In the past year I found myself talking with my colleagues about the evolution of telephony. I claimed that although telephony seems like growing very fast, evolvement was pretty slow on the user experience side, comparing to other electric necessities. In fact, since the invention of voice dialing 7 years ago, there was no real progress, nothing revolutionary.
And then came iPhone. A revolution? I thought so, but couldn’t really find anything revolutionary in it. Not on the user experience side, anyway. When talking about making a phone call, user experience comes down to two questions: where and what - where you have to be to make the call, and what you have to do.
A brief history, with emphasis on the revolutionary user experience:
1. Manual operators (Alexander Graham Bell patent in 1876, actually invented by Antonio Meucci in 1849). Where: near the wall-jacked phone. What: pick up the funny thingy, and say “operator, please contact me with Bily”.
2. Automatic operators (Strowger switch, 1892). What: pick up, dial Bily’s home number on the rotary thingy.
3. Public pay phones. Where: near the phone, available in the streets.
4. Touch Tone dialing (1941 Baltimore, Maryland, 1961 released to public). What: push some buttons instead of using the rotary.
5. Home mobile (1946). Where: anywhere at home or in the garden. No tangling wires.
6. Cellular (Chicago, 1978). Where: anywhere where service is available.
7. Speed dial. What: push a single button to dial.
8. Voice dialing (2000). What: say “Bily”.
Of course there were more events, such as satellite transport, caller ID, and others, but those above are what I tag as the major revolutions.
So is iPhone revolutionary? It seems that it brings no big news to user experience. Sure, the graphics are cool, but in terms of “where” and “what” there’s nothing revolutional, nothing new.
But iPhone is revolutional in other means. The way Apple integrated all the components, the intuitive functionality, the flow of screens.. it all just made the word “Telephone” obsolete. It ends the telephony age. The only remainder will be that silly number, with too many digits to remember, and that too will expire soon.
Steve Jobs called it “iPhone”. The irony here is that the iPhone actually diminishes the phrase “I phone”. What Bell started in 1876, Jobs ends in 2007.
Welcome to the post-telephony age.
To see the iPhone presentation by Apple's CEO Steve Jobs, click here, and then click "Watch iPhone Introduction" at the bottom.