Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 22nd Jan 2009 12:04 UTC
Legal Remember when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, and held it up in the air, proudly proclaiming "Boy, have we patented it", followed by a massive applause of the adoring audience? It may seem like this wasn't just an empty claim, either. During the earnings conference call yesterday, the company hinted at possible legal action against Palm were the Pre to infringe on iPhone patents.
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Moochman
Member since:
2005-07-06

Here's a relevant quote from that seminal book on Interaction Design, Alan Cooper's The Inmates are Running the Asylum:

"If, as a designer, you do something really, fundamentally, blockbuster correct, everybody looks at it and says, 'Of course! What other way would there be?' This is true even if the client has been staring, empty-handed and idea-free, at the problem for months or even years without a clue about solving it.... Most really breakthrough conceptual advances are opaque in foresight and transparent in hindsight. It is incredibly hard to see breakthroughs in design. You can be trained and prepared, spend hours studying the problem, and still not see the answer. Then someone else comes along and points out a key insight, and the vision clicks into place with the natural obviousness of the wheel. If you shout the solution from the rooftops, others will say, 'Of course the wheel is round! What other shape could it possibly be?' This makes it frustratingly hard to show off good design work."

Few know this better than Cooper, a pioneer in the field of interaction design with an immense portfolio of clients. So whether or not you agree that Apple's innovations should be patentable (as a matter of fact I feel it's worse for "the greater good" as it tends to balkanize interaction paradigms across vendors and thus make end-users' lives harder), the fact is that you cannot objectively assess their level of obviousness.

Reply Parent Score: 2

tupp Member since:
2006-11-12

Most really breakthrough conceptual advances are opaque in foresight and transparent in hindsight... Few know this better than Cooper, a pioneer in the field of interaction design with an immense portfolio of clients.

This rudimentary idea is obvious in itself and is a revelation only to those who have no experience with creative endeavors. It is a notion that usually is comprehended early on in the career of anyone involved in any creative discipline (music, writing, photography, filmmaking, product design, choreography, architecture, etc. -- not just software interface design).

Also, if anyone qualifies to be described as "a pioneer in the field of interaction design," it would be Donald Norman, not Alan Cooper. Norman's expertise is much broader -- he has a lot more experience with the interaction between humans and all objects (not just software). With "The Psychology Of Everyday Things," Norman literally "wrote the book" on product usability.


So whether or not you agree that Apple's innovations should be patentable..., the fact is that you cannot objectively assess their level of obviousness.

Of course, you can.

There are many generic ideas for devices which cannot be achieved because of some limitation. We all want flying cars, teleportation and replicators, but right now they are impossible or impractical. However, just because these items have not been commercially produced, these ideas are still obvious.

In addition, there are many ideas which are easily achieved, but which have uncertain value/appeal. Manufacturers have given us the refrigerator computer, the inside-the-egg-shell scrambler, and the "Bark Stop Professional": http://www.seenontv.com/prod-pages/lentek_bark_free.html

The multi-touch cellphone is a combination of these two types of ideas. The concept was out there and obvious. However, the production of a multi-touch phone was delayed, because, until recently, touchscreen phones have not been powerful enough to handle the software, and due to the dismal appeal of past touch-screen phones, manufacturers were reluctant to sink funds into the development and tooling of a multi-touch version.

Furthermore, the verdict is still out on the advantages/drawbacks of multi-touch phones and of touch-phones in general.

Edited 2009-01-23 17:52 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

Moochman Member since:
2005-07-06

Apple's innovation is not that it championed the idea of a a multi-touch phone. It's much more about the little tweaks Apple put in to enhance usability. The way a flick on lists makes them scroll, and bounce back when they have reached the end... the way every app opening has a transition to let the user know what's going on... the way the screen automatically changes orientation when the accelerometer senses the phone is tilted sideways... the way the phone's screen turns off and the touch-screen locks when the proximity sensor detects that you're holding it to your face... the "slide to unlock" mechanism.... the way the onscreen keyboard senses which keys you're trying to press, even though the keys look like they're going to be too small... The way webpages are presented in desktop format and are easily zoomable via pinching or double-tapping... the way SMSes are presented as conversation threads... "visual voice mail"... These were all firsts with the iPhone.

True, the animation bits were limited somewhat on other platforms by lack of investment in technology on the part of other manufacturers... but most of the reason no one else did this stuff is simple complacency, and the notion that "this is as good as it gets".

The iPhone is a usability tour de force... Are you too blind to see that?

Edited 2009-01-24 08:59 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

Moochman Member since:
2005-07-06

By the way, I would have thought that if you've read Norman's book The Psychology of Everyday Things you would have realized the obviousness of the obviousness paradox. That was practically the whole point of Norman's book: that what you classify as the only obvious and sensible solution is regardless implemented in a suboptimal way everywhere you go. Hence the solution is apparently not so obvious after all. Hence you can't objectively judge the level of obviousness....

Edited 2009-01-24 09:17 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2