The New Usability.
Yesterday at Apple’s Conference call, executives stressed that they see the iPod Touch/iPhone as a ‘Wifi mobile platform’. This reinforces what I had always been saying: that the iPhone/iTouch devices are not focused on the hardware aspect, but rather the idea of a true mobile OSX. The thing is, people still look at consumer electronics with a certain amount of ‘known obsolescence’ when you purchase a device. Mobile phones in particular are a great example of this. Most manufacturers (like Nokia/SE/Motorola etc) knock out so many devices per year that it can become overwhelming, especially because usually the only difference between models are in most cases, slight incremental improvements to the hardware/software. But of course, this doesn’t matter. The moment a newer model is launched, the one you own is old. Obsolete. And it is kind of expected that if you want that ‘massive’ jump in hardware specs (like going from a mediocre 3.2 mp camera to a mediocre 5mp camera) you have to lay down some serious money for new hardware. If I kept up with Nokia’s yearly releases/improvements to handsets, I would be spending THOUSANDS of euros on new, unlocked hardware. Even though at the end of the day, I would have started the year with an OS that looks and functions essentially the same as at the end of the year.
With the iPhone the focus is the ‘platform’. And how we use it. Its funny, because when I look around various forums, the general consensus is that there is NO WAY that the iPhone could be a computer, it simply isn’t fast enough to run things like Word, iWork, Excel etc. Why do people have this belief? Because we have all become accustomed to bloated, graphically-obese desktop applications. And so we naturally carry this image over to smartphones, imagining a tiny, miniaturized Adobe Photoshop, and all its menus and palettes and filters etc, and realizing what a disaster it would be.
NO. Think Different.
If you look at the iPhone UI, you see that there is something fundamentally different about it in comparison to other smartphone OS’. There are no drop-down menus. No pull-up menus. No bloody toothpick stylus pretending to be your miniature index finger, so it can scale to the size of the smartphone menu system! Nope, the iPhone is entirely touch-based and object-driven. It is as far away from the typical desktop paradigm as it could possibly be. And that is why it will work, because it has stripped all the cruft away, all the nested-nightmare-menu UI of the last 10 years that every other smartphone still uses. For applications to really work on a smartphone, they have to be quick and intuitive. Instant results are desired. Only then can a mobile platform compete with the tried and tested desktop computer for productivity. And that is the holy grail. To be able to write a document, surf the net, edit an excel sheet or open a pdf/ebook as fast or FASTER than a typical desktop. Look at Asia, where most people who are accessing the internet are doing it from their mobile phone. The Smartphone will in a few years be the dominant computing platform worldwide. Combine the iPhone with its TV monitor output and a BT keyboard, and we will see just how productive a mobile phone can be. I am betting that in 12 months the iPhone will be able to compete head-on with a desktop for usability, but with the benefit of being completely mobile (and not lugging a laptop around just to write up that report!). The evidence is already mounting: just look at the ‘iphone-optimised’ websites around. Notice anything? A ruthless stripping of cruft, with the essence being the navigation and delivery of content. It’s happening. It’s just some cannot see it yet..