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:
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.