The year started off with a bang for the arguable leader of industrial design, Apple Inc. At the annual MacWorld expo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs prowled the stage in his normal turtleneck-andjeans combo and literally changed the game for wireless phone companies around the world. Jobs was demonstrating the new iPhone, Apple's first entry into the ultracompetitive market with razor-thin margins.
Why would Apple, which has long been a bit player in the computer industry as far as market share is concerned, make a foray into the cellular business? Simple economics. Buoyed by the success of the ubiquitous iPod, Jobs set his sights on a much larger market: Almost 1 billion wireless phones were sold last year. Capturing just 1 percent of that market share would make a significant impact on Apple's bottom line
So Apple set out to tackle this task the way it always does: Figure out what's broken and fix it. In the case of wireless smartphones, Apple decided nearly everything was broken. The phones, while able to do quite a few a things, didn't do any of them very well. Case in point: Have you figured out how to make a conference call with your cell phone? That's just one of the many things that Apple fixed with the iPhone. To resolve these issues, Apple went in a decidedly new direction: eliminating the keypad and replacing it with a wide touchscreen. Then Apple invented an interface to allow you to use "multitouch" to access the data.
For instance, if you're looking at a picture on the phone and want to zoom, you place two fingers on the screen and spread them apart. To make it smaller, you pinch your fingers together. Beautifully simple. Eliminating the quirky number pad for a software solution allows Apple to change, update and modify the software to adapt to future needs.
The iPhone is revolutionary in a multitude of ways, and Jobs is renowned for creating buzz with his keynote addresses. But there are a whole lot of people out there who don't pay much attention to MacWorld or Jobs-or Apple, for that matter. So how to explain this new device, which is sure to cause an itching case of gadgetlust in a whole host of people-if they find out about it?
Apple turned to the Web. On its site (www.apple.com/iphone/), Apple has created one of the best online tutorials I've seen. In fact, spend a few minutes going through the options here and you'll know how to use the iPhone before you ever see one in person. Part of that, of course, is a testament to Apple's dead-on industrial and interface design. One of the reasons you'll know how to use it is because it works exactly the way you'd expect it should. But Apple has taken that same experience and knowledge to build this microsite.
Like the iPhone itself, the Web interface is simple, beautiful and easy to understand, the demonstrations interesting and obviously right, and the accompanying text describes how Apple pulled everything together from both a technical and user-experience perspective. This stands as a nearly perfect example of form following function, and sets the standard for online product demonstrations in any industry.
Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at email@example.com.