The iPhone 4S Event Makes History

While many people were disappointed that Apple introduced an iPhone 4S, rather than an iPhone 5, two weeks back, most missed the fact that they were witnessing history.

In 1984, when Steve Jobs introduced the Mac, he momentously introduced the graphical user interface. Then he actually topped himself by presenting another technology: the mouse. (The mouse was first introduced with the Lisa but not popularized until the Mac.) In essence, he introduced the next user input device that has been at the heart of personal computing for nearly two decades.

Interestingly, he did not invent the GUI, that came from Xerox Parc. And he did not invent the mouse, Douglas Engelbart did. But by marrying them to his OS, he reinvented the GUI and OS and gave us a completely new way to deliver the man-machine interface through the mouse. Until then, textual typing and arrow keys did most computer navigation.

In 2007, Jobs and his team did it again with the introduction of the iPhone. He did not invent touch computing. That technology has been around for more than 20 years via pen input or minimally within desktop touch UIs like those used in HP’s Touchsmart desktops. However, he married it to iOS and gave the world a completely new way to interact with small, handheld computers. With the new touch gestures part of its laptop trackpad designs, Apple has even extended it to the core Mac portable computing platform. Basically, Jobs’ second UI act brought touch UIs to mainstream computing.

Now we meet Siri, integrated into iOS. Jobs and the Apple team have given something to the world that it will look back on and regard as the next major user input technology: voice and speech. But we will also realize that the real breakthrough is in Siri’s applied artificial intelligence. It is its speech comprehension that will be its greatest advancement.

At the event, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Scott Forstall, showed how a person can just tell Siri to “set appointment for me to have lunch with Ben at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday” and it does it. It can learn who Ben is so that I could merely refer to him as “my son.”

Forstall also explained that he could tell Siri to remind him to call his wife Melody when he leaves Apple. When he gets to his car and is about to leave, the iPhone 4S detects he is leaving Apple’s location and Siri immediately alerts him to call his wife. This marriage of voice and speech as a UI linked with Siri’s AI and speech comprehension technology is a game changer. It’s set to become the next major user interface technology between man and machine.

Once again, Jobs did not invent this technology, but Apple’s genius keeps trying to make the man-machine interface easier to use. With each form, be it the mouse, touch, or voice with applied AI and speech comprehension, Apple has popularized these new inputs and thus refined the way man communicates.

Although the first generation of Siri is good and serviceable, it is only going to get better as Apple increases its functionality and accuracy. Compare the 1984 mouse with the mouse and touch input of today. It has drastically improved as the technology has advanced. Over time, Apple’s advancements in CPU, DSP, OS and UI integration will make Siri even more accurate. It will learn what we want it to know in order to better help us communicate with and through our devices.

I have personally witnessed all three of these historical technology introductions. When the Mac was introduced in 1984, I was sitting in the center of the third row in the Foothill College auditorium. In 2007, I was at Moscone West, center of the fourth row, when Jobs and team introduced the iPhone with its touch UI. Most recently, I was in the fifth row of Apple’s campus auditorium, Building 4 of Infinite Loop, when Tim Cook and his team unveiled the iPhone 4S and Siri.

Here is another interesting point: Although Apple has had this touch UI integrated into iOS since 2007, only now is the Windows world starting to get serious. While Apple will continue to advance its various touch UIs, it can rightfully say, “been there, done that.”

Now, it’s time to take it up a notch. Apple’s next user input mountain to scale will be the use of voice and speech coupled with AI speech comprehension, as part of its future man-machine interface. It may start with iOS but, like touch, I expect this UI to be in the Mac in short time, as well.

Yes folks, for those of us at the iPhone 4S launch, we witnessed history being made. Unfortunately, a lot of people at that event missed it.

For more from Tim Bajarin, follow him on Twitter @bajarin.

Tim Bajarin is one of the leading analysts working in the technology industry today. He is president of Creative Strategies (, a research company that produces strategy research reports for 50 to 60 companies annually—a roster that includes semiconductor and PC companies, as well as those in telecommunications, consumer electronics, and media. Customers have included AMD, Apple, Dell, HP, Intel, and Microsoft, among many others. You can e-mail him directly at [email protected]

More Tim Bajarin:
•   The iPhone 4S Event Makes History
•   Back to the Future of Modular Computing
•   How to Think About Windows on ARM
•   How Tablets Will Drive e-Commerce
•   Why Apple Is So Successful
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