A Big Day for Smartphones and a Bigger Day for Apple

On this day in economic and business history...

Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) launched the 9000 Communicator on Aug. 15, 1996. It allowed its users to make phone calls, send faxes and emails, surf the Internet, send text messages, and utilize a suite of productivity "apps" -- everything we now expect out of our smartphones, if you replace "faxes" with "Tweets and Instagram videos." It was not the first smartphone, but it was the first real success in a crowded market. It also presented users with the first example of phone-based Internet browsing, although this feature would not enter widespread use for a decade.

Because the 9000 came out in 1996, it was both bulky and extremely underpowered compared to the smartphones we use today. The phone used a 24-megahertz processor and ran on just 8 megabytes of total memory, and these components were packed into a clamshell case that weighed about three times as much as the first-generation iPhone. However, the 9000 caught on well enough for Nokia to justify continuing the Communicator line. Two years later, the company rolled out the 9110, which significantly slimmed down the clamshell compared to its predecessor while increasing its capabilities. In 2001, Nokia launched the 9210, the first in the Communicator series to make use of the Symbian operating system.

Consumers, who had been rapidly adopting cellphones by the time Nokia launched the Communicator, have taken quickly to the smartphone as well. By the end of 2012, there were more than a billion smartphones in use around the world, but Nokia was no longer the king of the smartphone hill. It has since ceded ground to a company known for its iStuff, and that company had a milestone of its own on Aug. 15.

iBuy iStuff
On Aug. 15, 1998, a year after Steve Jobs began righting the ship at Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , he oversaw the release of Apple's first major new product under his tenure as Apple's "acting" CEO. Introduced with typical "Jobsian" fanfare that May, the iMac rolled out, backed by a $100 million ad budget (remember "Think Different"?) and reached stores in August with 150,000 advance orders already booked. The candy-colored computer quickly cemented the strength of Apple's turnaround -- by the end of 1998, the company had sold nearly 800,000 iMacs. Apple had bled nearly $900 million in losses in 1997; in 1998, with only four and a half months of iMac availability, Apple swung to more than $400 million in profit.

The iMac did more than begin an Apple tradition of prefixing its products with a lowercase "I": It also marked the beginning of a revitalized and resurgent Apple. From 1998 through 2004, Apple sold 8.7 million iMacs, and although the company no longer reports iMac sales separately, the company has almost certainly sold at least 15 million iMacs in the product's lifetime, and it has most likely sold more than 20 million iMacs of all models.

The success of the iMac gave Apple the resources necessary to begin its expansion into consumer electronics: The Apple Store and the iPod both debuted in 2001, the iPhone began its conquest of the smartphone world in 2007, and the iPad launched in 2010. A year after the iPad hit the market, Apple's original product focus had become its least important product line: In 2011, desktop sales trailed laptops, iPods, iPhones, and iPads in net sales, and their revenue was virtually even with sales from iTunes and the App Store. The iMac was a great beginning to Apple's revival, but it was far from the end.

Index antique
One of the longest-tenured members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is also one of its least noticed. United Technologies (NYSE: UTX  ) first joined the Dow on Aug. 15, 1933. It was a short first stint for United Technologies, then part of the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation and in the middle of a battle with the government over perceived monopolistic practices. However, the company was undeniably deserving of the selection. The month before it joined the Dow, United Aircraft's airline set a world record for monthly passenger volume by carrying 15,562 people -- a 45% year-over-year increase from 1932, made all the more impressive by its occurrence in the middle of a grinding depression.

The following year, United Aircraft was forcibly separated from its Boeing-led aviation conglomerate and removed from the index. It returned for good in 1939, beating its former corporate parent to index membership by nearly five decades.

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