The iPad isn’t a nail gun

I’ve been thinking about the iPad a lot lately. If you’re trying to build a successful technology company, ignoring Apple is, perhaps, the most ridiculous way to get blind sided.

I admit it, I was waiting for a flying car. Watching a live transcript, the lack of a camera was very disappointing. So much so that once it was clear, I lost interest and wandered away to watch some financial news. When I heard it was $499, I was surprised, and considerably less disappointed!

So I watched the keynote video as soon as it was available. During the video I selfishly realized that my life would be simpler if my mother, brother, sister, and mother-in-law had an iPad. Selfish because I was quite certain that my technical support load would drop dramatically if they were using an iPad.

I refined that thinking and shouted my first composed thoughts on the matter via Twitter:

@tmornini: In my memory the iPad is the first major Apple product announcement since the aqua iMac that essentially nobody thought was overpriced.

@tmornini: They sold A LOT of aqua iMacs! Even back then there were millions who wanted an inexpensive, easy to use, floppyless “internet computer”

@tmornini: How many millions of today’s unemployed have an outdated, clunky PC that will need to be updated quickly upon employment?

@tmornini: How many of those will turn that clunky PC into a backup station for their new iPad and begin using cloud backed applications?

And today I read a post by Caleb Elston. When I was reading it, I wanted to shout “People who aren’t technical aren’t stupid!” For some reason, a clearer, sharper image of what I was thinking when I wrote those tweets coalesced in my brain.

With a technically creative background going back to the TRS-80 and assembly language, I feel that today’s Macintoshes running OS X are the best technical tools ever created. Nearly every technically creative person I’ve ever respected is now using a Macintosh. The vast majority of the rest use Linux.

I believe the difference is Unix, and its many CLIs. Programmers love Unix because command lines are incredibly useful to programmers. It’s completely shocking that Microsoft has never improved or replaced the DOS shell. Yes, I know about Monad. That’s a really sad story.

How many times have we been told that Windows dominated because it had the best programs? That’s the exact problem Microsoft now faces, particularly -vs- iPhone OS: 140,000 apps and 3 billion downloads have been achieved VERY quickly! When it was clear Microsoft had won the first round, they had far smaller numbers!

Seems only browser-native web development stands a chance against those numbers. And it’s not difficult to argue that end-users prefer web connected native apps. Thank goodness many of these applications are being built with Ruby on Rails backends! :-)

It’s clear that computers are designed to serve technically creative individuals. Sure, they’ve gotten easier to use for technology consumers, particularly at the application level. Yet the user experience has changed only in ways that the technically creative crowd were willing to accept, often begrudgingly.

Think about it! Did the users of VisiCalc, Lotus Notes, and Excel ever need to manipulate files directly? In the day, yes, if only to do things like backup and organize their work. Yet iTunes, iPhoto, and every iPhone application tells me that they should never have been asked to! My crowd’s lack of imagination was the real limiting factor. What programmer could ever imagine a computer without end-user file system access? Impossible!

Have you ever noticed that the tools in a professional’s toolbox are different than their consumer grade counterparts? Think nail gun and hammer: massively different user experiences!

This has never really been the case with computers. Sure, powerful and expensive systems are marketed as “professional” models, the remainder as “consumer” models. Those differences are skin deep: even when watching them being used you probably cannot distinguish between the two! Not so much with the nail gun. :-)

That, I think, is where the iPad splits computing down the middle. It, like the iPhone before it, was built for consumers of technology, NOT creators of technology. I think it’s going to be a really big deal.

The flip side? We technical creators can now get user experiences designed entirely for us. How will our tools behave in a few years when they no longer need to (poorly!) fit the needs of technology consumers? It’s a mystery, but let me be the first to say “Bring it on!”, because it seems evident that they’re going to be considerably more productive, and hopefully more violently capable, like a nail gun! :-)

It does seem to me that they’ll have Apple logos on them for some time to come. Why? Because it appears that Apple now owns the entire chain: the best general purpose tools for the technically creative, and the ONLY general purpose tools for technical consumers.

P.S. Yes, Alan Kay was on this decades ago. He’s the Benjamin Franklin of the technical community, massively under-appreciated.


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