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PARIS (Reuters) - 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 way 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 Apple Inc's now deceased founder, Steve Jobs.
The clunky Minitel, pulled out of service at the end of June, was used by some 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.
Reporting By Brian Love, editing by Paul Casciato