In 1985, the first RUI by Apple was the ‘Mouse’. It brought about the Personal Computer revolution with the Macintosh, which ushered in the era of graphical UI-based personal computing; back in those days, personal computers were still largely based on the command-line interface. It’s only later in 1992 that IBM PC-compatible clones running Microsoft DOS and Windows 3.1. The introduction of the mouse changed the whole personal computing landscape forever.
The second RUI that was launched and popularised would now be known as the ‘Click Wheel’. It made the iPod, the now-dominant music player, the easiest to use. The iPod, through its interface, changed consumer expectations of how a music jukebox would function. Thumbing up and down menus of music via buttons felt archaic and inefficient; the click wheel made travelling through playlists intuitive.
The third RUI that Apple popularised is ‘Multi-touch’. Ever since introduced in 2007, finger-powered UI has taken over the smartphones landscape. I still remember watching Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone. When he flicked and scrolled through his list of contacts on his phone, the audience were ecstatic and amazed. RIM, the blackberry maker, was adamant that physical keyboards are still the way to go.
With every RUI introduced, disruption follows. Dediu sums it up nicely:
Each new input method led to not just a disruption but new platforms and new business models. Each new “sling” victimized a set of historic companies. Mainframe and minicomputers, consumer electronics giants and now telecoms.
Just like David’s sling, these technologies are not powerful in and of themselves, but rather, the way they are used makes them unpredictably sinister. The context of using capacitive touch on a handheld device rather than on a table-top makes it disruptive. Coupling it with high-speed mobile networks and powerful but efficient microprocessors made it into a force.
Multi-touch was 2007. Five years has passed, is the next RUI already here?
Dediu did suspect and wonder if ‘Siri’ was the next RUI. I agreed with his suspicions. Launched in October 2011 on the iPhone 4S, Siri is introduced as a voice-powered intelligent personal assistant.
That was what I thought in October 2011.
Just today, Kara Swisher at All Things D reported that Apple has hired Amazon executive William Stasior to head its Siri department.
First, some background on why this is significant. Prior to being hired by Apple, William Stasior ran Amazon A9—it powers Amazon’s search and product recommendation intelligence. For a search expert to be hired to head Siri, maybe Siri isn’t just an assistant to begin with.
Google probably saw the potential (or threat) that Siri was and released Google Now in July 2012 for its Android Jelly Bean (4.1). As an improved response to Siri, Google Now is predictive, contextually-aware, in addition to being a voice-powered assistant.
While Apple is really new to the area of data mining and organisation—Google’s forte for the past 10+ years—I can’t say that Apple pioneered this RUI, nor would it be at its potential at its current form. However, I’m absolutely sure that Apple is in a very good position to push this technology into all of its hardware products, something that Google has very little and diminishing access to.
Two major markets that are open to Apple’s disruption are entertainment and services for the living room and automobiles.
I believe that the “Apple TV” in its eventual successful form will have Siri power a large part of its UI. To control our living rooms, the Mouse, the Click Wheel (remote controls), and Multi-touch are largely limiting and inadequate. Google TV has shown us how unpopular these input-methods are. Siri, with our voices, will become the controlling interface for these technologies that provide entertainment and services, throughout the household.
As for automobiles, I’ve seen how awful the UIs are in those in-car entertainment systems. How can anyone navigate through throngs of menus via a Mouse (pointing device) or Multi-touch (touchscreen)? We need to keep our eyes on the road, not on distracting screens. For this reason I believe, Apple has introduced ‘Siri Eyes Free’ during 2012 WWDC. I’m confident that this is the first step in the direction where our voices can control entertainment, navigation, and systems in our automobiles.
Microsoft also has been pushing its technology into cars, but I believe Apple’s strategy will prevail. Products in their individual silos aren’t very useful and are unlikely to be successful. It is only with integration when the magic happens.
When you take into account of Apple’s huge integrated media and hardware ecosystem, you actually see a huge potential. iCloud ties all these unconnected parts into one single coherent system. Microsoft on the other hand currently falls-short of this aspect with its fragmented online identity system and incoherent media properties (Live, Xbox, Zune, Windows 8, Windows Phone, etc).
Putting it altogether, there will be major disruption to hardware makers and software makers, buoyed by Apple’s cohesive ecosystem, together with Siri. So that would be the forth RUI.
Oh and the fifth RUI?
No, it’ll not be NFC. I suspect it will be Passbook—where location-based events meet contact-less commerce.
I can’t wait to see all this become reality in my lifetime.