iPhone debuts third-generation PC user interface: Apple’s Steve Jobs changes the world – again

“Steve Jobs’ iPhone demo at Macworld January 9 rocked the house, stopped the presses and upset the smart-phone status quo. Yes, Jobs changed the world. Again,” Mike Elgan blogs for Digit.

“Jobs’ iPhone demo was so powerful that he actually made people believe that Apple invented a whole new user interface. In fact, Apple did something more important than that. The company took some of the best — hitherto obscure — UI research and put it into a product that you will be able to buy. It did the same thing with the original Apple computer, the Mac, and with the iPod,” Elgan writes.

Elgan writes, “This is how Apple changes the world. It takes awesome research out of other people’s labs, polishes and perfects it, and then ship it as warm-and-fuzzy consumer products everyone can buy.”

“Succeed or fail, the iPhone will be remembered as the first major step toward the third-generation PC user interface,” Elgan writes. “Tomorrow’s third-generation PC UI has already been invented. All the research is done. In fact, some elements have been independently developed by dozens of geniuses at multiple research centers, each taking a slightly different approach, but all embracing more than one of the major five elements of tomorrow’s UI. Here are those elements:”

1. Multi-touch
2. Gestures
3. Physics
4. 3D
5. Minimization of icons

“Does all this sound familiar? These are the five core elements of the iPhone user interface. And they do not exist together in any other major product,” Elgan writes. “The iPhone’s relevance lies not in its convergence of phone and iPod or even the mobilization of OS X, but that it’s the first-ever, mass-market computer with a third-generation UI.”

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “MacDoc” for the heads up.]

MacDailyNews Note: We first covered Jeff Han’s multi-touch interface last February with a direct link to video of Han’s UI and a link to Wired’s “Cult of Mac” coverage. At the time, we wrote, “This could change everything. Again.”

In recent days, Han has updated his website with the cryptic blurb, “Yes, we saw the keynote too! We have some very, very exciting updates coming soon- stay tuned!”

Jeff Han’s “Multi-Touch Interaction Research” Web site: http://cs.nyu.edu/~jhan/ftirtouch/

Related articles:
Researchers have bigger plans for ‘multi-touch’ beyond Apple’s iPhone – January 19, 2007
Video of how Apple’s rumored touch-screen Tablet Mac could work – February 13, 2006


  1. A revolution can be done not by inventing something, but by putting the right pieces together.

    A great example is the iPod. There were MP3 players (like Sony or the Rio), there were hard drives, and there were ways to download/rip music into MP3. None of that technology was created by Apple.

    But, the genious of the device was to allow volume to be in the MP3 player, add a better interface (the wheel) and create a convenient way to distribute the music and make the device communicate with the desktop.

    It’s the same with the iPhone: A lot of “nothing news”, which combined are creating a complete new revolutionary thing.

  2. There actually is a lot new with the iPhone. It’s the first cellphone to combine a real mp3 player (not crippleware that other phones have).

    Lots of memory (other so-called “smart phones” have pitiful amounts of memory by comparison), and important to this, an OS that can utilize that memory. Other “mobile OS” devices have antiquated and crippled software running them that can’t use large amounts of memory effectively.

    Even the large highly readable high resolution screen is new, allowing smaller text sizes to be highly readable.

    And of course no other cell phone out there, regardless of listed features will have the usability factor of the iPhone, that is easily 5 years ahead of its time.

  3. Am I the only one who thinks some of this stuff is going to feature in Leopard?

    Ballmer and Gates can only just see the taillights of OS X in the distance. I think I’m betting on them looking into blackness with six months…Apple will be over the horizon.

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  4. I think Macaday is right, some of this technology is going to be in Leopard.

    Now, one thing which is interesting is what I call the “glue”. I explain:

    As I said, the iPod was a combination of features already existing. But the “glue” was the design and interface of the device itself.

    Same with the iPhone. I think the glue will be OS X, which is the differenciator between the iPhone and the rest of phones. And, like the Mac, the OS will be the main differenciator.

    Am I out of line here?

  5. There is only limited use for this type of technology for a personal computer. Select companies may benefit from it, as well as some portable computers and devices, but that’s about it.

    What are the primary uses of a computer for the majority of consumers? This wouldn’t make emailing people any easier, and people would still need some type of keyboard for that. Same for surfing the internet and word processing.

    Certain media applications could take advantage of this technology, but as the computer converges with other media technologies, such as the living room television, having to actually get up and walk over to touch the display would be a major inconvenience. So that means that possibly a remote could use this type of technology. So maybe this could mean the convergence of the mouse and keyboard into a single, adaptable, touch sensitive device. But that’s just basically the evolution of what’s already being used, not something revolutionary like the mouse, and most consumer computers probably wouldn’t even make use of it.

  6. I hope that some bright minds can develop an touch-screen interface that does not require a physical mouse or keyboard. Han’s multi-touch interface is interesting but I have yet to see a prototype infterace that has practical use. Something similar to the iPhone virtual keyboard could replace the plastic keys on current notebooks. Despite Microsoft’s failure with voice-to-text, I still think that this technology has real promise, too.

  7. Realist, Realist, Realist — see those taillights in the distance?

    “There is only limited use for this type of technology for a personal computer.”

    Your mistake is assuming that the personal computer, as we know it today, is a fixed object, something that has always been and always will be. Get used to that dust in your face. The future is always going to leave the “realists” of the world amazed and bitterly sniping about the leftover pieces of yesterday’s world.

  8. Interesting interesting. Multi-touch is amazing technology. I’m sure we will see the fruit of it in many forth coming technologies… It will be interesting to see where.

    I doubt, however, Leopard will make much use of this. We shall see but I think it’s too early for standard computer GUIs to use this technology. I’m sure we’ll see it in more devices like the iPhone, though.

  9. As a video editor, photographer, and all-around nice guy, this would be an interesting way to work.

    Hopefully in my lifetime, the interface will progress to using 3D space rather than a flat monitor.

    Imagine editing a 3D camera move in After Effects where your finger and how it behaves acts as the camera.

    Or if your composing a photo album with many RAW photos and you want to zoom in loupe-style. You can make a circle with your thumb and index finger and move it back to zoom out and forward to zoom in. May not look PC (politically correct), but it’d be a effective way to work.

    Smudgy displays are annoying.

  10. “oh my” — If you think Zune Tang has been quiet, make a Zune Tang post. What, you think there’s only one of him? This site doesn’t have registration. There’s multiple Zune Tangs, just like there were umpteen zillion Sputniks. I presume the original quit when he realized the joke had run its course. But if you want to beat that dead horse, be my guest.

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