Why We Witnessed History at the iPhone 4S Launch

While some people were disappointed that Apple did not introduce the iPhone 5, most pretty much missed the significance of the event and the fact that they were witnessing history.

In 1984, when Steve Jobs introduced the Mac, he did something quite historic. He introduced the Mac’s graphical user interface. But he actually topped himself with the introduction of another technology-the mouse. In essence, he introduced the next user input device that has been at the heart of personal computing for nearly two decades.

What’s interesting about this is that he did not invent the GUI. That came from Xerox Parc. And he did not invent the mouse. Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse. But by marrying them to his OS he reinvented the GUI and OS and gave us a completely new way to deliver the man-machine interface through the mouse. Until that time all computer input was done by textual typing.

Then, in 2007, with the introduction of the iPhone, Jobs and team did it again. He created the touch user interface and this time married it to his iOS. He did not invent touch computing. That technology has been around for 20 years via pen input or minimally within desktop touch UI’s such as those used in HP’s Touchsmart desktops. But he integrated it within iOS and gave the world a completely new way to interact with small, handheld computers. With the new touch gestures part of their laptop trackpad designs, they have even extended it to their core Mac portable computing platform as well. In essence, Jobs second UI act was to bring touch UI’s to mainstream computing.

Now, with the introduction of SIRI, integrated into iOS and a core part of the new iPhone OS, he and the Apple team have given to the world what we will look back on and realize is the next major user input technology-Voice and Speech. As reader Hari Seldon points out, the real breakthrough we will come to realize is in Siri’s “applied artificial intelligence.” It is its speech comprehension that will be its greatest advancement.

Again, he did not invent this technology. But Apple’s genius is to keep trying to make the man-machine interface easier to use and with each form, be it the mouse, touch, or voice, Apple has been the main company to popularize these new inputs and thus help advance the overall way man communicates with machines.

I have personally witnessed all three of these historical technology introductions. When the Mac was introduced in 1984, I was sitting third row center at the Foothill Community College’s auditorium. Then in 2007, I was at Moscone West, fourth row Center when Jobs and team introduced the iPhone with its touch UI. And most recently, I was at their campus auditorium, Building 4 of Infinite Loop, 5th row center, when Tim Cook and his team introduced the iPhone 4S and the new Siri Voice and Speech interface, making this their third major contribution to the advancements of computer input. (I make a habit of remembering exactly where I am when I watch history being made.)

Now here is another interesting point. Although Apple has had this touch UI in place and integrated in to iOS since 2007 and the Mac OS X since last year, only now is the Windows world starting to get serious about integrating touch into their phone and computer operating systems. Although Apple will continue to advance their various touch UI’s, they can rightfully say-been, there, done, that.

It is time to take it up a notch and for them their next user input mountain to scale will be the use of voice and speech as part of their future man-machine interface. It may start with iOS but like touch, I expect this UI to be in the Mac in short time as well.

Yes folks, for those of us at the iPhone 4S launch we witnessed history being made. Unfortunately, for a lot of people in at that event, they missed it.

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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.

34 thoughts on “Why We Witnessed History at the iPhone 4S Launch”

  1. see the other pattern? Staying centered you’re moving backwards row by row .. next time history is being written, make sure you’re still in the same room 🙂

  2. Tim,
    Totally correct. But unlike hardware, this combination of software in the phone and software in the cloud, I think Siri will be very hard to duplicate by other copy cat companies. If Siri works as well as we think it can, then it is the start of a very new time.

    PS, I wonder how long it will be before someone sues Apple with a patent that talks about voice commands and tries to claim that they thought of Siri. ????? A guess anyone?


    1. It will be harder to prove because Apple owns Siri now, and Apple also owns some other patent in voice recognition. Buying Siri and folding it into it’s iPhone technology is brilliant and will further pull The iPhone 4S from the rest of the Android pack.

    2. Would have to be an old patent… Apple has used voice recognition since Mac OS 7, with the introduction of Speakable Items, I believe first introduced in the early 1990’s.

  3. Of course, Apple has had voice control in its OS for quite a few years, though they didn’t advance it after a while, so in a way, this isn’t new for them.

    1. You’re missing the point, this is not “voice control” or “speech recognition”, this is applied Artificial Intelligence. Speech recognition has been around for a while now, what’s been missing is speech comprehension which is what Siri does. Voice control has been on mobile phones for many years. I had a nokia phone maybe 8 years ago which used voice tags, so you could call a number by saying a name. None of this is close to what Siri does.

      1. I added an update to this piece with your comment..much appreciated. Was going to add it but wrote this late last night missed adding it. Thanks.

  4. Apple today announced pre-orders of its iPhone 4S have topped one million in a single day, surpassing the previous single day pre-order record of 600,000 held by iPhone 4.

    The iPhone is already exploding. When people actually see the combination of Siri, iCloud and iOS 5, it will grow exponentially.

    And then watch what happens when the iPad gets that tech.

  5. Critics of Apple often deride them for not really inventing anything– just using the ideas of others. In hindsight everything Apple does seems obvious. They fail to give Apple credit for recognizing which ideas are worth using and whose time has come, and knowing how to combine hardware, software, and services together to produce an ecosystem whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Often it’s what Apple omits that gives its products focus and makes them easy to use.

    Apple products are not just lists of features and specs. Plenty of competitors beat them by those metrics. What makes Apple gear great is how everything works together smoothly providing the best user experience in the business. That’s not a feature or spec which can be easily duplicated by competitors.

    I don’t know if Siri on the iPhone 4S will meet people’s hopes and expectations, but I suspect it will be a whole lot better than other currently available voice command systems, and it may indeed be considered a milestone in commercializing artificial intelligence

  6. Great observations. I find it oddly sad and poignant that as Steve/Apple gives us a more useable voice control, Steve’s own voice will become more muted.

    Thank you, Steve. RIP

  7. Watching Siri demo video, I have instinctively known Siri is unique and a breakthrough in democratizing the man-machine voice interface. I preordered two 4S’s as soon as they were available because of Siri alone. Can’t wait to get my hands of them.

    1. Me too. I was going to buy one iPhone 5 and was initially disappointed. But my wife and son (who are both not very computer literate) pricked up their ears and got excited when the Siri presentation started and demanded one each! Now we are buying three iPhone 4Ss instead of one iPhone 5.

      We can’t wait for Siri on iPads. Will we have to upgrade to iPad 3s? Also will we get Siri on our Macbook Airs, or will we have to upgrade them?

      Siri really appears to be a game changer, giving Apple a distinct advantage over the competition!

  8. Xerox parc did NOT invent the GUI. They TRIED, but FAILED. Apple invented the GUI and it’s the product that EVERY other competitor (thanks to MSFT Monopoly Machine that is ONE OS==Windoze) has copied ever since.

    If you play baseball and STRIKE OUT, you are generally not hailed as a hero. Parc STUCK OUT. They didn’t even have overlapping windows.

    Just because 10 Million Wintards like to THINK that ‘Parc invented the GUI’ doesn’t make it true, it only makes them feel better about using an ALSO RAN OS.

    1. Yes, it seems as though Tim has taken the liberty to rewrite history a bit in order for him to demonstrate a pattern of Apple not inventing a key technology, but first to introduce it to the masses in a very practical way. Overall, I get the point he’s trying to make and happen to agree with his view of the big picture. Unfortunately, bending the truth to make his point was the path he chose.

      What I do find amusing is Tim’s sense of logic. Tim (incorrectly) gives full credit to Xerox for the GUI. Then, Tim correctly attributes the invention of the mouse to Douglas Englebart. Then, he gives Apple credit for marrying the two. Didn’t Xerox also use a mouse with their GUI attempt??

      In reality, the history of the GUI is a bit complicated. Xerox certainly helped move the ball forward, but they neither created the basic elements for the GUI, nor did they create the most significant elements that we associated with GUIs today. For example, Xerox did not invent bit mapped graphics, they did not invent the mouse, they did not invent icons, etc., etc. These came from the DARPA funded Advanced Augmentation Research center. Similarly, they did not invent many of the components necessary for a modern GUI such as over lapping windows, drop down menus, drag and drop, no Finder/Windows Explorer equivalent, etc, etc. as these all came from Apple. To muddy the waters even further, Jeff Raskin who started the Macintosh project used to lecture on the concept of the GUI over at Xerox prior to starting the Mac project.

      Anyway, the point here is that Tim should have just stuck to the facts. He didn’t need to attempt to assign development credit for any of these items in order to make the point that Apple was first to introduce products which fundamentally change the way we interact with our devices.

      1. A lot of people miss the fact that many of the GUI engineers at Xerox PARC left and went to work for Apple for the simple reason that Apple was actually trying to create a real product. At the time Xerox had no interest in producing a product based off this work other than for use within the company.

        They also did not invent touch, but they were smart enough to see the advantages of the multi-touch work being done by FingerWorks and bought them in 2005. Furthermore, he completely left out that Apple had previously released a touch based product, the Newton.

        1. Not strictly true that Xerox had no interest in producing a product. The Star workstation was sold commercially from 1981 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerox_Star) and was not a bad system if slow and buggy in early incarnations — but was too expensive to succeed in the marketplace without stronger sales and marketing support than Xerox was prepared to put into the project.

  9. Great stuff, but you really should rephrase this:

    “What’s interesting about this is that he did not invent the GUI. That came from Xerox Parc. And he did not invent the mouse. Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse. But by marrying them to his OS he reinvented the GUI and OS and gave us a completely new way to deliver the man-machine interface through the mouse. Until that time all computer input was done by textual typing.”

    As another poster said, Xerox used the mouse with the GUI! Steve–and his team–created something better, far more usable, but the GUI-mouse combo was there already.

    “Until that time all computer input was done by textual typing.” is simply incorrect, given various DOS and Apple II menu structure, select choices with arrow keys (not typing text, but moving the cursor around to select things). Plus, there was what was going on at PARC. (If you check, I think you’ll discover that PARC is all caps, too!)

    But these are quibbles… you are right! Steve pioneered the first widespread GUI, the first widespread use of the mouse, the first combo, and the computer for the rest of us (even though it was only those who afford $2500)! 🙂

    1. Pressing arrows differs from typing actions …. how? It is still typing at a keyboard. In essence Tim is right. Prior to the Mac, for most users, using most apps, instructions and content had to be typed in. In particular, the entry of instructions like saving, printing and file management involved a lot of work and arcane wording/punctuation.

      1. If you’re old enough to remember or have used, say, AppleWorks, you’ll quickly understand the difference. Instead of typing in DOS commands and messing up the punctuation, one simply moved up and down menus with the arrow keys– nothing to TYPE in. Even Apple ProDOS (for the Apple IIs) got to that very quickly and was a time- and aggravation-saver!

        Also, the idea that prior to the Mac, ALL input was via text typing ignores Xerox-PARC’s mouse driven interface and these other menu structures! Remember, I said I was offering a quibble, but it’s sweeping statements “All” “Every one” “Everybody” that need questioning and avoiding! 🙂

  10. My Apple IIGS had a mouse in 1983 prior to the Mac launch in 1984. Also, the optional external hard drive was more expensive than the $2,600 Apple IIGS computer system…..$5K I spent on it since the Mac was B&W and the GS was color. The little things we forget. What $5K in 1984 money would buy today at Apple.

    1. “My Apple IIGS had a mouse in 1983 prior to the Mac launch in 1984.”

      I know this is going back a few years, but something doesn’t add up with your timeline. The IIGS didn’t come out until ’86. I had a //e in ’83 and eventually added a mouse to it, but I don’t recall if that was before the Mac in ’84.

      Good memories about the old “profile” hard drives though. $3500 for 5MB. I never bought one of those.

  11. Consumers saw it. Over 1 million of them pre-ordered the iPhone 4S.

    Pundits completely missed it. They wanted changes to make the iPhone more like Android.

    Unfortunately for them, Apple marches to its own beat – where the consumer experience is paramount.

  12. It’s a bit odd to decouple the mouse and the graphical interface. Xerox Parc had both (even if it’s true that Engelbart invented the mouse separately). Apple’s contribution was to simplify down and make the combination accessible to the mass market. I really hope SIRI works — not a new idea, and older attempts were generally rubbish.

  13. Thank you Tim.
    I’ve been a follower for years.
    As always, you take the time to step back and see both the forest and the trees.

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