The history of Graphical User Interface — part 3
So glad to see you again! Have you read our two previous parts? If so, just go ahead. But if you are new here, I warmly encourage you to start from the beginning!
Between 2010 and 2011, Apple started to sue various companies for what they labeled as copying iPhone features. Since Android phones with full touchscreen started to appear, Jobs threatened Google, then also Taiwan’s brand HTC.
Microsoft’s first phones running Windows Phone turned out to be a flop. The biggest they have done was demanding payments from makers of Android handsets due to patent infringement. Samsung and HTC made an agreement with them.
Since 2010, Android has dominated the mobile market. In 2012 there were over three times as much Android-driven devices sold as iOS ones. Most of the fans of this lil’ green robot highlighted its ability of customization as its biggest advantage.
Apple offered an operating system that was really sophisticated, pleasing to look at and advanced in technology, yet it lost with the Android’s open source, large app store, number of devices running it and finally — the simple fact that it was free.
In October 2012 Microsoft launched their newest operating system called Windows 8. The audience reactions were very mixed. Windows 8 shocked users with very different — in comparison to earlier Windows’ systems — interface, resembling the one of a tablet or a smartphone. This seems logical, as many of its components were aimed at tablet users.
2012 and 2013 were the times of BlackBerry and their QWERTY-operated smartphones. BlackBerry was once considered one of the biggest mobile players, specialized in secure communications and mobile productivity. BlackBerries were designed mostly for businessmen and were widely appreciated. But after 2014, the popularity of keyboard-operated smartphones faded away, as the market became dominated and obsessed with touchscreens.
In July 2015 Microsoft released Windows 10 whose interface went back to more of a traditional desktop style. However, it is possible to switch it to a more touchscreen-friendly mode. Windows 10 tried to be as innovative as possible without confusing their customers as they did with the previous system.
Modern GUI world, dominated by smartphones and touchscreens, became extremely intuitive and intelligent. It follows our state of mind of beings supported and powered by the electronic devices. We don’t look up to the technology anymore — currently, its technology that looks up to us, trying to mimic our ways of thinking and performing.
Leading themes in design have been changing throughout the years. In 2010 we were in love with skeuomorphism. Sounds incredibly smart, but it’s nothing more than just mimicking the reality in the digital world. Basically, you take the way something looks and works and recreate its visuals and functionality in a digital device. An example probably everyone knows — calculator applications. If you give the calculator you have on your smartphone a closer look, you will notice how similar it is to the physical one you probably hid inside your drawer. Is it necessary for the calculating application to have buttons with numbers and a small display of the results? No. But we all know and love this model of a calculator so digital ones have to follow.
Exaggerated skeuomorphism became passé after 2012. What came after was almost just the opposite — the simplified and usability-centered style of a flat design. Microsoft favored flat design when designing visuals for Windows 8 interface. Some imply that it was kind of response to Apple’s overly skeuomorphism design of the time, others affirm that it was actually Apple that started the fashion for flat design. One way or another, we praise the clear and pleasing visuals of this style to this day.
The world of smartphones isn’t as limited anymore. We still like iPhones, but the market offers tons of other brands, less expensive yet equally advanced, like Samsung, Huawei, LG or the latest big source of mobile interest, Xiaomi.
The previous year Apple announced its “biggest leap forward since the original iPhone” (quoting current Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook), iPhone X. What catches the eye on the first glance is its huge screen that takes up the whole front panel. It is said to have it all, from surgical-grade stainless steel case, through Super Retina Display, to ability to unlock the phone by the face recognition. Nerds are impressed by tech specification, casuals appreciate its visuals and capabilities, teenagers freak out about the possibility of turning their face mimics into emoji. Apple’s marketing is brilliant, as always, so the world holds the breath in waiting.
“You’ve never seen anything like it. It’s never seen anything like you”
Conclusions? Apple is slaying it when it comes to marketing since 1984 (literally). That catchy phrase above promotes the newest iPhone X — and even if you are not the biggest fan of the bitten apple cult, you have to admit that it is brilliant.
But we aren’t talking about the marketing stuff, even though throughout the years it became clear that it’s not the best idea for GUI that matters but the way you advertise it. Still, I would like to avoid giving you advice like “steal as much as you can and wrap it with as many catchphrases as you can”.
No, the real conclusion here is the fact how much our approach towards GUI has changed since the beginning of the computers. People, able to operate the technology, used to be seen as some kind of magicians, empowered to communicate with the incomprehensible world of computers. When you wanted to use technological devices firstly you had to learn how to, as everything was raw and crude, not to even mention — horribly expensive and hard to get.
With the idea of GUI appeared the vision of a human cooperating with the technological device. Personal computers started the idea of technology present in everyday life of a human. Years that passed transformed “cooperating” into “serving”. As the technology was becoming more popular and easily accessible, it also had to start offering more. Now it was targeted towards everyone — not just businessmen and white collars. As the target widened, analogically the scope of needed solutions also broadened. Suddenly we came to the point where we no longer have a human trying to communicate with technology, but a technology developed to forewarn human needs and trying to mimic his ways of thinking. Now UX isn’t just a nice thing that increases device’s popularity. It’s a necessity. Without GUI that meets all the expectations, even the finest product won’t succeed.
Apple’ commercial from 1984 wanted to persuade us that we should fight the Unification of Thought, avoid conformity and affirm values of originality, freedom, and humanity (knowing the brand today, we could be a little cynical and whisper something about the pot calling the kettle black). It somehow predicted the era of technology that does everything possible to imitate human ways of thinking and reacting, but somehow also may serve as a warning. Isn’t the servant the one for which silent persuasion is easiest to initiate? With GUI so intuitive and intelligent, devices and applications can make us do anything their owner wants us to do. And it may truly turn 2017 into 1984 in a matter of seconds.