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I want to throw out a big question and see how people react to it. Since the iOS 7 announcement, I’ve had an idea rattling around my head that I can’t seem to shake. With regards to Apple’s new approach for Human Interface (as laid out in the iOS Dev Center), I’ve been wondering how future smart devices will manifest and whether iOS 7 can be justified as a useful step in the evolution.
Particularly, I’m interested in pursuing the specificity of the mobile, multi-touch device. Specificity of a medium refers to the features which make that medium different from others or the unique things it can achieve. An example is the corresponding development of abstract painting with the invention of photography, which rendered the prevailing realism redundant. Painters had to find new forms of expression to keep the medium relevant.
Now there is no technology that will make smart devices redundant (not yet), and still the market is pushing innovation. With processing power hitting a physical limit and Moore’s Law finally showing signs of slowing, the shift has been toward making chips smaller and ubiquitous. The pursuit has changed from making the biggest, baddest computer to discovering new interactions; new uses for a mature technology.
And yet the mobile platform is still in relative infancy. Just as people feared the horseless carriage, or wondered whether their first telephone was listening to everything they said, the hurdle for the technology industry is nurturing consumer acceptance of their product. (Sure it’s great to have a machine that can do your walking and take half the time but nobody wanted a segway.) This is why user experience has become such a popular area of development. There are more computers available than ideas to harness them. Startups are a dime a dozen and, for many, promise to make a difference rather than the giant multinational platform-building conglomerates such as Apple and Google.
A platform is, after all, what iOS 7 should be viewed as. As wonderful as iOS has been and how revolutionary the device the iPhone was when launched 6 years ago, it was the introduction of the app store that really affected how people use their devices. This fostered an adoption which has us carrying our email, calendar, fact-finding, geo-locating device with us everywhere because it has become indispensable. The benefits far outweigh the potential invasion of privacy or even personal space, when we carry/wear our devices everywhere. And thanks to the millions of apps available, there is something for everyone.
So, with iOS 7, we have an interface that has been evolving for 6 years. There haven’t been massive changes to the OS before. The buttons and menus were redesigned but ultimately functioned the same and new features were incorporated. And after fine tuning this system, Apple has rewritten the script and gone back to basics; a large overhaul which many were demanding but many more were just getting used to.
In this dramatic new direction, Apple is certainly testing the limits, demonstrated by the ongoing discourse. What is Apple seeking? Will the re-imagining of an interface lead to discoveries in interaction, perhaps something more specific to the medium or will their development guidelines alienate the average user?
This post originally appeared on the author's website, gbrassey.com
Apple has set fire to iOS. Everything’s in flux. Those with the least to lose have the most to gain, because this fall, hundreds of millions of people will start demanding apps for a platform with thousands of old, stale players and not many new, nimble alternatives. If you want to enter a category that’s crowded on iOS 6, and you’re one of the few that exclusively targets iOS 7, your app can look better, work better, and be faster and cheaper to develop than most competing apps.
This big of an opportunity doesn’t come often — we’re lucky to see one every 3–5 years. Anyone can march right into an established category with a huge advantage if they have the audacity to be exclusively modern.
Apple unveiled the mighty iPad last week after a targeted carpet bombing of pre-event hoopla, far too many misfired “leaks” and eventual lukewarm excitement. Of course, the people who were unable to devise the device immediately went to work, spending unnecessary time and brain cells shouting from their favorite mountaintop called Twitter, making fun of the name and comparing it to lady stuff...
Geeks are funny creatures. If this device was called an "iTab" they probably would have made soft drink jokes - All that talent and occasional genius is sadly wasted on a single, albeit funny observation instead of trying to figure out some undocumented and innovative uses for the thing. Trust me, as soon as someone starts waving real development cash at the naysayers, they'll be singing the praises of the “innovative” and even “magical” iPad; salivating to build apps quicker than you can bark the word “Pavlov”...
For those who are interested in actually using the device, it really doesn't matter what the thing is called - as much as what it can and cannot do.
The iPad has a couple well-documented drawbacks:
- iPad doesn’t do Flash (more about that later). This means no Hulu, YouTube or other currently Flash-enabled video sites for you on the iPad Safari Web browser...
- iPad doesn't multitask, so you can't listen to music while penning your brilliant blog post, notes or novel. This is a “deal breaker” for the countless hordes who apparently planned to brutally smash their trusty old iPod on the way out of the Apple store with their iPad. The truth is, people have grown accustomed to hoofing around several devices in their backpacks, shoulder bags and/or pockets. Despite our Utopian dream of "one device to do it all," as technology changes and new things are devised to keep us from having actual conversations with other live humans, there will always be another “thing” to stuff into our ever expanding satchels o’ plenty.
The iPad's strength isn't that it plays music, movies, games or that it surfs the Flash-less Web. The iPad gets it's real mojo as a comfortably-sized, compact and usable device that doesn't require an attached keyboard, a mouse or a constant power source to input notes, data or, more importantly, read published materials. Everything else it comes loaded with, simply helps to justify the price point. The iPad could really show true muscle for students, teachers and classrooms and by eventually saving and/or enhancing the suffering magazine publishing business. But to do this effectively, Apple needs to cozy up to college kids to make the iPad truly a thing of “magic”.
So, while we're waiting for the iPad to do a keg stand at a college dorm near you, here are some things that Apple and it's partners should concentrate on to help the iPad live up to it's promise:
- Create an exclusive network for students. College textbooks should be available via a subscription service on the iTunes store so you can burn those oversized, overweight, overpriced books like Guy Montag and plant some trees. As a specific textbook’s information is enhanced or corrected, it should automatically be updated, just like your iPhone/iPod currently informs you when a purchased application has been updated. Software developers for the iPad should focus on applications that will make lecture note taking and sharing, as well as commenting on digital textbooks simpler. Imagine downloading a textbook for your class and having the benefit of seeing the best notes from a global network of past students. To avoid reading irrelevant notes, a system could be put into place allowing students to rate other students notes, making only the useful stuff rise to the top.
- Expand the iTunes store to include magazine and newspaper subscriptions asap. Save that dying, ink-laden, forest-chomping horse as fast as you can. Obviously publications will need to embrace HTML 5 for any video content, so start brushing up, if you're planning on developing for a future publishing industry.
- Allow musicians to plug in. With GarageBand already part of iLife, in the future I hope to see musicians with guitars, iPads and a dream sprawling out in Prospect Park writing tons of crap they can sell to their relatives on iTunes with the help of TuneCore.
- Advancement and advocation of the HTML 5 specification. Apple has been very clear: they refuse to get into bed with Flash. They view Flash as an uncontrollable source of application crashes - not to mention a bandwidth and processing hog - and as a designer and developer who has worked with Flash, they are partially correct. Many of Flash's novice developers know only a little about the scripts and techniques required to deliver the most processor-efficient experiences. ActionScript, the scripting language behind Flash has been massively changed and enhanced over the years, leaving the true Flash programming to true programming wizards who have worked with it since the introduction of ActionScript 1.0 with Flash 5 in 2000. The future promise of HTML 5 has begun to make the use of Flash increasingly irrelevant and unnecessary for simple video and audio players. Even Hulu will come around as well if first the audience - and eventually their advertisers request it. This prospect of course, sours the folks at Adobe. They will run myriad ads over the next couple months attempting to convince the masses of the perceived inferiority of the iPad because it doesn't have Flash. But it's really just fear.
- Shhh...the word on the street is that the iPad may have a camera. In fact, the Software Developer Kit (SDK) for the iPad currently has "Take a Photo" as a programmable menu item, so maybe the dream of video conferencing or even augmented reality with the iPad will come true (or not)...or some Mountain Dew-gorged developer at Apple has just gotten a “mouthful of fist” from Steve Jobs because they forgot to remove the "take a picture" menu item from the iPad SDK...
Apple has a history of using current devices to test out and eventually surpass the last one. Look at the history of advances that have been made to the iPod since it came out in 2001. I’ve got 4 of them, each with enhanced features.
Just like the iPhone was a jacked up phone with a serious music player and a savvy integration into a robust online store, the iPad jacks things up further, but in a slightly different direction. Who wants to seriously read books or watch movies on your iPod or iPhone? You can right now, you know. They've been testing out the iPod and iPhone as an eBook reader and video player to lead us like slobbering zombies to the iPad. Whether the vast Apple audience realize it or not, we support their innovations by historically testing them and upgrading our devices to the next big thing.
Regardless, is the amount of chattering, twittering and blogging out there an indication of how quickly the masses will line up for a shiny new iPad?...