Apple’s Biggest Gift to Computing Promotes The Human-Machine Interface

During my many decades following Apple, I was often asked about the secret to Apple’s success.

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

If you’ve been following the evolution of computing, you know that from the beginning computers were hard to use and almost always needed someone with specific computer training to power them. This was especially true in the age of supercomputers and minicomputers.

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

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

This first personal microcomputer was introduced in Popular Electronics in 1975 and encouraged 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 market force behind the Apple I and Apple II, he developed what would later become the cornerstone of Apple’s success during those early days. Jobs observed computers at the time were too difficult to use. While the original IBM Personal Computer was launched in 1981 and focused on a wider audience, its DOS operating system was still difficult to use. People who used them needed the training to work well for them.

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

From the early days of Apple until about 1982, Jobs became obsessed with the idea that for computers to be used by a wider audience, they must be simpler to use. This easy-to-use mantra prompted Jobs and his teams to create their first real success, which demonstrated Jobs ’vision that computers should be easy enough for everyone to use without exception.

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

This easy-to-use philosophy supported by Steve Jobs continued with the introduction of the iPod. Early MP3 players had no standard interfaces, and many were very difficult to use. With the iPod, Apple has simplified the UI and created an easy way to download music to it and help exploit the market for MP3 players for everyone.

The introduction of the iPhone cemented Apple’s commitment to making the human-machine interface simple to use. Early versions of what would become known as PDAs such as 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 an intuitive GUI, has made pocket computing a reality.

Early tablets were also difficult to use, and each had its own 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 OS and a simple UI that launched the market for tablets that are now used in commercial, educational and consumer markets today.

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

Apple continues Jobs’ strategy of making computer 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 can possibly do with a smart vehicle.

Although Apple’s success has included many other technical and marketing elements, it’s clear that the core 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 continues today with all the products they have brought to the market to date. And you can expect that it will be the core of some other products that Apple is bringing to the market in the future.

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