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From Macintosh to the iPad, the art of the interface: you touch them, they are yours (and you are theirs)

April 9th, 2010 · 4 Comments · Talents, Innovators

By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis @mddelphis

MacintoshThe launch date of the iPad is now behind us. It was more marketing hype; it was a societal event, just as the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone were when they launched.

Very few companies have managed this type of exploit so consistently over the last twenty-five years or so. The best PR machines rarely provoke repeat wonders. As extraterrestrial as Steve Jobs may be, comics or science-fiction series only succeed because of public buy-in. Not only that: while sequels are usually less successful than initial attempts, the history of Apple shows the opposite, with a growing retinue of followers each time. What makes Apple so addicting and so contagious?

We can list two sets of factors: 

– Graphical user interface, look and feel, and ease of use with a desktop metaphor that made the Mac so familiar: definitely, although they are not really that unique any longer. Design, style, elegance: definitely also, although one might argue that lots of vendors have produced extraordinary objects that only museums remember: the NeXt black cubes designed by Hartmut Esslinger are truly art pieces.

– In fact, when you look at the Apple flagship products, die-hard aficionados have consistently voiced their frustrations. Something big is always missing. Each product proved to be what Dave Winer said recently about the iPad, “a demo of something that could be very nice and useful at some point in the future.”

So where is the magic? What strikes me is that some of the major Apple products never came across as “computers.” Your friends have “a computer, “a PC.” You say I have “a Mac.” Not only that. You say “my Mac.” You say “my iPod” – because it’s not just any portable media player. You say “my iPhone” – because it’s not just any smartphone. You already say “my iPad” more lovingly than you ever spoke of any Kindle.

iPad_multitouchApple fans entertain a personal relationship with their Mac, iPod, iPhone or iPad: what they are as objects is never obliterated or offset by their respective purposes. They are your property first, and what you use them for, second. For a major reason maybe: the relationship to these products is primarily tactile, no matter how beautiful they are for the eyes. The NeXt Computer was a computer and you had to carry it with your arms just as you carried an Apple II, an Apple III, or a Lisa. The first Mac changed all of that: you lifted it with my fingers and you used a mouse. The iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad respond to your fingers directly. You are continuously in control though the sense of touch, which gives you a continuous feel of intimacy and ownership: fingertips are unique to each individual and fingerprints were the people’s signatures in the most ancient civilizations.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Olof H // Apr 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Well said, as always. When I applied for a job with Apple Sweden in 1988, Sören Olsson asked me: “why Apple?” I said – “I have been around computers for more than 20 years now, and in the last few years Apple has three times surprised me with producing actually useful things: first Apple II and Visicalc, then the Lisa and now 4D. So I thought I might as well work for you.”

    The iPad may not be ready yet, and the usual Apple haters can only find faults with it. But the truth is that it is showing the way for a new class of devices, for ordinary people who cannot be bothered anymore with a bewildering world of technical options. This is made for the rest of us. To those that need a monitor interface for Linux, I can only say go ahead and write the software. But don’t forget to buy Apple stock.

  • 2 Pam Gilberd // Apr 12, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Nice article, Marylene. You have a way of seeing the big picture so well.

  • 3 Brenda Bell // Apr 20, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Great job…. with describing the relationship we have with Apple products. They become an extension of ourselves, unique to the user… My Ipad is mine. It has been customized to fit me. I did not have to change to fit it.

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