Sunday, 31 January 2010
beta testing the future
I've been reading some of the commentary about the Apple iPad over the last few days. First speculation about it, then quasi leaked pictures, then product announcements and then people giving it a kicking. I'll admit the branding was perhaps a little suspect, but that's an amusing blip.
I usually refrain from blogging more than minor discussion on information technology, but I don't really count iPad in the IT domain. Its a game changer, like the OS/X based Mac, iPod and iTunes were.
Before I used a mac at all, I was fully reared on Windows. I could proudly install device drivers, edit the registry and knew the secret commands to bypass the complex updates when the old Windows image had mysteriously failed during an 'upgrade'.
Then, somewhere in the pre-Vista era I bought my first Mac.
It just worked. I didn't even need any extra software for ages, apart from the brilliant Yellow Mug utilities. I realised I could spend time editing video, writing, attempting bad music, categorising photographs and similar without also having to spend almost equivalent time mending things.
Consequently, as other PCs around rashbre central collapsed, they transitioned to Mac. When I've subsequently updated them with new versions of OS/X, the machines get faster, or use less resources. Even my oldest pre-Intel Mac laptop machine was fully capable of editing video 'out of the box'. It still works.
Apple seems to understand how to build infrastructure. Maybe its partly locked down, but it stops people tinkering around the edges, unbolting important structural elements, which is a malaise of some parts of the Windows world.
I don't need 100 variations of a word processor. I just need one that works and doesn't get in the way.
As an example, I guess I'm like many people using Windows Excel in a commercial environment.
How we all loved the changes to the interface with the last cosmetic update. Let's hide the print functionality, let's move all of the formatting around. Let's make it more difficult to insert blocks of copied columns or rows. Let's make saving become a multiple choice test, where every option seems to remove or reformat something.
I don't think I'm being reactionary here, I'm all for progress. I embrace progress, but progress should move things forward.
My current queries include: Why does my brand new work Windows laptop freak out at least twice a day when I use it with a mouse? Why does Excel forget that its just loaded a new spreadsheet unless I minimise and maximise it? Why does it still refuse to link to the latest high speed wi-fi when I use it at home?
If this was an old hacked image I might understand it, but this is a two month old machine running a standard image. I know it's not just me though, because colleagues complain of similar phenomena.
The problem is that we all got used to it. Either learning to fix it or knowing someone who could do all the clever stuff. A sort of technician.
Possibly these same technicians make the first pronouncements about the new technology. The new iPad doesn't multi task. It only has 64GB of storage, the OS won't support Flash. It doesn't have camera.
They miss the point about what I call 'quiet technology'. Like the Apple slogan, 'it just works'. I don't want to have to fiddle about with printer drivers, IEEE 802.11n 54Mb wi-fi configurations and remembering the context switching key combination for when a background program fails.
Quiet technology should be a gateway to what you really want to do. To read articles, to write to someone, to watch a television show, to listen to music. I suspect the portability of a compact personal black slate that just works will provide another game changing moment.
We'd better get used to it.