Apple’s greatest gift to computing is the advancement of the human-machine interface

During 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 when the Mac was introduced in 1984. This is embodied in Jobs’s commitment to creating products that are easy to use.

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

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

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

This first personal microcomputer appeared in Popular electronics in 1975 and urged Steve Wozniak, who couldn’t afford the Altair 8800, to create his own personal computer. Shortly after, 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 that computers at the time were too difficult to use. Although the original IBM personal computer was introduced in 1981 and targeted a broader audience, its DOS operating system was still difficult to use. The people using them needed training to operate them well.

Software created for the IBM PC and its clones made them easier to use, but using DOS as an operating system still had a learning curve.

From the early days of Apple until around 1982, Jobs was obsessed with the idea that in order for computers to be used by a broader audience, they needed to be easier to use. This easy-to-use mantra led Jobs and his team to create their first real breakthrough that demonstrated Jobs’ vision that computers should be easy enough to use for everyone with no exceptions.

The Mac introduced the first graphical user interface in the computing world. This GUI fulfilled Jobs’ commitment to making a personal computer so easy even a child could use it. Its user interface was very intuitive and launched Microsoft’s Windows competitor and today GUIs are at the heart of the human-machine interface for all computing platforms.

This user-friendly philosophy espoused by Steve Jobs continued with the introduction of the iPod. The first MP3 players did not have standard interfaces and many were very difficult to use. With the iPod, Apple simplified the user interface and created an easy way to download music and help exploit the MP3 player market for everyone.

The introduction of the iPhone cemented Apple’s commitment to making the human-machine interface easy 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, featuring a 3.5-inch display and intuitive GUI, made pocket computing a reality.

Early tablets were also difficult to use, each with its own operating system and user interfaces that had significant learning curves at best. This is especially true for early pen computing devices.

Apple changed that with the introduction of the iPad with a simple operating system and user interface that launched the market for tablets now used in business, educational and consumer markets today.

Apple’s easy-to-use mantra is also evident on the Apple Watch. The first versions of smart watches also had their operating system and user interface and had learning curves. However, the user interface of the Apple Watch is intuitive and easy to use and has brought smartwatches into the mainstream.

Apple continues Jobs’ strategy of making computer products easy to use. I hope this is at the heart of any XR-AR product they bring to market and what they may eventually do with an intelligent vehicle.

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

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