Contrast the Old World to the New World of Computing

The iPad announcement has got people thinking about the future of computing and its implications. There is a lot of disagreement but it has got to be healthy that people are considering new possibilities. This debate is at a whole new level than the product management perspective of left brain product specs vs. right brain user experience that I wrote about in my product management blog (Magic or Specs?).


Old World Computing

Mark Pilgrim is nostalgic for the Old World of computing (Tinkerer’s Sunset) when computers came with a readily available command line and could be programmed easily in Basic. He speculates that there will be fewer programmers initiated with new computers where the programming is abstracted away so it is not as easy to tinker. In reality there are whole new levels to tinker at and there is still opportunities for programming in new ways. However, in the Apple model at least there is a structure that puts more controls on enforcing Apple’s views on consistency, quality, and the user experience. The debate and battle will go on for many years about what structure will win for development and end user delivery of value. The reputation of Android is that it provides a more open environment with fewer controls on programmer freedom. The issue is how to establish a platform that delivers quality to consumers while being open enough to let multiple parties add value and consumers to have choices. Who will have the best rules for their platform? This is yet to be determined but the era of old world computing where there was little structure and programmers could build their “world” from scratch has been coming to an end slowly but surely.


New World Computing

Steven Frame really nails the key attributes of this transition from old world to new world computing. A problem with innovation transition is that when a new product is introduced it usually hasn’t yet implemented all the new things to replace previous products all at once. The solution is not always to include a hybrid of old capabilities – sometimes there is a delay while other new capabilities are developed. Steven’s hybrid example is replacing the floppy disk with an optical disk drive. Apple is attempting something more ambitious in the mobile context by innovating in several areas at once:

  • file system
  • touch interface
  • software development and distribution
  • multitasking
  • data sharing
  • device ports and sensors
  • Let’s use multitasking as the example. The iPad has been ridiculed for taking the supposed backward step of not having multitasking on the iPhone and iPad. In the context of a mobile device is it better to have multitasking with performance issues and the need for the complexity of a kill task utility ala Android or to just temporarily have single tasking until a new multitasking capability can be implemented? New studies have shown that too much multitasking is detrimental to not just computer performance but human performance as well. Maybe what is needed is a new type of multitasking that may be more restricted but where the overall system works better. Could this be similar to the copy and paste feature that Apple delayed until they could implement it to their quality standards? In some cases it can be courageous and right to suffer the criticism until something can be done properly to avoid the confusion of an interim implementation that is clearly lacking. Apple may be applying a do it right or not at all approach.

    While the new capabilities are being developed, the feature limited new device needs to be focussed on a niche where it can be successful. Steve Jobs outlined these use cases in the iPad product announcement.


    This doesn’t mean that the iPad is intended as only a media consumer device. It is only a starting point and it is only a matter of time that Apple with its iLife history and third parties with their iPhone experience will undoubtably build out previous and new types of creative capabilities using the larger multitouch iPad interface.

    iPad Prediction Results

    Apple - QuickTime - Apple Special Event January 2010

    Well, we now have a lot more information about the iPad.

    So how well did the predictions hold up? I used Unweary’s prediction template as a measure.

    As a comparison, John Gruber (Daring Fireball), used this template and by my count was right on 22 of 32 questions he predicted for an accuracy of 69%.

    I was right on 27/37 questions for an accuracy of 73%.

    This isn’t really as impressive as it might sound as 6 questions were on the name so even if you got it wrong you were right 5 times.

    So what was surprising?

    In most cases I was pleasantly surprised. I was surprised by the price which was more affordable than I thought it would be. I didn’t think that almost all iPhone apps could be run and especially that a double size large screen mode would be provided. I am really looking forward to using apps like Brushes and Cenemek Storyboard Composer on the iPad. It is great that existing app purchases can be used with the iPad and that the iWork applications are compatible, enhanced, and affordable. I didn’t anticipate the Apple docks being available at launch.

    What did I get wrong? I didn’t guess the name. I thought there might be a camera, perhaps an Itunes enhancement like web access (although there was the iBook store), and iPhone OS 4 (although there was an SDK enhancement). I was also hoping for more integration synergy with the desktop/laptop by using the iPad as a graphic tablet but it seems obvious now that this type of capability will take time and is still a future possibility for establishing the iPad’s niche.

    My view is that this is establishing a new platform which can only be properly evaluated once a few versions are released and we see how the market evolves once some prioritized feature enhancements are made.

    There has been a lot of criticism of Apple’s announcement but what I have noticed is that it is mostly on what people wished was included initially rather than faults in what was delivered or could be delivered in upcoming versions. To put it into context, the iPhone that is now regarded as a huge success didn’t even have copy and paste when it launched and now using pastebot you can copy and paste between the iphone and Macs. This leaves Apple with opportunities for feature enhancements for new versions while keeping the initial cost lower. It will be really interesting to see how this market develops and what innovative new applications this platform will spark. I am particularly interested in what will be coming in the categories of education and iPad as a large display for sensors.

    MacSparky’s Tablet Musings

    MacSparky has some musings on the upcoming tablet based on his previous experience with a Windows tablet that ultimately wasn’t successful because of the following hardware factors:

  • heavy,
  • large,
  • slow to boot,
  • ran extremely hot on my lap, and
  • the battery life was dreadful.
  • Many inventions have a history of precedents that didn’t work until there was finally enough breakthroughs to make them successfully. These breakthroughs aren’t always just better technology. To solve the problems listed won’t really be the breakthrough in my opinion. This is just eliminating “obvious” flaws.

    Equally important, in my view, is refining the concept to not try to do everything. It is not necessary to try to replace something else completely since people are willing to have specialized devices like the Kindle for example. I think Apple will come up with a more general purpose and flexible device than the Kindle but it should focus on a few things it is suited for well and to be able to complement (e.g. interwork) with other devices that are a better match for other use cases. There definitely is a sweet spot available between a single function specialized device and a general purpose computer.

    MacSparky provides a handy list of the use cases that a tablet could add value to with the right software implementation:

  • Reading/Research
  • Sharing
  • Organization
  • Surfing
  • Entertainment
  • Writing(?)
  • Editing Documents
  • The App Store
  • I particularly like the points about how annotating and editing are not the same as writing or volume text entry. The same could also be applied to creating a drawing/image from scratch vs editing or tweaking. The distinction here is between meeting the needs of:

    1. Prosumer content creators (primarily on desktops and laptops)

    2. Consumers of media and

    3. Prosumer enhancers and customizers

    by enabling the tablet to use unique features to work on the formats created previously on another device with different capabilities. If the tablet can do the last 2 out of 3 better than anything else that ain’t bad.

    This might be implemented by offering all the creation capabilities currently in iLife/iWork but “just” supplementing them with some multitouch features particularly best suited to the tablet in an innovative new way. It is not that difficult to imagine content being created on one device like a desktop or laptop but being annotated or otherwise being enhanced using multitouch on the tablet. The software challenge would be to make the features best suited to the device’s capabilities readily available without cluttering up the simplicity of the interface with features that should be possible but that won’t be used in that context on that device as often. This is the challenge for a Onenote+ (Oneupmanship?) software integration on the Apple tablet.

    It is also getting more common for people to have multiple monitors and touch pads. There is potential for a complementary monitor and touch pad for multimedia if the software and integration is done right. We are in the early days regarding how a touch interface could be used creatively for specialized applications to modify content in conjunction with or separately from other devices. I too (like Don McAllister) like the example of watching a screencast while following along on your main computer. Think of the educational opportunities!

    MacSparky references the PCWorld article that is already predicting that the Apple tablet won’t be successful for business. I think the main mistakes being made by the PCWorld article are the mindset that the tablet has to be a general purpose computing device to be valuable and underestimating the breakthroughs Apple will introduce.

    It’s going to be too expensive, it does things you don’t need to do, and it will add a messy layer of complication to your company’s computing infrastructure.

    Bill Snyder, PCWorld

    Prediction: John Gruber has already commented but he is going to have a lot more fun with this quote over on Daring Fireball once Apple announces its plans.

    I don’t doubt that the tablet will be premium priced, that is the Apple way, but their success has shown that a premium price doesn’t matter if you deliver the value. Review the use cases for a tablet done right – many people need to do these things especially if it is easier and they can be enabled/inspired to do more due to the ease of use. As for adding a messy layer of complication – well innovation is like that and how complicated it is depends on the software and integration which are yet to be seen.

    Apple didn’t wait this long to unleash this creation just to introduce another me too tablet. It won’t all be there on day 1 but I am hoping that the announcement will give enough hints about what is coming that it can spark a whole new round of speculation on the brave new future.

    Multi-touch Tablet Interface

    10/GUI has a video on a multi-touch interface which shows how the Apple tablet could work stand-alone or as an interface to a larger screen Mac computer. I have no idea if 10/GUI has any relationship with Apple.

    10/GUI from C. Miller on Vimeo.

    Apple will be introducing some kind of implementation of multitouch that extends beyond what the magic mouse gestures include. The following video shows some manipulations that a multitouch interface can do using the con10uum proposal. It doesn’t really show the practicality of the interface for getting things done, how well people will be able to learn the new gestures, and how ergonomics will be addressed by a tablet type screen. The video does stimulate thinking about the possibilities though.

    Con10uum project from 10/GUI is alive from gotactile on Vimeo.

    What makes a Successful Tablet?

    Daring Fireball has a thought provoking retrospective on the Newton regarding how the new Apple tablet will differ from its tablet predecessors. This will eventually make a classic marketing and product management case study once the dust settles and we see how successful or not the new product(s) become.

    Newton Messagepad
    Newton Messagepad tablet Newton with keyboard

    What are some of the lessons of the Newton and other tablets which didn’t achieve widespread success?

    First it isn’t about technology although partly previous efforts have experienced issues by trying to use technologies before they worked well enough to be relied on. The critical success factor is a well defined purpose for the device and doing those things so well it has immediate value beyond the potential evolution. In fact marketing the device to do features that are not quite ready actually damages its reputation by encouraging people to try things that they will eventually be disappointed with. Handwriting recognition is the primary example with the Newton although it did have devotees who loved it despite its limitations.

    Take the text input challenge for a tablet. For a larger screen device how do you hold it and enter text on the screen comfortably? This is where such items as prosaic as a stand and external keyboard could be “key” but how is this reconciled with portability? Clearly both the on the go and fixed location use cases need to be addressed and the solution is most likely different for each. I think that without some surprising breakthrough, text input has to be recognized as a secondary feature for a tablet. If you want to do heavy duty text input, a laptop form factor currently makes more sense. For small amounts of text input an onscreen keyboard can work especially if the tablet is not too hot to put in a person’s lap. It is useful to have a wireless keyboard and stand for fixed use just because this functionality can be provided for little incremental cost or added complexity for that part of the market that doesn’t want to purchase the optimized device for each type of use. If voice recognition performance is reliable enough perhaps it can be another alternative added to the mix to address special case (quiet environment) text input.

    Where the tablet can shine as a primary use is as a graphic interface, mobile media viewer, and large screen sensor interface. Touch gestures could excel for drawing, media browsing, and gaming. Sure surfing the Internet or reading ebooks requires some (text) input but buttons, gestures, popup keyboards, and voice input could work much more elegantly in this environment. It is even easier to see the tablet being used for watching movies or playing games although for playing music the ipod touch should be just as good and more portable.

    Positioning the tablet as primarily a graphical touch input device also helps promote a synergy between the products so people see the need for all four. After all, the ideal is for Apple to create a set of systems that all complement each other and all add value to different aspects of people’s lives.

  • The desktop is the fixed large screen high capacity server,
  • the laptop is the portable fairly capable general purpose computer with built-in keyboard and touchpad,
  • the tablet is the portable media player and creative full screen graphic input touchpad, and
  • the iphone/ipod touch are the pocket communicator sensor computers.
  • Not everyone will have the optimized environment of all four but the ideal is for the products to have that integration and complementary functionality synergy where it makes sense while also providing stand alone capabilities that provide enough value that they can be purchased separately.

    I have left out the Apple TV or Mac Mini as a media center but that is an example of how this product spectrum extends even farther. It is not hard to imagine future products including:

  • (3D) glasses,
  • more sensors, and
  • projector video camera
  • to evolve the computer into interacting with the environment even more.

    MacBook Touch

    Two more weeks until the expected announcement on the Apple tablet computer with who knows what name. Funny that competitors are trying to preempt Apple by classifying their new computers as slates. Not the most appealing name to me but it will be interesting to see what name is used and if the product can live up to it being a new category of computer. Predictions of two 10 inch tablets similar to the iphone and ipod touch makes sense. Hopefully a camera is included in at least the enhanced version with cellular Internet connectivity.

    There are lots of videos on Youtube with speculation and supposed leaks. Below is one of the better ones even though it got the year wrong and is a bit too ambitious on a couple of technologies.

    Some of the more credible speculation is that an enhanced version of the iphone OS will be used and a major enhancement will be multi-touch capabilities for the larger screen. I like the sketch capabilities shown in the video as well as the see through keyboard. I hope that it will be easy to add memory and an emphasis is put on performance rather than trying to appeal to the low end of the pricing predictions.

    Somethings I don’t think will be included are a DVD capability or a pen which could be something a third party could offer as an alternative to using your fingers. I don’t think there will be wimax or handwriting recognition. A bluetooth keyboard/mouse should be supported but maybe not a stand initially from Apple. Voice dictation as in the Dragon dictation already available with the iphone would be a nice feature especially if it is better integrated. Gestures captured from the video camera and projection of the output on external surfaces ala the recent TED computer UI demo would be cool but that is for the future.

    New Computer Interaction

    I enjoyed these TED Sixth Sense video 1 and TED Sixth Sense video 2 . Maybe you will too. It certainly suggests some new ways to interact with computers that could be on the near term horizon. These ideas make the current desktop software metaphor and mouse interface seem primitive by reversing simulating the real world in virtual worlds into projecting virtual information into the real world.

    The new projectors and video cameras are getting small enough to be used in mobile so with new interactive software innovative integration is possible. I loved the demo combining paper and computer editing with the new idea of what can be used as a screen.

    Natal is announced to be coming out this year for gaming interactivity using some of the same technology.

    Apple iSlate Updates

    A few updates are in regarding the growing consensus that Apple will call their new tablet iSlate.

    Gizmodo has a consolidation of the rumours which say the iSlate will be announced January 26 but not shipped until later in the year (anywhere from March to June is speculated).

    Daring Fireball steps in with speculation on what will make the iSlate unique to create a new market. John Gruber thinks there will be some unspecified innovation that will make the iSlate more specialized at first but eventually allow it to be a general purpose replacement for MacBooks. Existing iPhone apps will run as widgets but the interface will be optimized for the screen size.

    Paul Bucheit provides a good example of how a tablet could differentiate itself through sharing photos using a gesture interface. Similar device to device capabilities already exist for the iphone in some multiplayer games.

    Another speculation is that the islate will also be able to run Mac programs and use the bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

    As I have mentioned previously, an intriguing capability would be for the new islate to be able to interact through a new gesture interface with both other islates but also MacBooks as well. Graphic tablet capabilities that work as a standalone device and also in conjunction with a Mac laptop or desktop would help establish a niche for the islate to complement iphones and macBooks. The strength of the islate would be to leverage the graphical interface interaction through gestures not in entering a lot of text which is better suited to a macbook with a keyboard. Typical ebook or web surfing reading, annotating, and archiving could benefit from a gesture interface that could substitute for hotkey functions. I am still hoping for creative capabilities from the gesture interface and not be limited to solely media consumption capabilities. This will likely take some time to evolve as the gesture interface matures.

    Update: Another article also mentions the idea of the islate acting as a touchpad for other Apple devices. Seems to be a consensus developing on what people would like the islate to be capable of.

    Update2: Ars technica makes some islate predictions. I agree with the sure things but I doubt the cellular capability will be included. What publishing standard will be introduced is intriguing. The more open the better. The unreasonable price and capability references at the end are unfortunate. Software should be the primary differentiator in addition to the advantages of the Apple platform. The innovations could include running Mac and iphone software, gesture UI, and graphic tablet capabilities with apps like Brushes and Hitchcock on a larger screen.