Several tech icons are starting in July. From the birth of portable music and two beloved video game characters to the founding of two tech giants, find out what happened below.
July 1, 1979: The Walkman goes on sale
Today, we take the ability to listen to any song for granted. But before music streaming, smartphones, wireless headphones and more, there was the Walkman: the world’s first portable personal stereo. The brainchild of Sony’s Masaru Ibuka, the Walkman was born out of his desire to listen to tapes on his frequent international flights. He commissioned his deputy (and future Sony CEO) Nori Ohga to develop a prototype device that was smaller and more portable than the Sony TC-D5, which he had been using for travel up to that point.
Ohga based the Walkman’s design on Sony’s Pressman portable cassette player, which the company developed primarily for journalists. Completed in time for Ibuka’s next trans-Pacific flight, Sony’s president was so impressed with the device that he ordered it quickly put into production. The Walkman went on sale just four months later.
After the first month of weak sales, Sony’s marketing team took to the streets of Tokyo to introduce the device directly to the public. The strategy worked, and the Walkman was on its way to changing the way the world consumed music. Since then, the Walkman brand has sold more than 400 million units. Although Sony discontinued the cassette-based version of the device in 2009, the Walkman lives on as a digital audio player, outliving even its most successful competitor, the iPod.
July 5, 1994: Amazon founded
Like many other iconic tech companies we know today, Amazon started in its founder’s garage. Jeff Bezos realized the potential of the Internet and launched early to establish it as a destination for online shoppers. Originally founded as “Cadabra”, Bezos’ lawyer misheard the company’s name as “cadaver” over the phone and Bezos realized a name change was in order. He chose “Amazon” because of its exotic sound and because it would appear near the top of the alphabetical list. He registered the domain amazon.com on November 1, 1994.
Bezos intended Amazon to be the world’s largest retailer from the start, but he didn’t know what to sell. In the end, he chose books because they were easy to source, package, and ship. On July 16, 1995, Amazon went online. Within two months, he was bringing in more than $20,000 a week. Within three years, Amazon expanded beyond books to sell music and video games.
The expansion never stopped. Bezos realized his dream of Amazon as the world’s largest online retailer. As of 2022, the company is bringing in more than $300 million in revenue, second only to Walmart. Bezos became the richest person in history in 2018 and kept that title until the end of 2021 when Elon Musk took it over.
July 9, 1981: Donkey Kong released
When Nintendo established its North American subsidiary, Nintendo of America, in 1980, its initial arcade release, the Radar Scope, was a flop, leaving the company with thousands of unsold cabinets in its warehouse. Hoping to reprogram the inventory with a better-selling product, Nintendo assigned future video game legend Shigeru Miyamoto to develop a game based on the American cartoon franchise. Popeye the sailor.
In the game, Popeye would rescue his kidnapped love, Olive Oyl, from his archnemesis, Bluto. But when Nintendo failed to secure a license to use it Popeye characters, they were re-imagined as the original characters Jumpman, The Lady and Donkey Kong. (Jumpman and The Lady were later renamed Mario and Pauline in subsequent games.) And the game got its name Donkey Kong after his villain because Miyamoto saw him as the most memorable character.
Nintendo of America tested the converted cabinets in the local Seattle bar scene, where they were a big hit. The stock quickly sold out, and the company began manufacturing the new cabinets in Redmond, Washington, instead of in Japan to meet the growing demand. During the year, Nintendo sold 60,000 arcade units, making Donkey Kong the highest grossing game of 1981.
The success of Donkey Kong in the arcades led Nintendo to port the game to several video game systems and make a sequel, Donkey Kong Jr. It also inspired a spinoff franchise focused on Jumpman: Mario Bros.
July 10, 2008: App Store launched
When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in 2007, it sent waves across the tech world. But as revolutionary as the iPhone was at launch, it lacked several key features such as cut/copy/paste, multitasking and 3G support. However, there was one feature that would ultimately define the iPhone’s usefulness that Jobs was initially against adding: the App Store. He felt that opening up the iPhone to third-party developers would leave the device vulnerable to viruses and introduce poor-quality software into Apple’s garden experience.
In the first year of the iPhone’s life, Apple limited users to only 17 preinstalled apps. If users wanted to run non-Apple programs, they had to jailbreak the device or run apps through the Safari web browser. However, Apple executives convinced Jobs to open the door to outside developers after promising that the company would retain overall control over what programs users could and could not install on their smartphones.
The App Store has proven to be a revolutionary tool. By providing a centralized, exclusive place to buy approved software, Apple has endlessly expanded what the iPhone can do. The only limit to the iPhone now was the imagination of millions of developers. Additionally, Apple made a fortune, as they accounted for 30% of all app sales. Since its launch, the App Store has generated $260 billion in revenue.
July 15, 1983: Nintendo releases the Famicom
In the early 1970s, after nearly a century of producing playing cards and toys, Nintendo shifted its focus to the emerging video game market. Their first foray into space was a 1975 arcade game EVR-Race, followed two years later by the company’s first gaming console, the Color TV-Game. Although the success of their arcade line was hit and miss throughout the 70s, the color TV game became the best-selling product of the first generation of video game consoles, even though it was only available in Japan.
These triumphs, plus a big hit Donkey Kong 1981 cemented Nintendo as a leader in the video game industry and inspired the company to create its second home console: the family computer, commonly referred to as the Famicom. Released in Japan in 1983, including launch games Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr.and Popeye. By the end of 1984, the Famicom had become the best-selling video game console in Japan.
Bringing the Famicom to the United States proved more difficult. The American market was devastated by the video game crash of 1983. Nintendo took steps to avoid the mistakes of its American counterparts, first by introducing Famicom technology to the country in the form of arcades, and then by redesigning the console for Western consumers. The result was the Nintendo Entertainment System, which went on to revive American demand for video games and became the best-selling third-generation console and one of the most iconic systems in gaming history.
July 18, 1968: Intel founded
Intel was not the first semiconductor business founded by Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. More than a decade earlier, they were instrumental in the creation of Fairchild Semiconductors. There, Noyce co-invented the integrated circuit, which revolutionized computer technology and is now part of nearly all electronic devices as we know them today. During his time at Fairchild, Moore hypothesized that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years, a theory that holds true to this day and is known as Moore’s Law.
The pair left Fairchild after factional infighting within the company, and a slowdown in innovation led to a loss of profits, the resignation of the CEO and the board’s move over Noyce for the position. They founded their new company as “NM Electronics”, but quickly changed the name to “Intel”, a shortened version of “Integrated Electronics”. After their departure, other Fairchild employees quit their jobs en masse to start their own companies.
Intel’s early days were the stark contrast to garage-started companies like Apple and Amazon. It was well funded and run by seasoned and experienced industry professionals. And with Noyce and Moore’s commitment to constant innovation, it won’t take long for the company to dominate the market. Two years later, the company’s first product, the Intel 1103, was the first integrated circuit to include DRAM on the market. The company has never stopped innovating and is the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, with its chips embedded in 83% of desktop computers and 78% of laptops by 2022.
July 30, 1979: Development of the Apple Lisa begins
It may be hard to imagine a time when every Apple product was a commercial and critical success. But the company has a long history of creating products that miss the mark. The most famous was one of the first, Apple Lisa.
Steve Jobs named the project after his daughter Lisa Brennan. But, not acknowledging its paternity, Apple developed the acronym Locally Integrated Software Architecture to match the name. Not long before his death, Jobs admitted to his biographer that “Obviously he was named after my daughter.”
Apple fired Jobs from the Lisa development team in 1980. He then took over the newly formed Macintosh design team. Jobs’ efforts to make the Macintosh a less expensive, more usable version of the Lisa would be one of the reasons for its failure in the market.
Although the Lisa featured several innovations such as a graphical user interface, task-oriented workflow, a 5 MHz processor, and RAM expansion slots, it was plagued by software and performance issues. Also, compared to Lisa, was her high price. When it went on sale in 1983, the sticker price for the machine was $10,000, which is about $30,000 today.
After a poor sales performance at launch, the company desperately tried to save its $50 million investment. But efforts to lower the price and address performance issues couldn’t help the Lisa compete with the Macintosh’s success a year later. Apple sold only 10,000 Lisas before they ceased production in 1986. The company resorted to burying its unsold inventory, 2,000 Lisas, near Logan, Utah in 1989.