
In the 1984-85 timeframe I was working as an application developer in IBM’s Bethesda facility. I was working on a PC version of DisplayWrite, IBM’s word processor that originated on mainframes. Our PCs had just gotten upgraded and we had under our desks the blisteringly fast 6MHz x286 processor PCs, hot off the presses.
We had a visit from some guy from Watson Research Center. In his briefcase was a computer unlike any other in existence at the time. It was a tablet with a monochrome backlit LCD display complete with onscreen keyboard. The guy wanted us to load DisplayWrite on it.
By today’s standards the tablet was huge. I don’t recall the exact dimensions, but the screen was about 15 inches diagonal, and the whole device was at least 2 inches thick. It required a wired stylus for mouse action, and it likely had a battery life measured in tens of minutes instead of hours, but it was a tablet. It looked surprisingly close to a finished product too, if IBM wanted to it could have released it. For all I know it probably did to some very exclusive customers with very deep pockets.
So, while Steve Jobs and company was playing around with Apple II IBM had already created the precursor to the iPad.
Back then IBM’s iconic motto was one word, “Think.” That’s exactly what they did. They solved problems few people even knew existed. They innovated. They created. They thought.
As may glean from the tone of this article, I enjoyed working for IBM. The company has changed a lot over the years, they don’t command the attention they once did, but one thing I believe still holds true for them. They still believe in that one word that keeps them relevant even as other tech companies struggle, think.
So, what else would they call their new iPad app that examines the history and processes of innovation?
IBM Think is a free app that is well worth the long download time and 500mb of space it occupies. What you get is an app stuffed with so much information that you may wonder how they got it all in half a gig of space.
The opening “daisy” in IBM’s Think app
The interface is simple. Once the app boots you’re presented with a daisy with petals containing single word ideas that relate to Think: Seeing, Mapping, Understanding, Believing, Acting, and a 10 minute Think Movie. Touch a petal and it opens to another daisy with petals relating to that idea. Touch one of these petals and the screen fills with various multimedia presentations that invite you to interact with them. Some are simple and just relay information about the subject at hand. Others will literally knock your socks off. For instance, go into the Acting petal and you’ll find a 3D globe with pinpoints indicating where in the world IBM is taking action to solve a particular problem. It’s all linked and cross referenced and even has a Facebook link.
The simple interface makes finding content easy
IBM Think is a fascinating look at how technology has and is shaping our world, and how IBM has and is shaping technology and using it for the greater good.
And the content is worth finding
Yes, the app is a big rah-rah for IBM, but if it were any other company it might be considered gauche in the least to toot its own horn this way. I think if Microsoft attempted the same thing it would come off as being duplicitous. IBM has honest and deep roots in technology and that makes the story it tells genuine and this app well worth getting.
The you discover the more there is to discover
That’s a wrap for this week. I won’t be providing direct links this week. I’m working out a way to give you more info about other apps similar to the ones I mention in my articles. Standby and thank you for reading.