Why the iPhone will change the (PC) world

Imagine an iPhone the size of a big-screen TV. That's the PC of the future

Steve Jobs' iPhone demo at Macworld Jan. 9 rocked the house, stopped the presses and upset the smart-phone status quo. Yes, Jobs changed the world. Again.

His keynote was so insanely great that five weeks later, we almost forget one important fact: The iPhone doesn't exist -- at least as a shipping product.

Neither you nor I has ever so much as touched an iPhone. Almost everything we know about the iPhone came from one big sales pitch. The iPhone could be the greatest device every manufactured. Or it could be a horrible flop like the Newton. Either is possible.

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.

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.

Old and busted

The first-generation UI was the command line. Apple didn't invent it, but used the concept for early Apple computers.

The second-generation UI is the icon-based, folder-driven, resizable overlapping windows interface that we use today. Again, Apple didn't invent it -- Xerox did. But Apple was the first major company to build it into a consumer product, the original Macintosh computer, which came out in 1984.

Microsoft shipped its Windows Vista operating system last month, and Apple's next update to OS X is expected by late spring. Although these platforms contain elements of the next-generation UI, they're based on the same old folders, icons and windows paradigm from the 1980s.

I don't know about you, but I think 23 years is a long time to wait. I'm fed up and ready for the next radical leap forward in UI technology. You will, too, once you've seen the video I link to at the end of this column.

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Mike Elgan

Computerworld

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