I’m sure by now you’ve seen the “I-don’t-care bear” video about the iPhone4. It’s funny, but it’s also true. The phone doesn’t work the way I expect it to—for one thing, my calls are dropped all the time. If my firewalls dropped packets the way my iPhone does, I’d have my hair on fire.
Yet iPhone is on a selling tear: Last October, when Apple announced its fiscal Q3 results, it reported that year-over-year sales of the iPhone for that quarter were up 91 percent. And despite any negative videos about the iPhone being circulated on YouTube, sales of the device show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Why? Apple’s genius isn’t about the componentry. It’s about the way it presents the information. It looks good, it’s easy to use, and it’s fun. Larry Ellison once said Steve Jobs is the most brilliant person in our industry, noting that what makes him remarkable is his “incredible aesthetic sense” defined by having the “mind of an engineer and the heart of an artist.” Even enemy (now frenemy?) Bill Gates said Jobs’ “incredible taste and elegance” has “had a huge impact on the industry.”
That’s true. Consumer hits like the iPhone and iPad have sparked a user interface revolution and placed more emphasis than ever on usability. Now, the trend—which I see as downright “Jobsonian”—is working its way through the entire technology industry. It’s a dramatic shift in prioritizing how we present information over how we process information.
If you look at technology products 10 to 20 years ago, the focus was on how we process information—faster chips, better operating systems, greater storage capabilities. That is no longer enough. Instead, as technology matures, we’re finding that the focus is more about how we can make technology easier to use and more intuitive for the end user.
I see the same evolution happening in security. Just look at firewalls. We’ve seen massive progress with how the information is processed; the technology of doing traffic inspection at line rates continues to improve. But increasingly, how we present information—the gating factor for firewalls—is becoming the more crucial focus. We ask, “Can we make the experience intuitive and easy to use for the customer, so they can ensure their security policy can be enforced?”
For the next generation of security products, usability will come to the forefront. Next-gen security devices need to understand the context of a situation—the “who, what, where, when and how” of security. This begs for a usability-driven design. Next-gen security solutions need to present business-relevant information to the user (or administrator) in an intuitive fashion. I think this trend extends well beyond security. More and more tech products are being driven by usability.
The more intuitive and artful the approach, the more successful a product will become. That is what makes people (and all the I-don’t-care bears out there) care.