Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beyond Apple's iPhone

Steve Jobs' unveiling of the new Apple iPhone has created a lot of buzz in the past couple days. It definitely has the coolness factor that Apple is known for. This breakthrough design has the potential to literally change the face of mobile phones forever. But I think that the announcement of Apple's iPhone ultimately has more to do with the future of electronics and appliance user interfaces than the immediate splash of the iPhone.

I can easily imagine Apple’s MultiTouch soft interface being applied to numerous devices. Current devices’ hard-wired interfaces dictate that the funcionality be buried in a deep heirarchy requiring the user to maintain a mental map of arcane key combinations to access specific specific features.

The OS X/touch-sensitive screen/MultiTouch user interface trifecta enables a wide, shallow interface in which the map IS the territory. There is no need to memorize shortcuts. This alone eliminates the eternal “flashing 12:00″ syndrome that plagues current electronics and appliances.

An iPhone-style interface enables so much more access to multiple functions than is currently available. Combined with the emerging technology of e-paper, inexpensive and easily read panels would enable a highly simplified approach to interaction with complex tools. A pressure-sensitive tablet could have an embedded e-paper screen that displays its control panel. The user would download and update the driver directly to the tablet. Changes would be reflected in the updated control panel.

Imagine accessing the user manual of an electronics device such as a video recorder or an appliance like a refrigerator. All that would be needed is an embedded chip in the device and a handheld reader with an interface similar to the iPhone. Place the reader in proximity to the device and you're reading the manual. Send it to a printer for a hardcopy.

I predict one day we'll look back and wonder how we managed prior to Apple’s grand contribution.

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