Our industry lost one of its great pioneers with the passing of Steve Jobs on Wednesday. As a young computer geek from the 70's and 80's I have followed Steve Job's success for more than 30 years as demonstrated in posts such as The Glory Days of Home Computing. A lot has been said about Steve’s contributions, both in terms of the vast numbers of products that he has brought to market and the amazing success that has followed them. One area that has not been touched on in any of the mainstream presses, and something that I believe is much more significant has been Steve’s ability to see advances in human-computer interaction technologies and take them mainstream - something that I believe has been a key success factor in the products he has taken to market.
Steve has innovated across all three HCI generations:
- CLI - In 1977 when the Apple II was first introduced we were stuck in the CLI paradigm where humans were forced to learn a strict syntax through which we could interact with our computers.
- GUI – In 1984 the GUI was popularized in the Apple Macintosh. The GUI used metaphors such as the desktop and trashcans to make it simpler for users to explore the capabilities of their computer – increasing the accessibility of computers to a much broader audience than the CLI.
- NUI – In 2007 the Apple iPhone was first introduced popularizing a radically new style for users to interact with their Mobile phones. This style was based on multi-touch support and gestures, enabling much more natural interactions with the device – and forcing the phone to have to interpret what the user was requesting using gestures natural to the user – a major departure from the user having to understand how to interact with the device.
Now it is true that Steve Jobs and Apple weren’t the first inventors of any of these technologies, but they were incredibly adept at timing the commercialization of these technologies and gaining broad adoption – something that I believe our industry will miss the most. So rather than pondering what the iPhone 6 would have looked like had Steve been present, I personally believe one of the greatest losses that we may never realize is around the myriad of mundane experiences that we currently take for granted – any number of which Steve could have chosen to breathe new life into. Best wishes to Steve's family, his friends and everyone at Apple.