Wednesday, February 3, 2010

(Two More Opinions That) "A New Wave Of Computing Might Be Upon Us"

That's how I closed the post The Non-Evolution of Computer Interfaces that I wrote back in November where I wrote that "the interface of today remains much the same as 25 years ago" and speculated about the ability of the then-unreleased Apple Tablet to be the the bridge between the iPhone and the Mac- bringing the much more intuitive user interface of the iPhone to mainstream computing, and that when that happens "a new wave of computing might be upon us."

I noticed a couple of links post-iPad announcement on John Gruber's Daring Fireball, one to a post on Macworld.com by Dan Moren, called The iPad isn't a third device, it's a third revolution and another to a post by Steven Frank about "Old World vs. New World Computing" which Gruber subtitled "Steven Frank gets it." There are a ton of similarities between these two posts and mine- and that fact doesn't influence my perception of the rightness or wrongness of my thoughts, but I thought I would point out these two posts (endorsed by a prominent thinker in the world of technology) essentially reiterating what I wrote two months prior to the iPad announcement. You get the sense that the ideas in these posts came about after the announcement of the iPad, realizing that "this is Apple's second step into the next wave of computing" and that "the iPhone was the first," both things that I wrote in The iPad.


Links:
My post from November: The Non-Evolution of Computer Interfaces
My post after the iPad announcement: The iPad
Dan Moren: The iPad isn't a third device, it's a third revolution
Steven Frank: "Old World vs. New World Computing"

Past the break I've included direct quotes from each of their posts alongside direct quotes from my posts for comparison. (Some of my quotes appear more than once because they apply to more than one point.) I don't necessarily agree with every part of their posts, but the overarching theme and point we're trying to make is the same.

Bold: Their post
No formatting: Mine


Steven Frank

A lot of thoughtful people, many of whom are bloggers, look at this history and say, “Look at this march of progress! Surely the desktop + windows + mouse interface can’t be the end of the road? What’s next?”
The interface of today remains much the same as 25 years ago... It's no secret that multi-touch will make its way to the computer. The iPhone has the most beautiful input method around- the screen is the input device, instead of having a screen and then separate input devices like the keyboard and mouse. The screen can change and adjust to fit exactly what you are doing. When this spills over into computers, they will be much easier to use and beginner-friendly, but will also enable a better experience for the rest of computer users.

Then “next” arrived and it was so unrecognizable to most of them (myself included) that we looked at it said, “What in the shit is this?”... The iPad as a particular device is not necessarily the future of computing. But as an ideology, I think it just might be. A lot of people are saying "so what- it's just a big iPod touch!" And it might look like that at the moment, but this is Apple's second step into the next wave of computing (the iPhone was the first)... Apple is a technology company that really thinks long-term and the iPad is the new laptop and the new Mac OS X... To some people the iPad might not look revolutionary at the moment, but it's another step in the direction of a revolution.

First, I would put the birth of New World computing at 2007, with the introduction of the iPhone. You could even arguably stretch it a bit further back to the birth of “Web 2.0” applications in the early 2000s. But it’s brand new. If computers in general are young, New World computing is fresh out of the womb, covered in blood and screaming.

...this is Apple's second step into the next wave of computing (the iPhone was the first)



New World computers have unprecedented ease of use, and benefit from decades of research into human-computer interaction. They are immediately understandable, fast, stable, and laser-focused on the 80% of the famous  80/20 rule.
The iPhone has the most beautiful input method around- the screen is the input device, instead of having a screen and then separate input devices like the keyboard and mouse. The screen can change and adjust to fit exactly what you are doing. When this spills over into computers, they will be much easier to use and beginner-friendly, but will also enable a better experience for the rest of computer users... There would be a few significant hurdles to redoing Mac OS- even though it would be easier to use for beginners, Apple isn't really worried about getting beginners to come to their platform. It would have to be able to do some really complex things. The iPhone has shown that you can do that with a touch interface- it would be more usable all-around and could do those complex things just as well, and hopefully much better than you can now.

And to that dramatically greater number of people, what do you think is more important? An easy-to-use, crash-proof device? Or a massively complex tangle of toolbars, menus, and windows because that’s what props up an entrenched software oligarchy?  
The first computer with a graphical user interface was a huge deal at that time, but was complex then and is still complex now. The first iPod user interface was incredibly simple and the iPhone user interface is more complex, but it's pretty easy for a beginner to pick up and start using either one. They're intuitive. It's not so easy to teach someone who's never used a computer before to use one (more on this later). Operating a computer properly would take three hands- two on the keyboard and one on the mouse. The menu bar with drop-down menus hidden behind semi-descriptive words like "File" and "Edit" isn't exactly beginner-friendly and in my opinion is pretty clunky. There are a lot of improvements that a talented interface designer redesigning the computer interface could make to make it simpler and more intuitive, yet the interface of today remains much the same as 25 years ago. Back to teaching a beginner to use a computer- wait, first you need to find someone who doesn't know how to use a computer- that's the hard part. And that's a big reason why things have remained the same for so long- people gritted their teeth and learned how to use this kind of interface because there was no alternative available. It was fight through the trouble of learning it for the first time or don't use one at all. More than 1.5 billion people chose the first option. This might seem silly to people who have been using computers for a long time now, but it's painful to try and teach someone who has never had any interaction with a computer before. As more and more people learned this type of interface, it becomes entrenched and becomes very hard to change as more and more people learn to use a computer with that interface. 

Fellow Old Worlders, I hate to tell you this: we are a minority. The question is not “will the desktop metaphor go away?” The question is “why has it taken this long for the desktop metaphor to go away?” The menu bar with drop-down menus hidden behind semi-descriptive words like "File" and "Edit" isn't exactly beginner-friendly and in my opinion is pretty clunky. There are a lot of improvements that a talented interface designer redesigning the computer interface could make to make it simpler and more intuitive, yet the interface of today remains much the same as 25 years ago.



Apple is calling the iPad a “third category” between phones and laptops. I am increasingly convinced that this is just to make it palatable to you while everything shifts to New World ideology over the next 10-20 years... Just like with floppy disks, the rest of the industry is quite content to let Apple be the ones to stick their necks out on this. It’s a gamble to be sure. But if Apple wins the gamble (so far it’s going well), they are going to be years and years ahead of their competition. If Apple loses the gamble, well, they have no debt and are sitting on a Fort Knox-like pile of cash. It’s not going to sink them. ...this is Apple's second step into the next wave of computing (the iPhone was the first)... To some people the iPad might not look revolutionary at the moment, but it's another step in the direction of a revolution... Apple is a technology company that really thinks long-term and the iPad is the new laptop and the new Mac OS X.


Dan Moren 

Of course, the Mac was derided as a toy and not a tool for serious work, its mouse-driven approach deemed silly. While the Mac’s market share remained small in the following years, the impact of its revolutionary interface was felt throughout the world—because every subsequent personal computer operating system followed the Mac’s example.
...Microsoft used this interface in Windows and they've dominated the OS market for so long... there was no way after Steve Jobs returned that they could have redesigned the Mac OS interface because Apple was trying to stay alive and Apple users and customers weren't beginners looking for a simple and intuitive way to operate a computer- they were switchers- Microsoft users who were already familiar with the drop-down menu bars and buttons, and Apple would have to keep their interface as similar to that as possible, otherwise the barrier to switching to Mac would have been even higher. It's funny the way things work- even after Windows copied the Mac interface, Mac OS still had to "copy" the Windows interface to draw switchers.

And now, 26 years later, we’re still interacting with our computers in fundamentally the same way: a cursor-driven interface in which we point, click, drag, arrange windows, use drop-down menus, and so on. Sure, the trappings have changed, but compare your Mac running Snow Leopard today with an original Macintosh running the first version of the Mac OS and the similarities largely outweigh the differences.
The first computer with a graphical user interface was a huge deal at that time, but was complex then and is still complex now. The interface of today remains much the same as 25 years ago. (I also compared photos of the interface of the original Mac with screenshots of Snow Leopard.)

The mobile phone market provided a perfect opportunity to test the waters. In 2007, when Apple announced the iPhone, cell phones had long been ubiquitous, but smartphones were still just catching on; most were still too complex for the average user. The device itself presented a smaller, more compact canvas on which Apple could put its vision to the test. “Look,” Apple said, “smartphones are powerful, useful tools, but they’re clumsy and inelegant. Let us show you a better way.”
...this is Apple's second step into the next wave of computing (the iPhone was the first)

Even introducing it into a market that’s been primed to accept such an idea, the iPad is a bold, ambitious product. The smartphone, as a category, was still fairly young when the iPhone was introduced; the vast majority of users didn’t yet have habits to change. But the way people interact with their computers has remained largely static for 25 years—it has a lot of inertia, and it’s harder to move something with a lot of inertia...
But as good as the Mac is, Apple realized that it wasn’t good enough. Take the mouse, for example. There’s a reason that Apple has insisted upon a single-button mouse for the last quarter century, even as its competitors have added extra buttons, scroll wheels, variable tracking, and more: Have you ever watched a complete novice try to learn to use a mouse? Before you even get to clicking—or right-clicking or scrolling—you have to learn how your movements translate into the movements of an arrow that flies around the screen. It makes a sort of sense, but I’d argue that much of that sense comes only because we’re now used to it.
Back to teaching a beginner to use a computer- wait, first you need to find someone who doesn't know how to use a computer- that's the hard part. And that's a big reason why things have remained the same for so long- people gritted their teeth and learned how to use this kind of interface because there was no alternative available. It was fight through the trouble of learning it for the first time or don't use one at all. More than 1.5 billion people chose the first option. This might seem silly to people who have been using computers for a long time now, but it's painful to try and teach someone who has never had any interaction with a computer before. As more and more people learned this type of interface, it becomes entrenched and becomes very hard to change as more and more people learn to use a computer with that interface.  

That question eventually yielded the iPhone and the culmination of Steve Jobs’s war on buttons. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for Apple. As others have suggested, I suspect that the iPad was the device Apple had long wanted to release: a touchscreen replacement for the computer interface to which we’ve all become accustomed. But launching directly into such a product, even given the resurgence of the Mac and popularity of the iPod, would have been an uphill slog.
The iPhone has the most beautiful input method around- the screen is the input device, instead of having a screen and then separate input devices like the keyboard and mouse. The screen can change and adjust to fit exactly what you are doing. When this spills over into computers, they will be much easier to use and beginner-friendly, but will also enable a better experience for the rest of computer users... There would be a few significant hurdles to redoing Mac OS- even though it would be easier to use for beginners, Apple isn't really worried about getting beginners to come to their platform. It would have to be able to do some really complex things. The iPhone has shown that you can do that with a touch interface- it would be more usable all-around and could do those complex things just as well, and hopefully much better than you can now.



The first computer with a graphical user interface was a huge deal at that time, but was complex then and is still complex now. The first iPod user interface was incredibly simple and the iPhone user interface is more complex, but it's pretty easy for a beginner to pick up and start using either one. They're intuitive. It's not so easy to teach someone who's never used a computer before to use one (more on this later). Operating a computer properly would take three hands- two on the keyboard and one on the mouse. The menu bar with drop-down menus hidden behind semi-descriptive words like "File" and "Edit" isn't exactly beginner-friendly and in my opinion is pretty clunky. There are a lot of improvements that a talented interface designer redesigning the computer interface could make to make it simpler and more intuitive, yet the interface of today remains much the same as 25 years ago.

The improvements to personal computing over the last quarter century have been, to use an oft-quoted expression, more evolutionary than revolutionary. Changes have been gradual: the ability to run multiple programs, for example, or full color. But with every additional level of complexity comes an additional way of simplifying that complexity. Mac OS X’s Exposé is a great example: it’s a fantastically helpful feature, but it’s indicative of what is wrong with the computer experience. It’s a shortcut, a hack to deal with something that’s inherently inelegant: the fact that we all have a huge mass of stacking, overlapping windows as a result of a three-dimensional interface shoehorned into a two-dimensional screen.

The iPhone has the most beautiful input method around- the screen is the input device, instead of having a screen and then separate input devices like the keyboard and mouse. The screen can change and adjust to fit exactly what you are doing. When this spills over into computers, they will be much easier to use and beginner-friendly, but will also enable a better experience for the rest of computer users... There would be a few significant hurdles to redoing Mac OS- even though it would be easier to use for beginners, Apple isn't really worried about getting beginners to come to their platform. It would have to be able to do some really complex things. The iPhone has shown that you can do that with a touch interface- it would be more usable all-around and could do those complex things just as well, and hopefully much better than you can now.

The first computer with a graphical user interface was a huge deal at that time, but was complex then and is still complex now. The first iPod user interface was incredibly simple and the iPhone user interface is more complex, but it's pretty easy for a beginner to pick up and start using either one. They're intuitive. It's not so easy to teach someone who's never used a computer before to use one (more on this later). Operating a computer properly would take three hands- two on the keyboard and one on the mouse. The menu bar with drop-down menus hidden behind semi-descriptive words like "File" and "Edit" isn't exactly beginner-friendly and in my opinion is pretty clunky. There are a lot of improvements that a talented interface designer redesigning the computer interface could make to make it simpler and more intuitive, yet the interface of today remains much the same as 25 years ago. 


A lot of people are saying "so what- it's just a big iPod touch!" And it might look like that at the moment, but this is Apple's second step into the next wave of computing (the iPhone was the first)... Apple is a technology company that really thinks long-term and the iPad is the new laptop and the new Mac OS X... To some people the iPad might not look revolutionary at the moment, but it's another step in the direction of a revolution.

This is the next phase of computing... The iPad won’t kill the computer any more than the graphical user interface did away with the command line (it’s still there, remember?), but it is Apple saying once again that there’s a better way. Regardless of how many people buy an iPad, it’s not hard to look forward a few years and imagine a world where more and more people are interacting with technology in this new way. Remember: even if it often seems to do just the opposite, the ultimate goal of technology has always been to make life easier.
A new wave of computing might be upon us... this is Apple's second step into the next wave of computing (the iPhone was the first)

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