iPad as construction equipment

Another excerpt from the “aforementioned O’Reilly article”:http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/03/state-of-internet-operating-system.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Tputh+%28TPUTH+-+Breaking+News+With+The+Social+Hammer%29&utm_content=Google+Reader:

bq. Cloud infrastructure services are indeed important, but to focus on them is to make the same mistake as Lotus did when it bet on DOS remaining the operating system standard rather than the new GUI-based interfaces. After all, Graphical User Interfaces weren’t part of the “real” operating system, but just another application-level construct. But even though for years, Windows was just a thin shell over DOS, Microsoft understood that moving developers to higher levels of abstraction was the key to making applications easier to use.

There’s a sub-text here that is relevant to the iPad release and all the negative sentiment. I (barely) remember the days of Windows 3.11; back when Windows was really just an application running atop MS-DOS. All the hardcore computer gurus I knew at the time poo-poo’d it as an unnecessary layer on top of a perfectly stable and usable CLI-based system. Meanwhile, normal users loved the simplicity of point-and-click. The GUI drastically reduced the (human) memory commitment required to use a computer.

Fast-forward to 2010, and the population of users familiar enough with a computer to care about it has exploded. The iPad strips away flexibility in favor of increased abstraction. The clear message is to worry less about what’s happening and more about what you’re reading or creating. The fact that users should simply accept this as the next rational step in computing is, for some, a foregone conclusion. “Of course further abstraction of complexity is a good thing!” But I think it’s worth some consideration.

Everyone loves a good car analogy. Apple says that the iPad fits between the laptop computer and your smartphone. In the cars-are-a-great-analogy line of thinking, you could look at the range of cars (loosely defined as having four wheels) and identify some counterparts. Your desktop/laptop is a tractor with interchangeable components like a backhoe, box-blade, and front-end loader. You may not own all of the attachments, but you can go out and buy them whenever you encounter the need. Your desktop/laptop is your do-all machine. Your mobile phone is like a bare-bones commuter car. It gets you from a-to-b, but is relatively static in configuration. Somewhere in between is the iPad; the “Bobcat”:http://www.bobcat.com/loaders/ of the computing world. There are “accessories”:http://www.apple.com/ipad/accessories/ available that increase its utility, but it will never rival the power and utility of a full blown tractor… I mean desktop or laptop.

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