Indianapolis, IN - January 20, 2007
The year started off with a bang for the arguable leader of industrial design, Apple, Inc., formerly Apple Computer, Inc. At the annual MacWorld expo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs prowled the stage in his normal turtleneck-and-jeans combo and literally changed the game for wireless phone companies around the world. Jobs was demonstrating the new iPhone, Apple's first entry into the ultracompetitive market with razor-thin margins.
Why would Apple, who has long been a bit player in the computer industry as far as market share is concerned, make a foray into the cellular business? Simple economics. Bouyed by the success of the ubiquitous iPod (since the release in 2001, Apple has sold more than 68 million of the players and an additional 2 billion songs with the companion store, iTunes), Jobs set his sights on a much larger market: almost a billion wireless phones were sold last year. Capturing just 1% of that market share would make a significant impact on Apple's bottom line.
So Apple set out to tackle this task they way they always do: figure out what's broken and fix it. In the case of wireless smartphones, Apple decided nearly everything was broken. The phones, while able to do quite a few a things, didn't do any of them very well. Case in point, have you figured out how to make a conference call with your cell phone? That's just one of the many things that Apple fixed with the iPhone. To fix these issues, Apple went in a decidedly new direction: the eliminated the keypad and replaced it with a wide touchscreen. Then they invented an entirely new interface to allow you to use "multitouch" to access the data. For instance, if you're looking at a picture on the phone and want to zoom, you place two fingers on the screen and spread them apart. To make it smaller, you pinch your fingers together. Beautifully simple. Eliminating the quirky number pad for a software solution allows Apple to change, update and modify the software to adapt to future needs. It also means you can type on an on-screen keyboard instead of numbers. In other words, the days of hitting 7 four times to get an 'S' are gone forever.
The iPhone is revolutionary in a multitude of ways, and Jobs is reknowned for creating buzz with his keynote addresses. But there are a whole lot of people out there who don't pay much attention to MacWorld or Jobs or Apple, for that matter. So how to explain this new device, sure to cause an itching case of gadgetlust in a whole host of people, if they only knew about it?
First, let the media do what it does. To be certain, you'll hear a lot about this phone from any number of sources in the next few months, but all of them will be limited on the amount of time they can devote to it (as I am here.) So Apple turned to the web. On their site, they have created one of the best online tutorials I've seen. In fact, spend a few minutes going through the options here and you'll know how to use the iPhone before you ever see one in person. Part of that, of course, is a testament to Apple's dead-on industrial and interface design. One of the reasons you'll know how to use it is because it works exactly the way you'd expect it should. But they've taken that same experience and knowledge to build this microsite.
Like the iPhone itself, the web interface is simple, beautiful and easy to understand, the demonstrations interesting and obviously 'right', and the accompanying text describes how they pulled everything together from both a technical and user-experience perspective. This stands as a nearly perfect example of form following function, and sets the standard for all future online product demonstrations in any industry.
Can Apple succeed in the wireless industry? You can bet on it. With the iPod, iTunes and now the iPhone, it should be no surprise to see Apple drop 'Computer' from it's name. Will the new iPhone get anyone's attention? While Jobs was onstage delivering his keynote, Apple stock rose 8% and Palm and RIM (the makers of the Blackberry) fell by 5% and 7%, respectively.