Simply Stupid

Innovation Through Simplicity

The utter simplicity of the iOS home screen is Apple’s innovation. It’s the simplest, most obvious “system” ever designed.


Damn. It’s too bad no one else ever thought of a set of icons on a home screen like that.


Oh. Wait.

Sometimes people go too far in their cheerleading.

Update: Tuesday, March 12, 2013: I finally installed a screensnap program on my LifeDrive. That is now the screensnap above. Previously it was this one by someone else which I pulled off the Net:




Filed under iOS, Stupid

81 responses to “Simply Stupid

  1. Keishon

    Hahaha good one. Palm. I never had one. Used a Sony Clie. However I must admit those icons are not as sexy.

  2. Ouch. I can’t believe he really said that. Surely he knows better…

  3. JR

    Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

    I see several design differences between the two home screens depicted in this blog post. Each of these differences might be considered small by some, but when you look at each home screen as a whole, you see a different gestalt. And the contrast is earth-shattering.

    Yes, you could say that each one is “a set of icons on a home screen.”

    You could also say that the moon is a big rock in the sky.

    • mikecane

      And you could also cite the fact that well before there was any iPhone, Palm sold millions and was the Apple of its time in that space. Hawkins took inspiration from the Mac. And Jobs at one point wanted to buy Palm. And the wheel rolls on…

      • Mr. Bee

        And before Pam there was Newton, so it all means nothing. The “innovation” comes from individuals and a lot of the same individuals worked at all these companies. If there is a problem here it’s really created by the fact that companies are taking credit for the work of individuals who remain mostly unknown to the public consuming the products (or apparently those writing about them).

      • mikecane

        About the same time as Newton was the Zoomer — also created by Jeff Hawkins, who went on to do Palm. Everyone is influenced by everyone else. Hawkins was influenced by the Mac when he created the Palm Pilot (and also influenced by Sony, who had the first pocket-sized device).

      • And I loved my Palm Pilot, Palm 500 and Palm TX. I preferred it to my first iPod for reading and storing notes and data. I felt betrayed because Palm did not develop the Palm OS. I bought a second TX at the end of its run at bargain prices. and were computer support easier, I would still use it. Now it just sits in my drawer and one day I will get my old color Mac up and running and get my TX going for old time’s sake. I have never forgiven Palm, never used another of their products as it was obviously without vision.

    • Yossef ben Israel

      nice comment

  4. JR

    I guess my point is that the iOS home screen is vastly simpler than the Palm one. Apple simplified, simplified, and further simplified.

    After reading you religiously for the past few years, I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I hope you will at least see why some people might say that Apple innovated through simplification in this case — and that now the Palm screen just makes your eyes hurt.

    And so I say — IMHO, YMMV — all of this bears out Gruber’s point, 2¢, &c.

    • JR, you seem to go along quite nicely with the title of the post.

      Steve Jobs: “hmm so let’s see… why don’t we take that stuff at the bottom out? Yup, that’s it. Let’s do that.”

      John Gruber: “OMG!!!! That is the most innovative system ever invented!!! Ever, ever, ever, evahhh!!!!!”

      JR: Yup, I agree. The moon is a rock.

      Mke Cane: Wait, WTF!

      • mikecane

        The point of my post was that Apple didn’t have a monopoly on Simple. But Palm didn’t have the brains of Apple to fully exploit it, either.

      • Robert

        Actually the iOS screen looks a lot like Newton… same springboard idea (dock of icons at bottom), same simplicity…

        Palms broke and crashed a lot, a LOT, and Sync was perpetually in the shitter. I used about four models of Palms but always kept my Newton MP2k on hand.

      • JR

        I know it’s fun to be snarky, but for those who are serious about this, let’s break down the differences between the iPhone and Palm screens that are shown above.

        There are three areas on the iPhone screen and three areas on the Palm screen.

        On the iPhone, we have:

        – A status area at the top
        – A middle area containing 16 application icons, arranged in a 4 x 4 grid, and a small row of three dots
        – An area at the bottom with 4 application icons

        The Palm has:

        – An Applications tab and a pop-up menu (I think?) at the top
        – A middle area containing 18 application icons, arranged in a 3 x 6 grid, and a scroll bar
        – A status area at the bottom

        The status area on the iPhone benefits from being at the top. It’s in a place where your eye can see it right away, yet it is so understated that your eye can slide right past it, down to the main area of the screen, if you don’t need the status info. On the other hand, the top of the Palm screen has a tab and what I assume is a pop-up menu. They are visually distracting, competing for your attention when all you probably want to do is fire up an app.

        The app icons in the middle of each screen have a superficial similarity, but notice how much easier it is to take in the icons in the iPhone. The bright background on the Palm competes with the app icons, as does the large, dark text. On the iPhone, you have large icons that are much easier to focus on — given that the dark background is fairly restful and the smaller identifying text is in a neutral color — and easier to differentiate from each other, given that you have a wider color palette and a bigger canvas to work from. Sixteen more icons are just a swipe away, and if you can’t find what you are looking for, you can swipe to the left and type in the app name.

        They say that less is more, and I would have to say, in this case, that the sixteen icons on the iPhone screen are way more useful than the 18 on the Palm.

        Finally, at the bottom of the Palm, you have TMI. It’s almost as if the status info had been swept under the rug, but is peeping out as a way to introduce much-needed visual clutter! The status info at the top of the iPhone is more minimal, more useful, and has signed a non-compete clause with the middle of the screen. Hooray for lawyers!

        At the bottom of the iPhone, on the other hand, you have a special set of app icons. They don’t disappear if you swipe to another screenful of app icons, making it simple to find your most-used apps wherever you are in your home screen. How cool is that?

        I hope this gives people a more concrete idea of what it means to innovate through simplification. Oh, and for you snarky ones, sorry for the intrusion. Have a nice day!

      • mikecane

        And yet even with all of the things you tout as superlatives, people also buy Android phones, which lack those features and are notorious for displaying small icons in the top status bar. Just see the first snap here:

      • JR

        De gustibus non est disputandum, also, de geektibus and de thriftibus.

        I’m glad we have a choice and I realize there are reasons of economy and of openness, as well as matters of taste, that lead lots of people to buy Android phones.

        But the point here was about innovation through simplicity, and I hope I have helped elucidate the issues, even if we will never lay down our swords!

        En garde, monsieur!

  5. blaargh

    ummmm…. Apple Newton, 1993:

    Palm was introduced in 1996. Do a little homework there.

    • mikecane

      Did you hear of the Macintosh? Introduced in 1984.

      • blaargh

        How on earth does that help your case… Apple stole from Apple? Gruber is talking about the simplicity of everything combined, not just the grid. Apple (Jobs) had been striving for this simplicity since the inception of the company – it took todays technology and all those years of work to get to this point. Palm was NEVER as easy to use or as clean and clear as IOS.

      • mikecane

        >>>it took todays technology

        Right. There were no capacitive screens as far as I know when Palm first got in. So why should that be held against them?

        >>>Palm was NEVER as easy to use or as clean and clear as IOS.

        Now you’ve just gone off the rails.

  6. Have you seen the Newton home screen?

  7. digitalowluk

    The Palm home screen had a categorisation feature that required explicit management – and additional screens of applications required a touch of the number in the top right. The iPhone simplified this by getting rid of the categorisation, and requiring a swipe to get between different pages. So the model is a simplification of Palm’s. This is what Gruber claimed – that i was the simplification that was the innovation – not the grid of icons. This also further reinforces his idea that innovation can lead to simplification.

    Lastly, you could claim that Palm stole from the Psion EPOC (later Symbian) by taking a list of icons for applications.

  8. Will

    Ooo, yeah girl, run that game . . .

  9. Hmmm, which in turn reminds me of something else…

  10. [Came here through Daring Fireball] I had a Palm V back in the late 90’s and it was great in all its greenish glory. It stored contacts and had some apps. But why did the iPhone sweep it away even with its head start? Apple leapfrogged it by offering a phone, an iPod and a personal organizer all in one and by removing the stylus. Three things, done very well as simple as possible. Just like the Google home page that in spite of linking to a multitude of apps, keeps it as simple as possible.

    • mikecane

      Palm’s self-destruction is a topic in itself. Let’s not forget iPhone wiped out what was then one of the most advanced smartphones available, the Treo from Palm.

      • David W.

        The iPhone was a low quality phone. It had a pretty good music player (after all, it was an iPod), but what made the iPhone really sing were two innovations:

        * A real true to life web browser. This was a full feature web browser — something that never had appeared on a portable device. It showed you the full, complete webpage. For the very first time in the entire history of the world, nay, the Universe you could actually use the browser on a portable device.

        * The touch interface. This completely changed the way you work on a portable device. On the Palm, you used the stylus and a really bad scrollbar. I don’t remember how zooming worked except it didn’t do that well. Using email with the stylus also was a pain.

        Palm’s big innovation was syncing with your desktop. Other organizers (Remember the Casio Boss) never had this.

        The iPhone not only had the syncing down of contacts, etc., but could also be used to sync music. And, it was in many ways, a device that could be used independently of a computer. People with Palms would take out their Palm, think “Heck, I’ll be home in an hour, I’ll do it on my computer when I get home.”, and put their Palm away. People who had iPhone would use their iPhone even when sitting in front of their computer.

        I started off with the Palm III, and my last Palm was Tungsten T5 which I ended up tossing it when I could no longer sync the screen with the stylus. Palm had a massive head start, but by the time the iPhone came out, their best days were behind them. Blackberry devices were just better, and the business email integration was something Palm never got.

        And, like everyone else out there, they had no idea how disruptive the iPhone would be until it was too late. Here’s MIT’s Technology Review of June 2007 on the hottest hippest new phone that will take the world by storm: — The Helios Ocean II!

  11. Phillip U.

    And before Palm was Newton. And before Newton was Macintosh and so forth. Don’t you think someone like Gruber knows this?

  12. Pingback: SchwarzTech — Link: Palm OS Simplicity

  13. Bruce

    Apple did not add simplicity or icons to the phone, I think everyone can agree to that. They were smart enough to value and keep those things, which is saying something.

    What Apple added to the phone world was multitouch.

  14. You are showing Palm’s applications tab screen, not Palm’s home screen. You might owe Gruber a bit of an apology.

  15. Ignoring the Newton which preceded PalmOS…iOS still pushed the limit in its simplicity and accessibility beyond what was available.

    The Palm home screen still relied on a scroll bar, was modal (Had multiple groupings rather than one set of pages – arguably better for a power user, but definitely more complex. But it also didn’t allow for icon rearrangement, just alphabetical.) And the biggest one – the stylus versus capacitive touch on the iPhone. Much simpler for someone picking up a device for the first time.

    I don’t know if I would call it their “innovation” necessarily, but you have to give them credit where credit is due.

  16. I find it so amusing how this blog post quickly backfired.

  17. His Shadow

    …and many times, people go too far in their need to be contrary a-holes. Please reference any and all posts by Gruber where he claims iOS’s icon grid interface was wholly an Apple development.

    I’ll wait.

    • His Shadow

      Oh gods, really? The Braun thing? A few carefully selected angles of devices that are not computers and Apple’s design esthetic is just mimicry?

  18. Kendall

    Why do you think so many former Palm owners like iOS…

    But also, are you really missing the millions of things Palm has above and below the icons? The Palm screen was not as simple as you make out, stuff like the menus on top were confusing to someone new.

  19. Palm did a surprisingly good job on those early models.

    The launcher defaulted each app to a category. Each category had its own page, but you could move the apps between them and rename the categories if you wanted. I used this to create a home page and moved apps to that home page. Of course, there weren’t a lot of apps, but the system was elegant and simple. I can’t even remember if it scrolled vertically. If you could add vertical scrolling and folders, this would be a major improvement to the iPhone launcher.

    From a technical perspective, too, they were pretty cool to program: Palm OS was basically a Mac Toolbox-like SDK, with better design, more accessor functions and a more hands-off and capable event loop. Years later, Apple did the same with with the Mac Toolbox: It became Carbon.

    I want to be clear here: I’m not saying Palm was all roses. They *majorly* screwed up their modernization efforts, spent too much time in corporate masturbation, and squandered a *massive* lead over their competition.

    Even so, the success of Windows CE and its successors always bothered me. Sure, they were advancing technology faster, but it was done with such a lack of taste and with no eye towards elegance. Did people really need that technology so badly that it was worth giving up all the design? Evidently they did.

    Then the iPhone came out, with better technology than Windows CE and a better aesthetic — inside and out — than Palm. It beat both of them at their own game. And it utterly killed them.

  20. The Post-PC Era was Palm’s to lose. And they did exactly that.

  21. Good lord, a “who stole the GUI” thread! Geeks! Gruber and all of you all are focusing on the wrong discussion, visual simplification was important but not the critical success factor. It was the “Gesture Based Navigation”! Apple knew exactly what they were doing when they bought “Fingerworks” and acquired its patents, people and process. Look at “iGesture Pad ” Apple is just one massive incubator for hard science guys…that’s their magic!

  22. His Shadow

    Nice passive aggressive title, by the way.

    Pretending that you can post a pic of grids of icons from two different devices and make a self evident point is disingenuous at best. Where is the full photo of the actual device that the cropped Palm OS image was taken from? A photo that shows that row of 5 to 7 physical buttons that are also an integral part of the UI navigation, compared to Apple’s one? A photo that shows the holder for the stylus? Can I make a folder for icons from the Palm home screen simply by touching and holding? Can I even move the icons around without invoking another menu and making a selection? Can I swipe to the next screen of apps on the Palm?

    If the pedants continue to delude themselves that the be all end all of Apple’s iOS is a grid of icons, they are going to keep making the same lame references to dead companies and dead OSes to score Pyrrhic victories. But then the Internet is full of pretentious bozos that still whinge about the grammatical correctness of “Think Different”.

    Gruber’s point stands because iOS is a paragon of simplicity even when compared to other OSes with which it shares cosmetic similarities, even if he should have structured his sentence differently.

    • mikecane

      >>>Can I make a folder for icons from the Palm home screen simply by touching and holding?

      iOS did not have that capability at the outset. And hey, no Copy/Paste, either.

      • Eric

        Yep, and there’s still problems with Android’s copy/paste, but waiting until they got it right makes copy/paste in iOS smooth as a baby’s butt.

        Newton, Palm, iOS, whatever Samsung makes that’s a copy… sometimes when watching things progress, it’s hard to pin down the actual origin of any idea. And don’t forget, Palm was mostly former Apple employees to begin with.

        I like the earlier Twain reference. It’s spot-on. Still, I suspect that now Forstall’s out and Ive is in charge of the look of iOS, things may just get simpler, cleaner, better. And truly innovative.

      • mikecane

        >>And don’t forget, Palm was mostly former Apple employees to begin with.

        Yes, and one of them came up with the brilliant Commandbar, which could be invoked by an upward swipe in the G area. That was so great.

  23. Eric J

    “Sometimes people go too far in their cheerleading.”
    And sometimes people don’t do a very good job at poking fun at those who do. As shown by MANY on here, the Newton had this LONG ago, and that wasn Apple development. It wasn’t until the iOS-based iPod Touch that I found something that could replace my MessagePad2100.

  24. Andre Richards

    Well, nice post, but too bad Apple was first with that interface back with the Newton MessagePad in 1993.

  25. Pingback: Palm OS as a Precursor to iOS | The Mystery Box

  26. I’m particularly disappointed in John Gruber. Like him or not, the guy has formidable gravity where web journalism/blogging is concerned. I don’t understand why he went after a hobbyist blog that re-ran the same anti-iOS rhetoric that a hundred other blogs ran. Kind of a mistake on his part. He doesn’t have to take time out of his day to address the repetitive and poorly-developed anti-Apple sensationalism of fan blogs.

  27. Pingback: Credit where credit is due

  28. It backfired becasue everybody posting on here has pwned you, citing excamples from Apple far earlier than you do from Palm. It’s really great when a troll is trolled.

    • mikecane

      You missed the point entirely. And Gruber himself never mentioned trolling.

      • joemoney

        Right. The headline “Simply Stupid” is not trolling. Have fun with all the troll traffic.

      • mikecane

        Not trolling at all.

      • Jason Lee

        And Gruber himself never said what you seem to be suggesting he said. He was rebutting the critics who believe that OS has gotten “boring” and that innovation can be achieved solely through complexity. It’s Gruber’s belief that iOS’s Home screen, because of its precise simplicity, contains values that goes unexamined and unappreciated.

        He never claimed Apple thought of the icons-aligned-on-a-grid idea first. Apple did, however, took that idea and refined it through their design philosophy and created something that everyone knows how to use. In other words, Apple innovated.

        So, no, Mike. You’re the one who missed the point entirely.

      • Jason Lee

        Then I suggest you read closer, Mike. Your commentary is in response to something Gruber didn’t say nor intend. Be a man and admit when you’re wrong. It’s okay. It happens to everyone.

      • mikecane

        And I suggest you go look at Gruber again and see that he went on to clarify what he meant.

      • Jason Lee

        I have, which makes your post even more silly. You wrote, “Damn. It’s too bad no one else ever thought of a set of icons on a home screen like that. Oh. Wait.”

        Gruber’s second post on the subject: “I certainly didn’t mean to imply here the iPhone was the first device to use a home screen that was just a grid of app icons . . . I’d still argue that the iOS ‘system’ interface is simpler.”

        Get it? Gruber did not and is not claiming that “no one else ever thought of a set of icons on a home screen.” He argued that, in his personal opinion, iOS is better because it’s simpler and that it is the simplification of the Home screen that is Apple’s innovation, not the idea of a Home screen per se.

        Read. Closer. Admit. You’re. Wrong. Move. On.

      • mikecane

        If his original point had been evident, no clarification would have been necessary.

  29. Apple’s Newton came before the Palm and its homescreen was also a grid of icons. Casio had the same interface before the Newton.

    But nobody was claiming a “grid of icons” is innovation. You are stretching to find something to complain about and that’s not clever.

  30. Jesse

    A lot of people are mistaking invention for innovation. They are not the same.

    • The word “innovation” has become meaningless, in part because of futile geek wars over “who did what first”, but also because of marketing droids abusing the word at every opportunity.

      Note that the word innovation does not mean being first, it only means to change the establishment by showing people new things. The etymology literally means “into the new” (in- novus).

      But because of the confusion I prefer to simply describe what Apple does, rather than use a loaded word like “innovation” and hope people know what I mean. What Apple does is integrate novel ideas into new products, popularise different ways of interacting with computers, and change the direction of industry. They have done this more than a few times over the past three decades; the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and iTunes Store. There’s no denying Apple have influence in changing how we think, use, and interact with computers. That is all that really matters.

  31. I bought the Apple Newton when it first came out. Later when I saw the Palm Pilot, I thought it was a ripoff of the Newton, albeit a highly simplified version that lacked handwriting recognition in favor of the simplified graffiti.

    The iPhone is not a rip off of the Palm. Its roots lie in the Apple Newton.

  32. Lots of people seem to love complexity and assume this gives them more ‘power’. I find this odd and these same people may realize that the hammer and the sword have not really been improved upon much – for close quarters. They are really good – really simple and handy for cutting through all the BS and smashing through all the things people leave unsaid.

    Really – if anything – Apple is the “anti-feature” company. They wont ship a product/feature they dont like, can not get perfected (or as close as humanly possible) or just adds way to much complexity. Sometimes this makes the tools “too simple”, but again, see the above paragraph. Hammers are simple – yet they can do and achieve so many complex things…

    other examples of features Apple did not ship in products – until I thought they were right:
    FM/Radio for iPod
    better voice integration (Siri) – well that one has some ways to go

    … and I would say Apple has been correct on all those features – in timing to include or simply excluding.

  33. One thing palm definitely did better: it allows devs to build custom launchers, e.g.

  34. me

    Psion was tha bomb in it’s day!

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