News24

Jobs tapped 80's French gadget for ideas

2012-07-05 22:28

Paris - The man who turned Apple into a web-connected empire of consumer gadgets drew some of his inspiration from a table-top box that wired French households to networked information long before the arrival of mass internet, a French telecoms engineer says.

Long before hundreds of millions of homes worldwide began connecting to the internet in the 1990s, France's Minitel box, the steam train of the online world, attracted the attention of Appleā€™s now deceased founder, Steve Jobs.

The clunky Minitel, pulled out of service at the end of June, was used by about 25 million people in France at the time for services ranging from checking the weather to making travel reservations and posting small ads.

"He bought one and took it to bits to see how it worked," Gerard Thery, one of the Frenchmen behind the 1982 launch of the Minitel system, told business newspaper Economie Matin.

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.

Its famous "Minitel Rose" sex chat lines were blamed for the astronomical phone bills of many unwitting customers.

Originally designed by France Telecom as an online directory to save paper, the Minitel never caught on abroad and was used by fewer and fewer French in recent years as the internet, and the flashy gadgets made by companies like Apple, rendered it obsolete.

Comments
  • SAMusic - 2012-07-05 23:28

    Telkom's Beltel?

  • Freddie - 2012-07-06 11:56

    The generic name for such systems was 'Videotex'. Indeed as @SAMusic says SAPO's Beltel was such a system. The difference in approach taken by France Telcom and SAPO was probably the reason for the difference in the success of the two systems. France Telcom gave away their Minitel terminals. SAPO put all sorts of barriers up to 'protect' their monopoly. In SA it was illegal for anyone to install a Videotex computer and allow their customers to dial up to it! It was a legal requirement for the user to BUY a Beltel subscription of SAPO and PAY SAPO a per minute fee for connect time to Beltel just for Beltel to act as an unnecessary gateway to the information suppliers computer. As far as I can remember there were only 3 Videotex systems installed in SA, Standard Bank, UBS and an insurance company, I forget which one. Information suppliers could also buy space to put their data on SAPO's Beltel system. Videotex had some success in the UK, but most of the terminals used there were built into a keyboard and the user used their TV set as a monitor. With the invention of the PC there was a Videotex emulator program available under DOS that was useful. Ah! Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

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