We will miss the magic. Steve, RIP.

When Steve revealed the iPad to us in January 2010, he described it as magical. While widely derided for that remark, those of us using iPhones couldn’t agree more.

When a magician waves his hands and tricks us, we are thrilled. The “magic” of the iPhone is precisely that, an illusion. We believe our fingertips are physically manipulating the digital bits under the glass… and we are thrilled.

Manipulating real world objects with our fingers is natural. It is in our DNA. It thrills us.

This past summer, I gathered a group of 20 babies between the ages of 14 and 20 months. I handed each one a BlackBerry. No sooner had the babies grasped the phones than they swiped their little fingers across the screens as if they were iPhones, seemingly expecting the screens to come to life. NYTimes, 9/30/2011

Now go back and look carefully at your iPhone. Can you see why Apple made the decisions they did? (I’ve listed a few below.)

My first memories involve technology. I’ve used, taken apart, repaired, broken or programmed in one shape or another practically ever computing platform since the advent of the Commodore PET. I have owned and used almost every major touch screen/tablet computing platform that I could afford. In 2007, when the iPhone was revealed, I was knee deep in the European mobile industry. I had many opportunities to play with the iPhone before I finally owned one in late 2008 upon my return to California. I was not a novice to this game.

Yet, I’m embarrased to admit that until the iPhone became part of my daily routine, I didn’t grasp the emotional connection created by the user when physically manipulating objects under the glass screen.

I can imagine there was a moment, sometime in the last decade, somewhere in Cupertino where this realization came to Steve. I suspect it was before he put his finger on a screen. It was certainly before an iPhone became part of his daily routine. This was his gift. He shared it with us not by writing a blog post or re-inventing the smartphone. Rather, he inspired his company to weave this illusion for us… and we continue to be thrilled.

Steve, you were the great magician of our time. We will miss you.
Rest in Peace.

  • The iPhone was the first mobile phone with a dedicated graphics processor unit (GPU). Unless the bits on the screen moved in perfect concert to your finger, the illusion would be broken. For example, scrolling momentum (swiping the screen quickly and rapidly, causes the content on the screen to move rapidly) would not be possible without a GPU.
  • The iPhone 4 brought a new LCD screen. The high resolution of the screen allows the content to appear printed, not pixelated. More importantly, the screen is mounted high in the glass and can be read at any angle, just like a printed page.
  • Apple uses real world metaphors across the iOS user interface. One specifically comes to mind, turning pages in iBooks. I’m certain the graphical representation of the turning page was incredibly difficult to program and adds no real world value, other than maintaining the illusion.
  • Go stare at your iPhone. What do you see?

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