Quit Whining About The iPad Interface

There has been a fair amount of iPad bashing going on with the lack of multitasking, limited ability to create content (or at least as flexibly as when using a mouse-driven computer) and the constraints put on developers by Apple.

Man….does this ever bring up memories and an analogy that you might find interesting!

When Apple introduced the Macintosh in 1984, they simultaneously published Apple Human Interface Guidelines which specifically outlined how to build an application that leveraged the supplied interface “toolkit” in ROM so that there would be a consistent user experience across applications (e.g., people would always know where “Quit” was under the “File” menu). There were howls of protests from developers over “the constraints Apple is imposing on us” and “command-line driven applications are so much more flexible than ones that have to fit in to the “File>Edit” metaphor” as well as “who does Apple think they are telling us how to build and deliver great applications?

Sound familiar to today’s whining about the iPad? Look at the original Microsoft MS-DOS driven personal computers and the graphical user interface (GUI) on the Macintosh (and its predecessor, the Lisa). Which would you rather use?

Yes, all of us have become pretty adept at the GUI and all the applications we use today are optimized for that human interface paradigm. Will a transition to any other form of human interface be painful? Absolutely, especially since we’ve all been using GUIs since the mid-1980s! You know that it’s easy to look back and see that a GUI-driven computer world was a much better one to live in than a command-line one, but it’s more difficult to look in to the future to see what a touch-driven computing world will look like.

Apple has published iPad Human Interface Guidelines and it’s pretty clear that the time has come for the computer to take the next leap. Many are discussing it and this post by Keith Kleiner at the Singularity Hub is a good overview of some of the thought leading technologies being explored with this next generation touch paradigm.

The iPad is the first mass market product to embrace this paradigm and make it palatable to everyone, with the possible exception of the whining developers, tech geeks and others who see it as too limiting, closed or different. Is the iPad without warts? Nope and it’s certain to improve and competition will abound. But every time I look at the landscape of human-created products, services, religions or any other endeavor, absolute perfection seems to be missing so get over it.

3 Comments

  1. Lisa Foote on April 7, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Well balanced post Steve. For me, it’s not the lack of perfection that’s nettlesome. Like you, I find perfectionistic whining tiresome. Nothing, especially not a 1.0 device, is going to be perfect.

    What I’d value hearing you address in more detail is the open vs closed philosophy (which you mention only briefly). If content creation really has become democratized and a broad expectation (not just for developers), how does Apple play in that world?



  2. Steve Borsch on April 7, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Thanks for the comment Lisa.

    “What I’d value hearing you address in more detail is the open vs closed philosophy (which you mention only briefly). If content creation really has become democratized and a broad expectation (not just for developers), how does Apple play in that world?”

    Purposely didn’t get in to that since I really wanted to bring forth the MS-DOS vs. Mac GUI point and the “closed vs. open” debate is huge. But that said, I’m really torn (and I mean *really* torn) on the closed vs. open aspects to all the mobile “i” things Apple produces, it’s control over the app store and the turning down of seemingly innocuous apps.

    I’m a huge open source advocate but have worked for many commercial software companies. I see open as democratizing (e.g., why I love WordPress) and also recommend the commercial NetSuite to SMB clients (i.e., because of its integration, support, et al) instead of seeing my clients leveraging several disparate open source solutions that are then integrated by some service provider.

    While I struggle with things like not having Google Voice capability or Skype use over 3G with my iPhone, I also observe several data points that make me see that (for the time being) the closed nature of the mobile “i” apps is a good strategy:

    a) Mobile providers still have far too much power in the mobile space. Equipment providers have historically jumped through many hoops to get handsets approved (and I’m privy to just how much has to be done since I did some work for Palm in 2007)

    b) Mobile networks are optimized with “X” number of connections, bandwidth and so on. We all know the horrendous problems AT&T had at SxSW and currently in San Francisco — both areas where there were obviously more humans with iPhones who maximize their use of them — and as such unfettered, completely open mobile devices would crush these networks so Apple has to ensure that the “load” on these networks is managed. I know that *I* would be doing alot more over 3G if I was able to and certainly sucking up significantly more bandwidth than I do currently

    c) I’m seeing so many people using iPhones/iPod Touches and now iPads that are doing more on them than they ever would with any other mobile device. Probably why the iPhone (according to Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker) had the fastest rampup in sales of any consumer device….ever

    d) Their buying of a chip fabrication company (PA Semi) means they can not only optimize the platform software — something Microsoft and Google’s Android do for handset makers — they can optimize the hardware AND the software. This means that every aspect of it is about as perfect as Apple can make it and why the experience with their devices is so awesome.

    ———–

    What about the future? I think Apple will continue to enjoy phenomenal success with devices and “open” up as necessary. Will that be enough? Nope.

    What they need to do is to leverage the cloud (which I think they do a pretty poor job of now) and is probably why they’re building out that $1B data center in North Carolina (http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2010/02/22/first-look-apples-massive-idatacenter/). I suspect that Google Chrome OS for netbooks and tablets, Android for mobile, Windows Mobile 7 and other products undoubtedly on the drawing board will enable “open” to prevail….

    …if the networks keep pace and/or there is a continued acceleration of more ubiquitous wireless broadband.



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