My favorite point in John Siracusa’s excellent Apple Tablet post is the focus on software. More than anything so far, this has gotten me excited about the mythical, still-a-figment-of-our-imaginations gadget.
This, in particular, is a reason for something like the Tablet to exist:
The “reconception” part comes in when you consider how many people really need the power—and the complexity that comes with it—of a desktop platform, and in what situations. As a computer geek watching the Chrome OS introduction video, it’s hard not to think about how much easier some people’s lives would be (hi Mom and Dad) if they could trade technical complexities they don’t care about for vastly increased simplicity and ease of use.
Apple has always been more in touch with novice users’ needs than most tech companies. Anyone who has ever taught a friend or relative how to use a computer from absolute zero can tell you that a few basic technical complexities are always the most confusing and difficult to learn:
- Click vs. double-click.
- The filesystem — specifically, file locations.
- Window management and multitasking.
- Application installation and removal.
Of this list, Mac OS has only ever seriously tackled right-click. Apple’s mice and trackpads have never had right buttons, virtual right-click areas and gestures have never been enabled by default, and the OS and apps are designed to work completely (albeit clumsily) with only the primary mouse button. But novice users still struggle to understand and master the other four, and their user-facing complexity is nearly identical between Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
While Apple has abstracted away much of the filesystem in the iLife apps, user inertia and market demands hinder progress on the others for general-purpose computer OSes.
With iPhone OS, Apple’s first chance to design a completely new interaction paradigm in a very long time, they tackled all five. As a result, iPhone OS is much easier to use than Mac OS for nearly everyone, most significantly for novice users.
But the iPhone OS’ suitability as a computer replacement is severely limited by its small screen size and limited input mechanics.
The Tablet is Apple’s chance at applying the lessons learned on the iPhone to a device big and versatile enough to be a low-needs user’s only computer, or to be the only computer that a power user brings while mobile (as Gruber suggested) instead of a laptop. It can be the computer that we buy our parents or grandparents without worrying that we’re signing ourselves up for years of painful tech support calls as they “lose” documents by saving them in the wrong folder, think they can’t save any more files because the desktop is full of icons, delete their browsers’ icons and tell us the internet is gone, keep five different antivirus products half-installed, and fill their RAM with programs they never Quit because they just close every window instead and don’t notice the tiny “running” dot in the Dock or know what it indicates.
That’s a powerful thing, if that’s what they’re going for.
The iPhone was almost that computer. With a bigger screen and easier text input, The Tablet could be it.