The iPad is 40 Years Old

Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the N.Y. Times Book Review, says “Every fresh idea is usually rooted in an older one.”

It has always been my conviction that to understand design or usefully talk about it one must view it not as a collection of isolated objects, but rather as a trajectory through time. We have to look not just at the individual product qua artifact but also at its social, cultural and technological meaning played out over time along a pathway of evolving inquiry; in other words, longitudinally, epistemologically and critically. I view products of design as plot points along pathways of design transformation ­– as episodes in ever-unfolding stories.

Take the iPad as an example. No serious consideration of design today can ignore the iPad, if only because the iPad has at last unlocked the long-sought mass market for tablet computers, opened a new chapter in personal mobile computing, is rapidly penetrating education and healthcare and is a platform for over 60,000 apps and counting. Beyond that, if one presumes to discuss design and innovation seriously, the iPad is a perfect case for exploring questions of how does exceptional design come into being and what does it teach us about innovation.

The iPad is surely a marvel of innovation. But it is not sui generis burst forth full-born from the brow of Zeus (or in this case, the brow of Steve Jobs.) To understand how innovation actually happens, you have to know that the iPad is over 40 years old, not just in basic concept, but in almost every detail of functionality and user experience. You have to understand the position of the iPad in the context of the history of Human-Computer Interaction and the Graphical User Interface.

Here some of the slides I use to teach the forty-year long quest of which the iPad is the latest instantiation.

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