Thursday, October 13, 2011

By iDesign

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. Steve Jobs 

I remember my first impression of the new era of Apple. My family was in San Francisco for one of the last performances of the popular "found instrument" show "Stomp!", and ate before the show at a restaurant on the second floor across the street. As I looked out the window, above the theater building was a billboard, all white except for an IPod centered, with the San Serif letters "IPod" below - very much in the spirit of many VW campaigns.

Could it actually be that it was only ten years ago? I remember being aware of, and having seen, various players before then, and myself had an MP3 CD player at the time, a device whose shelf life turned out to be fleeting. And as I looked at the IPod, I recall thinking that the main difference between it and the other players was that it was more stylish and more expensive. The engineering triumph was first and foremost the ring-navigation patent, that doughnut that instantly identifies the Apple player.

Not long after the IPad's introduction, someone in my office made a comment, "Only Mac-haters buy Androids." It appears now that claim is not accurate, though it may have been more so at the time. My office is a group of people who develop on and for Windows primarily, and the Mac adopters have fallen into a couple of categories: those who think the IPad is cool but can't relate to it in the work context; those who have done IPod or IPad apps, some of whom have ended up at Apple; and those who sort of cross over between the two. After it was released, our VP made a point of getting one and making it available for people to play with, since he saw it as an opportunity as well as a cool device. In general, in our microcosm, any given person is as likely to get an Android phone as an IPhone, and the same would apply to tablets or players or other mobile gadgets. And we've expended as much effort on supporting Android as Apple's Ios environment.

For those who proclaim the death of the PC - and our VP posted an article to that effect a little while ago - there are some impediments, or perhaps some provisos. For white collar types, who might like me be moving between sometimes lengthy emails and writing programs, or building and tweaking spreadsheets, or even doing CAD, you immediately see the same pattern as the docked laptop - you're not going to want to lose a "real" keyboard, nor are you going to want less screen real estate. And so far the analogs of shift-click and ctrl-click in various applications are not there. So you can assume that, if and when you use an IPad or something like it at work, you will hang various things off it, so in that context the difference between it and a "PC" is fairly token.

On the other hand, I talked with my brother-in-law about his IPad, which he loves to death and uses "in the field" as a realtor. He loves being able to browse a listing or just Google something wherever he is, and with whomever - the business and pleasure is blurred, and that feels fine. So I said, well, what about emailing? And he said, no problem, and went to the email app - and began one-finger hunting and pecking. I realized that he's more in the motif of the text message - a de facto tweet limit more or less - so he doesn't really care about the efficiency of the operation. 

But I figure that, in the scenario of replying to an email, after I'm done with [shift-down][ctrl-c][ctrl-home][ctrl-v] to paste in a quote of the message I received to the reply, he's probably still looking for whatever the thing is in that context that copies to the clipboard. 

When all is said and done, it's probably abundant tribute to Steve J. that there is a device as sleek and simple as any of the iPods - and it's instantly recognizable as an Apple design even without the logo - and that it was his company that debuted the technology associated with the rich pinch and swipe behavior, regardless of where it ends up being a favored motif.

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