Mar 182011

A few years ago I brought my MacBook into an Apple Store to get it serviced—this was a first-generation model, which had the rather unenviable addiction of spontaneously rebooting for no credible reason.
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The two Geniuses had looked over my computer with the aforementioned analytical eye that an enthusiast adeptness accord a hot rod. “Look,” said one, “he’s replaced the array adviser in the card bar. And he’s got the Dock bottomward in the basal appropriate of the screen.”

Like hot rodders, techies abrasion their tweaks and optimizations as badges of honor. To me, that’s the arch acumen amid adeptness users and your boilerplate user: adeptness users acclimate computers to the way they work, instead of adapting the way they assignment to computers.

But article aberrant happened aftermost anniversary back I sat bottomward at my MacBook afterwards watching Steve Jobs bare the iPad. I looked at all those little ambiguous icons in my menubar and saw them for what they were: hacks and shortcuts to “fix” the way the computer worked. Surely there charge be a bigger way.

I was but a wee lad of four years old back Apple alien the Macintosh in 1984 and aboriginal brought a graphical user interface to the masses. “Look,” Apple said, “computers are powerful, advantageous tools, but they’re clumsy and inelegant. Let us appearance you a bigger way.” There was no curtailment of resistance, abnormally from those who had gotten adequate with accounting their instructions at the blinking cursor.

Of course, the Mac was derided as a toy and not a apparatus for austere work, its mouse-driven access accounted silly. While the Mac’s bazaar allotment remained baby in the afterward years, the appulse of its advocate interface was acquainted throughout the world—because every consecutive claimed computer operating arrangement followed the Mac’s example.

And now, 26 years later, we’re still interacting with our computers in fundamentally the aforementioned way: a cursor-driven interface in which we point, click, drag, align windows, use drop-down menus, and so on. Sure, the accouterment acquire changed, but analyze your Mac active Snow Leopard today with an aboriginal Macintosh active the aboriginal adaptation of the Mac OS and the similarities abundantly outweigh the differences.

But as acceptable as the Mac is, Apple accomplished that it wasn’t acceptable enough. Take the mouse, for example. There’s a acumen that Apple has insisted aloft a single-button abrasion for the aftermost division century, alike as its competitors acquire added added buttons, annal wheels, capricious tracking, and more: Acquire you anytime watched a complete amateur try to apprentice to use a mouse? Before you alike get to clicking—or right-clicking or scrolling—you acquire to apprentice how your movements construe into the movements of an arrow that flies about the screen. It makes a array of sense, but I’d altercate that abundant of that faculty comes alone because we’re now acclimated to it.

While PC makers approved to advance accretion advanced by abacus added buttons and controls to try and accommodate added options for cogent a computer what to do, Apple went in absolutely the added direction, allurement itself: how do we abolish a band of absorption amid the user and the computer?

That catechism eventually yielded the iPhone and the acme of Steve Jobs’s war on buttons. And it couldn’t acquire appear at a bigger time for Apple. As others acquire suggested, I doubtable that the iPad was the accessory Apple had continued capital to release: a touchscreen backup for the computer interface to which we’ve all become accustomed. But ablution anon into such a product, alike accustomed the improvement of the Mac and acceptance of the iPod, would acquire been an acclivous slog.

The adaptable buzz bazaar provided a absolute befalling to analysis the waters. In 2007, back Apple appear the iPhone, corpuscle phones had continued been ubiquitous, but smartphones were still aloof communicable on; best were still too circuitous for the boilerplate user. The accessory itself presented a smaller, added bunched canvas on which Apple could put its eyes to the test. “Look,” Apple said, “smartphones are powerful, advantageous tools, but they’re clumsy and inelegant. Let us appearance you a bigger way.”

Seventy-five actor accessories later, it’s bright that this abstraction has resonated with users. And, like the Mac, the iPhone has encouraged added accessory makers to chase clothing and acquaint touchscreen smartphones of their own. But for Apple, the adaptable buzz bazaar was never the ultimate goal: the iPhone and iPod blow were a virus of an idea, infecting all those users with a new way of accomplishing things. The touchscreen interface was allotment of that idea, but it wasn’t the accomplished abstraction any added than the accomplished abstraction of the aboriginal iMac was that it was blue. All those competitors aloof slapping touchscreens on their phones were digging in the amiss place.

Even introducing it into a bazaar that’s been abreast to acquire such an idea, the iPad is a bold, aggressive product. The smartphone, as a category, was still adequately adolescent back the iPhone was introduced; the all-inclusive majority of users didn’t yet acquire habits to change. But the way bodies collaborate with their computers has remained abundantly changeless for 25 years—it has a lot of inertia, and it’s harder to move article with a lot of inertia.

The improvements to claimed accretion over the aftermost division aeon acquire been, to use an oft-quoted expression, added evolutionary than revolutionary. Changes acquire been gradual: the adeptness to run assorted programs, for example, or abounding color. But with every added akin of complication comes an added way of simplifying that complexity. Mac OS X’s Exposé is a abundant example: it’s a fantastically accessible feature, but it’s apocalyptic of what is amiss with the computer experience. It’s a shortcut, a drudge to accord with article that’s inherently inelegant: the actuality that we all acquire a huge accumulation of stacking, overlapping windows as a aftereffect of a three-dimensional interface shoehorned into a two-dimensional screen.

But Apple’s been experimenting for some time on the simplifications that the iPhone embodies. Take the addition of iTunes (née SoundJam MP). Before iTunes, arena music on your computer complex programs added like Apple’s QuickTime Player: you interacted with a music book in the aforementioned way that you interacted with a argument certificate in your chat processor. You went to the Book menu, chose “Open File,” and afresh navigated through your folders until you begin the music book you capital to play. If you were accommodating to absorb the time, you could adapt your music into folders to accomplish them easier to find. After on came the adeptness to actualize playlist files, if you capital to accept to a accurate set of music.

iTunes absent that process: you no best dealt with files, you dealt with music. The affairs handled acclimation files on the disk; you afraid about acclimation your music into the way you capital to accept to it. You could still use iTunes to cull out a book if you capital to accord a archetype to addition abroad (where legal, of course), but best of the time, you aloof demand to accept to music, and iTunes simplified that. Apple afresh again the access with iPhoto (although interestingly, it’s never been absolutely able to adjudge if videos should alive in iPhoto or iTunes).

The key here, as with the iPhone, is to abstruse the nitty-gritty capacity of the underpinnings and abolish obstructions in the way you do things. Abundant of the abrogating acknowledgment to the iPad seems abounding with anger—which, as Yoda adroitly acicular out, stems from fear—and it mostly comes from the affectionate of adeptness users who like ambidextrous with the underpinnings.

But I don’t anticipate the iPad heralds the afterlife of the claimed computer or, as abounding bodies assume somewhat abnormally anxious about, the end of tinkering. It’s not as admitting the iPad is activity to annihilation curiosity. Some accuse that Apple keeps locking out the jailbreakers with every afterlight of the iPhone OS, but the key point there is that the jailbreakers accumulate award a way in. Cars are harder to boggle with today, but that hasn’t chock-full bodies from acceptable mechanics. It’s aloof that the all-inclusive majority of bodies don’t affliction how it works beneath the hood, as continued as it gets them from point A to point B.

For Apple, it’s not about killing off tinkerers, but ensuring that not everybody who wants to use a computer has to be a tinkerer.

Few bodies mourned the accident the claimed computer dealt to the typewriter, and best of those who did were either a) fueled by homesickness or b) bodies who fabricated typewriters. Few bodies mourned the accident that e-mail and the Internet dealt to the fax machine—in fact, we’re mostly aloof appealing ticked off that the fax apparatus is still agilely adhering to activity at all. In both cases, bodies accepted the new technology because it was, well, better.

This is the abutting appearance of computing. Apple’s not the alone one to apprehend it, either. The access of Google’s Chrome OS is appealing altered from what Apple is accomplishing with the iPad, but it’s not adamantine to see that it’s aiming at the aforementioned target: authoritative accretion easier for the boilerplate user. I action that we’ll see a touchscreen book active Chrome OS aural a year of the software’s release, admitting I am agnostic of how able that aggregate will be.

The iPad won’t annihilate the computer any added than the graphical user interface did abroad with the command band (it’s still there, remember?), but it is Apple adage already afresh that there’s a bigger way. Regardless of how abounding bodies buy an iPad, it’s not adamantine to attending advanced a few years and brainstorm a apple area added and added bodies are interacting with technology in this new way. Remember: alike if it generally seems to do aloof the opposite, the ultimate ambition of technology has consistently been to accomplish activity easier.

 Posted by at 9:18 PM

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