Unless you’ve spent a considerable amount of time in France, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never seen the device pictured above. What you’re looking at is one of the predecessors to the internet, the Minitel. The Minitel was essentially a service offered in France that required a table-top box similar to the one above. Once connected, users could make purchases, check stock prices, chat with others, have a connected mailbox, and search the phone directory.
The service was finally retired only a few days ago, on June 30th, 2012, but some of the core innovations behind it, started all the way back in 1978, laid the path for what we know as the modern computer and internet service today.
The Minitel not only attracted the attention of millions of French users until the domination of the internet, it also drew the attention of Steve Jobs, who was inspired by the device.
According to French telecom engineer Gerald Thery:
He bought one and took it to bits to see how it worked.
Thery also says:
Two decades of Internet sealed the fate of what once looked like a technological wonder that might conquer the world with a then wide range of shopping and travel booking services, accessible via the dial-up code 3615.
Thery’s words are pretty vague, and it’s unclear if Jobs actually took any of the ideas contained in Minitel and helped make them a reality, but many of its concepts have become part of our everyday experiences with out devices and online.
Jobs has a habit of finding inspiration in unlikely places. Apparently, he often roamed the floors of Macy’s looking at the appliances for inspiration.