The Power of a Prototype
In The Beginning...
Before tablets were commonplace there was the original iPad. Before there were smartphones in the hands of hundreds of millions of men, women, and children around the globe, there was the iPhone. Remember the comments? "A glass phone? Are you kidding?"
Both the iPhone and iPad were game-changers, quickly mimicked by their competition. But long before either of these products saw the light of day, there was a vision. And that vision was given form through a vision-video.
In 1987, Apple released the Knowledge Navigator video. This video foreshadows a technological future that in many ways, we already take for granted as here or on its way. The demonstration of this technology unfolds in the mundane portrayal of professor, Michael Brafford, planning his day.
To quote Bud Colligan, Apple’s Director of Higher Education Marketing, 1985 – 1988,
"The video simulated an intelligent personal agent, video chat, linked databases and shared simulations, a digital network of university libraries, networked collaboration, and integrated multimedia and hypertext, in most cases, decades before they were commercially available."
Imagining A Future To Be Created
I suppose you could argue that long before this video, there was the Star Trek television series and before that, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both great pieces of science fiction — forward-thinking and innovative in their own right. The key difference in my mind is the writers of these programs were not setting out to create the future they imagined. Apple was —and in many ways has.
If you haven't seen the Knowledge Navigator video, it's worth watching. Keep in mind, this was produced eight years before the advent of the World-Wide-Web (www) and something like 10 years before Google came into existence.
The Knowledge Navigator was one of the earliest, if not the original linear prototype — a concept explained in, "Fake It 'Til You Make It". It is interesting to me that there are elements of this video that still seem a bit futuristic. For example, the avatar is way more cognoscente and personable than Siri. A bit more dapper, too. I'm not sure I can picture Siri sporting a bowtie. :-)
Steve Jobs, what a genius! Right?
You might be interested to learn that this the Knowledge Navigator video was developed during the period when Jobs was estranged from Apple; busy building NEXT Computing. According to Bud Colligan, who assembled the team that produced the video, the concept came from — wait for it: John Sculley!
Yes, that John Sculley — with input from Apple fellow, Alan Kay. The video was apparently inspired by the last chapter book in Sculley’s book, "Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple" and produced for his keynote speech at the 1987 Educom conference.
The power of a prototype is that it brings form to ideas in a way that can be shared with others so they may grasp the vision and participate in the execution.
Powerhouse Talent — Then & Now
When I learned who else was involved, it was not surprising to me that the vision was so creative. Borrowing from Bud's article, besides Bud, Hugh Duberly and Doris Mitsch from Apple Creative Services wrote the script with input from writer Michael Markman and Mike Liebhold from Apple’s Advanced Technology Group. All brilliant folks. There were a lot of brilliant people at Apple back then. There is, even more, today, I suspect.
So why does Apple seem to be losing its luster?
A great vision without leadership — strategy, passion and tactical execution — never succeeds; never excites. Let's be clear, it took the return of Steve Jobs before Apple truly acted on the vision, portrayed in the Knowledge Navigator.
I'm reminded of the Walt Disney Company after Walt died — for a decade or more everyone at the company kept asking, "What would Walt say?" Well, for one thing, he wouldn't be asking those sorts of questions. Eventually, the next wave of leaders took the reigns and Disney is once again a juggernaut company — largely due to Steve Jobs and Pixar, come to think of it! LOL
It's a very similar situation. Easier said than done, but Apple needs to get out of Steve's shadow and do something unexpected and exciting.
Come on, Apple. Open the pod bay doors!
For more articles by Steve Lomas, visit Digital Bits at blog.stevelomas.me.