Former Apple Designers June 27, 2007, 11:19AM EST

Q&A; with Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini

The founder of Apple's Human Interface Group explains why he thinks the iPhone will be a hit—and why Apple is so far ahead of the industry's other "giant noninnovators"

Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini is pretty familiar with the ways of Apple (AAPL). After all, he was Employee No. 66, hired in 1978 by Steve Jobs and Jef Raskin to work on human interface design, eventually founding the Apple Human Interface Group. He stayed with the company for 14 years, witnessing the personal computer revolution at first hand and observing Apple's negotiations of good times and bad. After leaving the company, Tog went to Sun Microsystems (SUNW), where he was Distinguished Engineer for Strategic Technology and where he first began to experiment with gestural interfaces, designing new programming and also building on the research and development of others, including Bill Buxton, now principal researcher at Microsoft (MSFT) (see, 5/18/2007, "Why Products Fail").

Nowadays, Tog, former Sun cohort and Web usability pioneer Jakob Nielsen, and another Apple alum, Don Norman, work as co-principals at the Nielsen Norman Group. Consulting for companies such as Adobe (ADBE), American Express (AXP), Verizon (VZ) and Google (GOOG), their aim is to help companies understand how to make technology and in particular, the Web, work for them. "We help companies work out systems that ensure the products they design will be successful," says Tog. "We don't do the design ourselves. Rather, we give wisdom on how to organize and carry out methodologies that will ensure that every design they come up with is going to work."

Though NNG's head office is in Fremont, Calif., Tognazzini spends nine months of the year living and working from his mobile home, a bus installed with the flat screens and connection devices a tech pioneer truly needs. Innovation & Design Editor Helen Walters persuaded him to pull over and talk iPhone.

As one of Apple's first employees, you're in a good position to judge the company's products. What do you make of the iPhone?

It looks like the iPhone will be a hit out of the box. Both Steve Jobs and Apple now have 30 years experience bringing entirely new products to market. They know now to wait until the silicon technology is available that will allow them to produce a full-featured, mature product on Day One. [In contrast,] both Apple's Lisa and Newton were terribly underpowered, leading to their failure in the marketplace. Gesture technology as incorporated in the iPhone has been under development in the lab for more than 15 years. It is well understood, and the power and speed of today's silicon is well up to the task.

What do you make of the iPhone's touch screen technologies? Given what's possible today, is the implementation successful?

The iPhone is implementing a small subset of what's possible, given the narrow range of tasks required as well as the small size of the device. That allowed them to focus high effort into getting that subset absolutely right. The design is right—brilliant, really—and I will be quite surprised if the execution is not equally perfect.

Do you expect to see the technology migrate to other Apple products?

It's really about time for gesture to take hold so users are not just one-trick ponies with one click available to them. [The technology] could certainly be brought down into video iPods—and it could scale up to notebook computers, though you don't want to have people raising their hands to a vertical screen.

Why not?

The arm of a 200-pound man weighs around 15 pounds. That's a lot of weight to hold in a roughly horizontal position several hours a day while interacting with a vertically oriented touchscreen.

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