Consider the Mapquest of the early ’00s — a click to move, a click to zoom in, a click to zoom out, and a page refresh for every click. Compare that to the Mapquest of today which takes a photocopied page from Google Maps’ book. Panning around the map is akin to holding a physical map, a much more intuitive experience than the “deck of cards” feel of the original.
Here’s the kicker: it’s possible to do the same things with both versions, it’s just infinitely more enjoyable with a better interface. And a more enjoyable interface is the one people will want to use.
Also consider browsing the internet on a non-touchscreen tablet. Zooming in to a portion of the page would require you to use a combination of button presses for zooming and re-centering on the content. Now imagine you have an iPad, and you use a two-finger “unpinch” to do the same zoom and re-center in one fluid motion. In this case, the iPad was no more capable than the button-driven tablet, but the interface made it more enjoyable to use. With the iPad & iPhone, Apple has been selling interfaces. It’s no wonder they’re raging successes.
With that, I’m off to check for apartments in SF for my upcoming move. Given my options, I’ll be using housingmaps.com, which takes the wealth of Craigslist listings (data) and marries them to the easier and more-visually-informative Google Maps (interface). Same data, new interface.