Apple’s 5th PC revolution

For most of my early life in tech, Apple was a computer company. But not long after Apple introduced the iPod and began to diversify beyond personal computers, Steve Jobs dropped the term Computer from the company’s name and just called the company Apple Inc.

Apple’s influence on the market has been substantial, and its impact on computing started with the Apple II and accelerated with the intro of the Mac. More importantly, for the industry, with the Mac, Apple introduced the graphical user interface, the mouse and WYSIWIG computing, via desktop publishing.

But if you look back over Apple’s 42-year history and view their impact in terms of user interfaces, one could argue that Apple has, to date, delivered four revolutionary user interfaces, starting with the Mac. Up until the Mac was introduced, all computer interfaces where numerical or alphabetically typed into the computer for input and was the main user interface between man and machine.

But the Mac changed this. The Mac brought GUI interfaces to the computing mainstream and influenced the next generation of the man-to-machine method of interacting with a computer. The Mac’s GUI influenced Microsoft to follow suit, and since then, GUIs have dominated the way we interact with computers. Then in 1991, Microsoft added a touch to the UI, and while it did not catch on then, touch is now another key way we interact with PC’s

When Apple introduced the iPod in 2000, they again added a new way to interact with a digital device. With the iPod, they brought the flywheel and push/touch to navigate and activate the songs you may want to hear on the iPod.

Then in 2010, Apple introduced the iPad and brought another new way to navigate on a device. The interface on the iPad itself was unique to tablets, as was the way one used touch to initiate apps and services. Tablets themselves date back to 1989 and starting with the Grid computer, which used both keyboard and pen interfaces. Then in 1991, Microsoft pushed Pen computing, also adding a pen to the UI. But it took Apple to really make touch interfaces a mainstream way to work with computers.

Interestingly, one other man-to-machine interface that has emerged is voice. Voice interaction with a computer was more science fiction until Amazon brought Alexa to market a few years back. Since then, Google, Apple, and others have made voice interaction with computers more mainstream, and voice UI’s are now part of our daily interaction with all types of computing devices.

If you are counting, Apple has arguably influenced three major ways to interact with computing devices and has had the most impact on man-to-machine interfaces to date. But Apple had recently added another major digital device UI when they introduced the Apple Watch. Some might not think of Apple Watch as a computer, but it is exactly that. A computer on your wrist.

In the last two weeks, I have written about Apple’s quest to deliver smart glasses that would be a mixed reality headset. Financial analyst Ming-Chi Ko has predicted that Apple would introduce a pair of AR glasses in 2020, and I wrote that I was extremely skeptical of that date. Since I wrote that piece, Apple apparently told Apple employees in a company communique that the first AR headset, would not come to market until 2022, the original date I suggested in earlier columns. The note reportedly added that they hope to bring more eyeglasses like AR headwear the following year in 2023. This is what the supply chain has told me all along.

While we do not know exactly what Apple will deliver in the way of AR or mixed reality headwear, you can be that it too will eventually be a computer in its own right. And with it, Apple will bring to market new ways to interact with these headsets by adding gestures, eye tracking, and some other interface technology we can’t even imagine today. If this scenario plays out, Apple will have influenced a 5th new way to interact with a computer.

To be fair, we already have mixed reality headsets that use gestures and eye-tracking, but the technology used to deliver these new interfaces are still primitive in nature. Knowing Apple’s ability to design ease of use into their products, I have no doubt that while Apple may not be the first to make gestures and eye-tracking available, I am pretty sure that the method they use will be the one that gains the greater acceptance with the mass market.

Apple will have this type of influence again because of its vertical integration. They control the hardware, semiconductors, software, and services, which gives them a real edge in delivering a total solution in the end. I suspect that once Apple brings whatever AR headset they finally bring to market, this product could formalize another new way to interact with a computer, which would add to their continued record of impacting the way man-to-machine interfaces drive our interaction with a new computing idea and platform.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

One thought on “Apple’s 5th PC revolution”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *