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Waiting for AI's pull-to-refresh moment
Issue 159: The race to the interface
There is a gesture on the iPhone that long-time mobile users are familiar with that have non-native origins. If you open the official Mail app on the inbox view, you can "pull" the interface down and the app will refresh with more emails. This is known as "pull-to-refresh."
What not everyone may not know is this interaction was made popular and invented by a former Apple engineer, not at Apple, but in his indie development phase. Pull-to-refresh was made popular by Loren Brichter's app Tweetie, which started as a Twitter app client on iOS (back when Twitter allowed them). Tweetie would later develop a Mac app, which resulted in Twitter acquiring Brichter's company, along with pull-to-refresh.
The mobile era was the first major paradigm shift in technology I went through professionally. There have been many shifts: the internet, microprocessors, mobile, and now AI. The paradigm shifts are reset moments that equalize a lot of tech for one reason. Linus Lee describes this phenomenon on the Latent Space podcast, saying:
In the aftermath of new foundational technology emerging, there is often a period of a few years of the winners in the market get to decide what the interface paradigm for the technology is.
Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune said, "He who controls the spice controls the universe."
He who controls the interface controls the paradigm shift.
I call this the pull-to-refresh moment; something that hasn't happened in the era of AI software. The inventor may not come from a big company (and likely won't), it can come from anywhere like Tweetie.
Before this moment occurs, the default path of new technologies is encased by the status quo of existing software patterns. This might be how the command line interface emulates how computers used to talk to mainframe computers or tablets that carry over desktop interfaces. When Apple unveiled the new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, it introduced a trackpad. Prior to this, you could pair a bluetooth device to use a mouse or cursor with the iPad. Apple could have used the mouse interface from macOS on the iPad Pro, but the interface was pushed to have something special to the form factor itself.
The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” —Linus Pauling
Inventing new interface directions is an example when high quality outcomes require high quantity explorations. Paradigm shifts take time and require human adoption for them to transpire. In order to not default to status quo patterns, you must play and prototype. In the early days of the iOS app store, there are a lot of novelties and "useless" software created. Apps like the beer drinking app and digital lighters were simple apps for exploration. Every early VR form factor started with a cliche tight rope walking app.
The paradim shift won't happen overnight and slowly evolves until it's revolutionary.There will be a lot of bad ideas before the good ones appear.
Who will invent AI's pull-to-refresh moment? Will it be you?
What isn't important is who, but we all strive for the moment to happen.
Collection of what I read and related to this week's post
createwithplay.com → The Play team just launched their new website to celebrate the beta of the macOS app. Congrats, team.
The rebalancing of management → A must read by Cap Watkins.
We're hiring at Replit
Eppo is hiring a Head of Design → I used to work with Che, the founder. He is awesome.
For other great roles, check out Ali Rohde’s newsletter
If you are hiring, I’m happy to introduce you to Pallet, a portfolio company of mine building a modern, creator led search firm.
Since the newsletter is called Ali Rohde Jobs I keep thinking she’s related to Steve Jobs