The first time Steve Jobs demonstrated iPhone scrolling in 2007, the audience let out a collective “wow”.


The device’s astonishing fidelity was enabled by a new technology Jobs called multi-touch. It wasn’t the first touch-screen tech, but it set a new bar for precision and accuracy. The natural scrolling and pinch-to-zoom gestures alone instantly differentiated the interface from every other computer in the market.


“And boy have we patented it!”

Of course, Apple didn’t stop there. Tech enthusiasts are familiar with the Cupertino company’s ‘tick-tock’ iPhone update pattern, which was more apparent back when new numbers represented a major update and the ‘S’ model was a refinement, like iPhone 5 & 5S etc.

This year’s iPhone models might look pretty similar to last year’s. But (now that the charging port is USB-C) the only major physical traits that remain unchanged between 2012’s iPhone 5 and 2023’s iPhone 15 Pro are the silhouette and the Apple logo.

A lot changed between 2012 and 2023.

Besides the obvious increase in overall size, the most significant difference between these two devices is how much bigger the screens have become; something which was only made possible by drastically shrinking the bezels and removing the famous home button.

Even if you have an Android phone, you’re probably still familiar with the button’s omnipresent replacement — the thin bar at the bottom of the screen called the home indicator.

iPhone users interact with this interface dozens of times every day. But when was the last time you stopped to think about how it actually feels to use a modern iPhone?

Everything fluidly responds to the speed and direction of your movements. When you swipe up to go home, apps follow the inertia of your gesture as they fling back towards their icons. Opening the multitasking view requires a slower and more deliberate swipe that evokes sliding a credit card out of your wallet. It all feels tangible.

This gestural interface — which has been utilized by every flagship iPhone sold since 2017 — was designed by Chan Karunamuni and Apple’s human interface design team.

In a fascinating presentation at WWDC 2018, Karunamuni (plus Nathan de Vries & Marcos Alonso, who also work on Apple’s human interface design team) described their principle of working “with behavior rather than animation”.

It’s a very similar energy to what Steve Jobs was getting at with multi-touch on the original iPhone. The software should feel like it’s working with you, not against you: a bicycle for the mind.

Using modern iPhones feels different from using other computers in a way that’s difficult to describe. As Chan pointed out in his presentation, it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” type of things.

Chan during his presentation at WWDC 2018 (screenshot via Apple WWDC developer videos)

The entire talk is worth watching; it describes the unique techniques that Apple has cultivated for creating these types of fluid interfaces, like eliminating latency so the device instantly responds to our actions.

Today’s iPhones are incredibly fast, responsible, and dynamic. We take for granted how consistent and reliable they are, and only really notice them when something breaks or glitches out. But it’s worth slowing down every now and then to appreciate just how incredible our tools have become.

An awesome slide from Chan’s presentation.

These techniques provided the foundation for Karunamuni’s recent work creating the Dynamic Island — a unique blend of hardware and software that was the headline feature of 2022’s iPhone 14 Pro.

It’s the kind of innovation that could only be created inside Apple.

Gold's Guide Innovator Award
2024 Award for Innovative Products
Chan Karunamuni

The Dynamic Island is innovative because it takes a perceived weakness — the fact that the front camera, FaceID, and other sensors still require a section of the screen to be cut out and theoretically rendered unusable — and converts it into a strength.

Suddenly the unusable space is a useful feature.

This kind of quick access to information is as interesting in theory as it is useful in practice.

In typical Apple fashion, they were’t the first company to maximize their display real-estate with a hole-punch camera lens — but it says a lot that there are multiple apps which imitate the feature for Android phones.

When Apple finally removed the home button in exchange for the gestural interface, Android users were quick to point out that tons of Android phones had software home buttons for years. The real ones will remember that the oft-forgotten but highly innovative Palm Pre actually introduced many of these ideas back in 2009 — but ideas are worthless without execution.

Chan Karunamuni’s work on the Dynamic Island continues a long line of brilliant ideas, masterfully executed by Apple.

Visit Chan’s Website


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