“Design |idhki|referrer|datiz
is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

– Steve Jobs

The greatest technology contributions that Apple has ever made are the ones that are so obvious they are often overlooked. Apple essentially created the language of computer UI. In fact, they have done so twice now.

Xerox/PARC legends aside, it was Apple that pushed and popularized the very idea of how we interact, instruct, and use a personal computer. It still remains today, virtually unchanged in concept from the beginning. The desktop as metaphor for a real world office – with files, folders, a workspace – all are there just as they were in 1984 when Apple introduced them to the general public in the Macintosh. The idea of a pointing device and typewriter style input – yep, still unchanged from 1984 when such things were generalized by Apple as the way we interact with such a machine. Everyone, from Microsoft to every graphical implementation of Linux, now uses this established UI language. Apple established the paradigm and it became the standard.

Apple has now established the paradigm for how we interact with a new class of computer. One that is small enough to hold in your hand and fit in your pocket – The iPhone. The obvious reason is that input for such a device would not work well with the methods they established for the desktop machine, and extended to the portable machine. Previous methods, developed for the world of the PDA, were insufficient in several respects. So, Apple has established a new paradigm, a new UI language, and it has became the standard.

What many people fail to see, what is directly at the center of why Apple is successful where other companies fail, is that they define this standard of interaction with the device itself. This is where the design starts. These are the first questions – How would you use this? Why would you use this? Other companies rush to create products to fulfill a need. Apple often creates products that define the need. These are two very different and, I would argue, opposite things. Other companies rush around to create devices that use this same basic language that Apple has developed. Because it is not an organic part of the creation process, because it is just a bunch of “me too”, they can’t possibly compete or succeed. The very thing that is most important, how you use it and why you need it, is being defined by someone else.

The ads for the iPhone are a perfect example of what Apple is really selling and where their strengths lie. Apple’s ads don’t focus on how it looks. They focus on how it works. Because they are the ones who establish the new paradigm, they are compelled to consistently and methodically show not only the reasons one would use it but how they would do it. They essentially need to function as instruction videos because you have never seen anything like this before nor did you know you even needed it, and they are defining both…

Press here, swipe here, tap here with your finger, tap on this onscreen keyboard. Look, it’s where you want to go and directions of how to get there! With a picture of the destination. It’s like magic, only better!

But here is where these things get a bit less obvious. The rest of this will be pure conjecture on my part. Just a lot of “what ifs”. Some food for thought if you will.

What if the iPhone were just the beginning? What if it is the establishment of a new paradigm not just for the smartphone but for the personal computer itself? It is no secret that the interaction metaphor established in 1984 is dated and not well scaled for the future we can see in our mind and feel is just around the corner. What if that thing we keep hearing rumors about will be the next “a ha” moment in this progression towards a new way to interact with our technical world? What if all of the work done to not build upon, but strip away, the Mac OS in Snow Leopard was to pave the way for this plan? What if Apple is about to reinvent the idea of computer interaction not just for the Mac but, once again, for the entire industry? As they have done with every single market they have entered before?

You know, just some things to think about…