When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

17 January 2007

Tog on the iPhone

Interface designer extraordinaire Bruce Tognazzini takes a close look at the new iPhone:
I could go down through the other “innovations” in iPhone and slowly knock them off. Yes, it’s the first cell phone with a visual display of voicemail messages, so you can randomly move among voicemails, etc., etc. However, such lists have been displayed, in an identical fashion, on enterprise-level voicemail systems and, of course, such lists have been a standard feature in email for decades.

The origins of these bits and pieces, however, is not what’s important about the iPhone. What’s important is that, for the first time, so many great ideas and processes have been assembled in one device, iterated until they squeak, and made accessible to normal human beings. That’s the genius of Steve Jobs; that’s the genius of Apple.

It’s also speaks to the limited vision of the cell phone industry. Exactly why have we never had random-access voicemail on cell phones? We’re talking about hand-held devices with more computer power than the Apollo spacecraft that took us to the moon. We’re talking about devices with screens of more than sufficient resolution. Could nobody think of displaying the messages?

The Macintosh computer did not represent a technological breakthrough either. The mouse was already 20 years old. Pointing interfaces were 20 years old. The Mac was a direct, studied “rip-off” of Apple’s expensive Lisa computer, developed concurrently, but shipped three years earlier. That detracted nothing from the genius of the Mac, for what that team did was to take highly innovative technology and make it (relatively) inexpensive, attractive, and accessible.

That’s exactly what Apple has done again with iPhone. Multi-touch gestural interfaces have been hanging around in the laboratory, screaming for release, for as long as the mouse hung around. I’ve been pushing multi-touch gestural for over 20 years myself, beginning while I was still at Apple, incredulous that everyone has been ignoring it. Apple stopped ignoring it.

Fulton didn’t invent the steamboat. He just put in the hard work to make it practical. Apple didn’t invent the concept of the multi-touch interface. They’ve just, by all evidence, built the first one that, like the Mac before [it], is (relatively) inexpensive, attractive, and accessible.

The iPhone User Experience: A First Look

Hat tip: Laurie

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