Apple’s Greatest Gift To Computing Is Advancing The Man-Machine Interface

Apple’s Greatest Gift To Computing Is Advancing The Man-Machine Interface

Over my many decades of following Apple, I have often been asked about the secret to Apple’s success.

The answer lies in a comment Apple co-founder Steve Jobs made around the time the Mac was introduced in 1984. This is embodied in Jobs’ commitment to create products that are easy to use.

If you have followed the evolution of computing, you know that from the beginning computers were difficult to use and almost always needed someone with specific computer training to operate them. This was especially true in the era of mainframes and minicomputers.

Steve Jobs understood well that computers were initially designed for specific tasks and used in professional government, education, and business environments and run by computer professionals.

As Jobs and his co-founder Steve Wozniak looked at the computing landscape around 1975, they were highly influenced by Eddie Roberts’ creation of the first personal computer known as the Altair 8800.

This first personal microcomputer was featured in Popular Electronics in 1975 and prompted Steve Wozniak, who could not afford the Altair 8800, to create his own personal computer. Shortly after that, Steve Jobs joined him, and the rest is history.

While Steve Jobs was the marketing force behind the Apple I and Apple II, he developed what would eventually become the cornerstone of Apple’s success during these early days. Jobs observed computers at that time were too hard to use. While the original IBM Personal Computer was introduced in 1981 and focused on a broader audience, its DOS operating system was still difficult to use. People who used them needed the training to operate them well.

The software created for the IBM PC and their clones did make them easier to use but using DOS as the OS still had a learning curve.

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From the early days of Apple until about 1982, Jobs became obsessed with the idea that for computers to be used by a broader audience, they must be simpler to use. This easy-to-use mantra drove Jobs and his teams to create their first real breakthrough that demonstrated Jobs’ vision that computers must be easy enough for everyone to use with no exceptions.

The Mac introduced the first graphical user interface to the world of computing. This GUI enforced Jobs’ commitment to making a personal computer so easy that even a child could use it. Its UI was highly intuitive, and it launched Microsoft’s Windows competitor and today GUIs sit at the center of the man-machine interface for all computing platforms.

This easy-to-use philosophy espoused by Steve Jobs carried on with the introduction of the iPod. Early MP3 players had no standard interfaces, and many were very difficult to use. With the iPod, Apple streamlined the UI and created an easy way to download music to it and help explode the market for MP3 players for all.

The introduction of the iPhone cemented Apple’s commitment to making the man-machine interface simple to use. Early versions of what would be known as PDA’s like the Palm Pilot and the Palm Treo, which was one of the first smartphones, had specialized operating systems and individual user interfaces. Apple’s introduction of the iPhone, which included a 3.5-inch screen and intuitive GUI, made pocket computing a reality.

Early tablets were also challenging to use, and each had its OS and UIs that, at best, had significant learning curves. This is especially true for early pen computing devices.

Apple changed that with the introduction of the iPad with an OS and simple UI that launched the market for tablets that are now used in commercial, education, and consumer markets today.

Apple’s easy-to-use mantra is evident in the Apple Watch too. Early versions of smartwatches also had their OS and UI and had learning curves. However, the Apple Watch’s UI is intuitive and easy to use and has brought smartwatches to the mainstream.

Apple continues Jobs’ strategy of making computing products easy to use. I fully expect this to be at the heart of any XR-AR product they bring to market and what they may eventually do with a smart vehicle.

Although Apple’s success has included many other technical and marketing elements, it is clear that at the heart of Apple’s success is Steve Jobs’ commitment that Apple only creates products that are easy to use. This has been Apple’s mantra since the early 1980s and carries on today with all of the products they have brought to market to date. And you can expect it to be at the core of any other products Apple brings to market in the future.

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