It was user experience that triggered the technological revolution

Technological innovation requires solving complex technical problems, doesn’t it? Well yes and no. Now that the Apple Macintosh is 40 years old, what was initially Apple’s focus on the weak concept of “user experience” in its 1984 flagship product is now clearly justified by the sales success the company has achieved since then.

It turns out that designing for usability, efficiency, accessibility, elegance, and even fun is worth it. Apple’s market capitalization now exceeds $2.8 trillion, and its brand is as synonymous with the term “design” as the top fashion houses of New York or Milan. Apple turned technology into fashion, and did it through user experience.

The first Mac ad was directed by Ridley Scott.

It all started with the Macintosh. When Apple introduced the Macintosh personal computer on January 22, 1984, in a television commercial for Super Bowl XVIII, it was more like a movie premiere than a technology launch. The commercial was actually directed by director Ridley Scott. And its founder, Steve Jobs, knew he wasn’t just selling computing power, storage or desktop publishing solutions. Jobs was selling a product that people could use, take home, and integrate into their lives.

Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad is as iconic as the product it features.

It was no longer about computers. Yes, IBM, Commodore and Tandy made computers. The difference was that the first Macintosh was intended to make people feel comfortable in a new extension of themselves, not as computer geeks, but as ordinary people. That’s why all of their “computer equipment” – circuits, cables, motherboards and monitors – were neatly packaged and hidden in an elegant built-in box.

There was no need to dig through this drawer, and there was no need, especially with a Macintosh. The average user did not think about the contents of this box, nor did he think about the seams of his clothes. Instead, he focused on how the box made him feel.

Beyond the mouse and desktop metaphor

Was the Macintosh an innovative computer? Of course, but not because of any particular computer advance. The Macintosh was not the first computer to have a graphical user interface or use the desktop metaphor (icons, files, folders, windows, etc.). The Macintosh was not the first personal computer designed for home, office, or educational use. It was also not the first computer to use a mouse. It wasn’t even the first Apple computer to have or have any of these things: the Apple Lisa, released a year earlier, had it all.

The Macintosh wasn’t the first to do anything technical. What it did was give people an accessory not for geeks or techies, but for work-at-home moms, soccer dads, and eighth-graders who used it to write documents, edit spreadsheets, draw pictures, and play games. The Macintosh revolutionized the personal computing industry and everything that followed with its emphasis on providing a pleasant and simplified user experience.

While computers typically had complex input sequences in the form of printed commands (Unix, MS-DOS) or multi-button mice (Xerox STAR, Commodore 64), the Macintosh used a desktop metaphor in which the computer screen was a representation of a physical object. desktop surface. Users could directly click on files and folders on the desktop to open them. It also had a one-button mouse that allowed users to click, double-click, and drag icons without typing commands.

The Xerox Alto was the first to demonstrate the concept of icons, invented by David Canfield Smith in his 1975 doctoral dissertation. The 1981 Xerox Star and 1983 Apple Lisa newspapers used desktop metaphors. But these systems were slow, and interacting with them remained cumbersome from a design perspective.

The Macintosh simplified the interactions required to operate a computer and improved performance at reasonable speeds. Complex keyboard commands and special keys were replaced by point-and-click operations, drop-down menus, windows, and icons that could be dragged and dropped, cut, copied, and pasted throughout the system. Unlike the Lisa, the Macintosh could only run one program at a time, but this simplified the user’s experience.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh on January 24, 1984.

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The Macintosh also provided application developers with a set of user interface tools that allowed applications to have a standard appearance using common interface widgets such as buttons, menus, fonts, dialog boxes, and windows. With this new computer, the user learning curve was flattened, allowing people to feel competent in a short time. Computers, like clothing, were now available to everyone.

Good experience

While I hesitate to use the cliché “natural” or “intuitive” when talking about worlds built on the screen—no one is born knowing what a desktop window, drop-down menu, or double-click is—the Macintosh was the first personal computer to make a custom experience is the engine of technical advances. It was actually easy to operate, especially compared to command line computers of the time.

While earlier systems prioritized technical capabilities, the Macintosh was designed to give non-technical users—whether at work, school, or home—the immediate ease of use that is now the hallmark of not only most Apple products, but also all Apple products. industry of consumer electronics, smart devices and computers of all kinds.

According to Market Growth Reports, companies providing user experience tools and services were valued at $548.91 million in 2023 and are expected to reach $1.36 billion in 2029. This makes sense, given that consumer products today rarely succeed in the market based on functionality alone. Consumers expect a good user experience and are willing to pay more for it. The Macintosh pioneered this “obsession” and demonstrated its central role.

Ironically, the January 2024 Macintosh celebration never had anything to do with technology. It’s always been about people.

This serves as inspiration for those looking for the next technological breakthrough. And why not, a warning to those who consider user experience to be an afterthought in technological innovation.

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