Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson Explains How Apple’s iPhone Was A Remixed Creation

In Every­thing is a Remix, dig­i­tal film­mak­er Kir­by Fer­gu­son has cre­at­ed a four-part seri­al­ized ode to remix­ing as inno­va­tion. Fer­gu­son sees all artis­tic pur­suits as deriv­a­tive of their pre­de­ces­sors to some degree, and in parts 1 and 2, he method­i­cal­ly demon­strates how cre­ative endeav­ors con­sid­ered rev­o­lu­tion­ary in their fields are often high­ly reliant on the ground­work laid by their fore­run­ners. It’s all about “stand­ing on the shoul­ders of giants.” Heavy met­al pio­neers Led Zep­pelin were thor­ough­ly indebt­ed to the blues, bor­row­ing lib­er­al­ly from Howl­in’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” on “Lemon Song,” while Star Wars’ shots can be matched, with a sur­pris­ing­ly high degree of cor­re­spon­dence, to scenes from Flash Gor­don and Aki­ra Kuro­sawa films.

Fer­gu­son believes that all cre­ation is the result of copy­ing, trans­for­ma­tion, and com­bi­na­tion, and the series’ third and fourth install­ments show Apple to be the ide­al exam­ple of this process. Xerox had ini­tial­ly devel­oped the scroll bar, pop-up menus, and the desk­top-inspired inter­face. Apple, how­ev­er, copied Xerox’s work, trans­formed the inter­face by sim­pli­fy­ing the user expe­ri­ence, and com­bined the com­put­er with the idea of a home appli­ance, yield­ing its icon­ic Mac­in­tosh mod­el. It was Apple’s low­er price point and focus on every­day usabil­i­ty that made the Mac­in­tosh vast­ly more pop­u­lar.

In the most recent addi­tion to the Every­thing is a Remix series, above, Fer­gu­son returns to Apple, and uses its iPhone as a stand­alone case study in inno­va­tion. Apart from the size­able engi­neer­ing prob­lem of cre­at­ing a viable mul­ti-touch screen, Apple was forced into unchart­ed waters in phone design by remov­ing the iPhone’s key­pad and replac­ing it with screen area. To make the nov­el device seem acces­si­ble to con­sumers, Apple incor­po­rat­ed ele­ments of old tech­nolo­gies: users saw a reel to reel tape deck in the pod­cast app, heard type­writer clicks when they entered text, and flipped vir­tu­al pages in iBooks. Fer­gu­son demon­strates that it is pre­cise­ly the cou­pling of the iPhone’s pecu­liar new touch screen with famil­iar visu­als and inter­faces that allowed Apple to woo a lead­ing share of cus­tomers to its phone.

The most inter­est­ing devel­op­ment arrived by 2010, when mul­ti-touch screens had become a smart­phone stan­dard, and Apple was forced to inno­vate in dif­fer­ent ways. No longer need­ing to famil­iar­ize users with the tech­nol­o­gy, the com­pa­ny was free to work sole­ly with­in the medi­um, which allowed the lat­est iter­a­tion of its mobile oper­at­ing sys­tem, iOS 7, to have dra­mat­i­cal­ly few­er fea­tures ground­ed in real-world design. Instead of look­ing for mate­r­i­al inspi­ra­tion in tapes and type­writ­ers, Apple assessed its com­peti­tors and inte­grat­ed their phones’ best attrib­ut­es into iOS 7. This new iOS bor­rowed its con­trol cen­ter and pull-down noti­fi­ca­tions fea­tures from the Android oper­at­ing sys­tem, while its mul­ti­task­ing paid homage to Win­dows, Android, and per­haps even Palm Pre phones. The visu­als, too, were dra­mat­i­cal­ly sim­pler, flat­ter, and less real­is­tic, in line with a style that’s become large­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the Win­dows phone. All in all, just anoth­er exam­ple of remix­ing as inno­va­tion.

To watch Ferguson’s com­plete series on remix­ing as a form of cre­ativ­i­ty and inno­va­tion, as well as more of his work, head to our pre­vi­ous post Every­thing is a Remix.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

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