Proof that Apple's main iPad and iPhone interface has barely changed in 20 years (Gallery)

Proof that Apple's main iPad and iPhone interface has barely changed in 20 years (Gallery)

Summary: If you've been wondering why iOS devices have started to seem old and boring, we have proof. The very same design used in iPads and iPhones was used as far back as 1993.

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TOPICS: Apple
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  • (Image: Apple)

    Today's iPhone 5

    There's been a lot of discussion recently about Apple's innovation gap as compared to the other smartphone and tablet makers. Innovation, the story goes, has slowed.

    There is no doubt that mobile devices have evolved considerably — especially in terms of hardware capability — over the past few years. The decline of the traditional PC market is a testimony to that fact.

    Even so, there's one area — and an important one at that — where Apple barely innovated in almost two decades: The main launcher screen for mobile devices, now found in its iPhone and iPad products.

    I know what you're thinking. The iPhone is only six years old. Granted, the little icons on the screen haven't changed much since the original iPhone was launched (for comparison, Microsoft was shipping Windows Vista back them), but, even so, six years isn't 20 years.

    Maybe so, but climb onboard for a short tour back in time. When we're done, I think you'll agree that one of the reasons everyone is so incredibly bored with the iPhone and iPad launcher interface is that it's all been done before.

    Climb into the DeLorean, get your speed up to 88 miles per hour, and we'll work our way back to a time when Bill Clinton had just become president, Michael Jackson was still in his prime, putting on a record-setting show at Super Bowl XXVII, Jurassic Park and Mrs Doubtfire were tops in the movie charts, Microsoft was selling Windows for Workgroups 3.1, and Mark Zuckerberg was 11.

  • (Image: Apple)

    Today's iPad

    This is today's iPad. Notice two main characteristics: The set of four main icons on the bottom of the screen, and the grid of app icons in the main screen.

    The iPad, of course, can have up to six icons in the main app section. Remember this when we get back to 1993.

  • (Image: Apple)

    Today's iPad mini

    For completion's sake, let's also look at today's iPad mini — which is identical to today's iPad. On the iPad mini, you can also have up to six main application icons.

Topic: Apple

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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130 comments
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  • Nice article Doc Brown

    Good read as always.
    Emacho
    • You must have some seriously low standards

      If you consider this a good read. Just another pathetic hack job but what we have grown to expect I guess.
      non-biased
  • Wow

    That really put it into perspective just how little the UI has changed over the years.
    icyrock
    • Two sides

      The naysayers will claim that this just proves that Apple's much vaunted innovation is so much hot air.

      The fanboys will say this proves that Apple gets things right the first time.

      (The rest of us will just yawn at how boring Apple products are and go back to tinkering with Windows 8, Android, and Gnome derivatives).
      x I'm tc
      • Three sides, actually...

        Then there's the third side that calls the other two sides, trolls.

        ~

        Now, back to our regularly scheduled popcorn...
        CaviarGreen
        • I doubt he was trolling...

          But it seems it worked none the less. It's okay though. Your iPhone deosn't know that the mean man made fun of it.
          mrefuman
          • But I don't own an iPhone

            So the "mean man" can take a flying leap

            lol...
            CaviarGreen
          • @x I'm tc...

            I think you nailed the argument right on. It seems that whilst all us boring Apple types and iSheep, run round doing something useful with our equally non-descript boring kit, you and all your Fandroids minions will be out there tinkerng with the OS, claiming all the time how open and free you feel.

            So apparently according to you, this is all you ever do with your piece of kit that gives you so much freedom - Tinker, Tinker, Tinker, sideload, Tinker, Tinker, Tinker, Root, then start it all again.
            Jackie-Smith
          • Well said!

            I'll take my boring iPhone over having to constantly tinker and reboot my Android phone.
            athynz
          • You are confused

            Nobody HAS TO tinker or reboot an Android phone. Mine goes months without a reboot. What you call "tinkering", I call "customizing". IE: personalizing the layout, screens, widgets, etc to make the phone work the way _I_ want it to work - not the way somebody in Cupertino dictated that I will have it work.

            Apple ever figure out how to change default applications in iOS yet? Maybe by iOS8 ... or 12 ... they'll figure that one out.

            Meantime, enjoy your admittedly boring iPhone. (Hey, lots of people like them that way ... who am I to judge? Power to ya! Use what you like. But don't bash me for my LOVE of being able to 'tinker' and flash custom ROMs on my phone to make it even more amazing, k?)
            IAmAwesomeness
      • Yes and no

        It also proves that Apple did not copy anyone else with iOS as some of the more rabid Android fanbois are claiming.
        athynz
        • No, it doesn't.

          The first device with that interface was the PalmPilot, not an Apple product. So, it shows that Apple DID copy the interface of a very popular preexisting device.
          BillDem
          • The newton came before the Palm

            While I owned several Palm devices, I had a Newton first. The newton was almost 10 years ahead of Palm. Palm made a device that was smaller and cheaper. It also did not have all the newton features, but that did not matter to most folks. Small was good. In the mid 90's Motorola shipped a couple of devices with radio antennas using ARIDS and Radiomail. One with Newton OS (Marco) and one with Magic CAP (Envoy). These were modeled after the bricks that UPS and FedEx carried.
            I had wireless email on an Apple Newton device before Steve came back to Apple. I like my iPad mini, because it is similar in size to the Marco I have over 15 years ago.
            ddavison50
      • NO "FANBOY"

        If only computers would become expensive again and harder to use, so that people like you who buy computers, but expect kitchen appliances, would go away.

        I'm not a "fanboy". I like computers. I want a computer. W8 was the final insult from Microsoft, so I bought a Mac. Thank God I did! I have a computer again.
        Mike00000
      • Windows 8 Changed

        Why didn't ZD Net run articles like this when Windows 7 was approaching the 30 year mark of having the same basic layout, Then came Windows 8, Instead of 90 to 100% of the people liking the basic concept of the UI, Now it's maybe 50/50.
        I'm all for trying new things, And I probably do more than most readers here, But, when its change just for the sake of changing, That's stupid. Look at the lack of Windows 8 lack success. He'll we should be cheering Apple on for keeping what we like, not what marketing likes.
        mikeserena
        • I partially agree.

          The iOS devices are definitely keeping what we have liked since the PalmPilot, but I have never liked the OS X interface. I'd like to see that one retooled to work more like Windows 7 desktop. I'd probably use my Mac a lot more if the ancient user interface made more sense on multiple displays. There is nothing intuitive or intelligent about moving your mouse to a completely different monitor to open the application menu for your current window. That's mental.

          You really nailed it with the "change for the sake of change" statement. Microsoft has been doing a lot of that over the past few years. The ribbon interface was one unnecessary abomination. Combining the "running apps" bar and task bar was another. I have so many icons on my task bar that, even with a 30" display, opening a few programs hides the task icons at the end of the bar. With XP and Vista, I had two bars on screen. One for my running apps and one for task bar icons.

          Then, there's Metro. Metro is the worst example of the "change for the sake of change" mantra. Like the ribbon interface, it's an interface which demonstrates that Microsoft thinks their users are all idiots now. I much prefer flexibility and efficiency over "dumbed-down for the morons." Metro is a Jeckyl and Hyde user interface which succeeds in neither of its modes. It should have been a separate OS for mobile devices only. It makes zero sense on a desktop computer.
          BillDem
    • Moral

      The moral of the story is: you can only arrange a grid of little squares in so many different ways.
      Mike00000
  • So?

    "That really put it into perspective just how little the UI has changed over the years."

    Different is not better, better is better. I see nothing better in Windows 8, just a whole lot of time wasting different.

    Once an interface is widespread and nearly everyone knows how to use it, changing it is an uphill battle unless the "better" is really obvious.

    Consider the keyboard, intentionally designed to slow down typing to match the slow mechanics of the original machines, but "better" layouts have gone nowhere.
    wally_333
    • Wow

      "Different is not better, better is better. I see nothing better in Windows 8, just a whole lot of time wasting different."

      Wow.. you seem to take Apple's lack of innovation personally.

      Different may not be better. Personally, I don't think Windows 8's UI belongs on a desktop, at least not in it's current form. But at least they're trying something you know... "different".
      Badgered
      • "Trying?"??? So what?

        You admit W8 is not appropriate for the desktop, and then say "But at least they're trying"... Say what??? Who CARES if they are "trying"? Is MS your BFF or something?

        Unlike Kindergarten, "Trying" and "Succeeding" are NOT the same thing. This is the Real World. Businesses like Microsoft are not Charities that are rewarded just for "trying" when that effort is not successful.

        I'm not Microsoft's Mom... I'm not going to pat them on the head and give them my cash just because they "tried".
        SbySW