What about Ubiquitous Computing?
Yesterday, Pope Steven P. Jobs convened his disciples to unveil the latest creation of his orthodoxy. In surveying the mainstream, industry and social media response, we have observed the following archetypal reactions to the announcement as negative. We offer these playful animal names to stretch the archetype metaphor as far as it can go:
- The Sheep: May have fallen prey to the lead-up media hype
- The Elephant: Strong gut instinct to forcefully remain skeptical of new devices and models, especially those from Cupertino
- The Crow: Fixates on feature lists and spills vitriol when an expected bullet point cannot be printed on the product’s marketing materials
- The Wolf: Rejects the App Store model as the “mall-ification” of the open, free, pastoral internet currently enjoyed
- The Beaver: Invested heavily in mastering Flash development and resents how Apple and Adobe relations ends up hanging them out to dry
Therefore, we conclude that the iPad could only deliver rapture to devotees.
The iPad tablet computer appears to simply extend the form factor of the iPhone/iPod touch devices to a larger screen dimension. But to say that the iPad is only an overpriced web browser, or underpowered touch laptop is to miss the point by approximately one mile.
Editor’s Note: we are aware of how our Twitter embeds have failed due to dependency on a third-party. That’ll teach us to not simple screengrab the tweets and link to Twitter as a static image
A Small Herd of Elephants:
A designer/developer retorts:
The simple enlargement of the oleophobic multi-touch screen enables an incremental but significant expansion of the Touch OS to afford a greater set of user interaction complexities and sensitivities to the capacities of the human body. Indeed, the device fashions itself more to the user than anything we have yet been able to purchase. Rather than machining the user into the requirements of the computer, the iPad’s beauty is how it instinctively and delightfully adapts to human factors.
These demonstrations of Apple’s iWork productivity suite exemplify how the GUI and basic modalities of the 20th century operating system have evolved towards a significantly more tangible, less mediated, indeed “intimate” experience. Direct manipulation of objects emerges in favor of severely mediated interactions guided by your disembodied hand, symbolized by the arrow pointer. We remember how Douglas Englebart’s mouse and requisite virtual re-mapping of gesture into cartesian space is an archaic form.
We are not embarrassed about nor pay much concern to the insistent persistence of the QWERTY keyboard, an interface devised originally to slow down the typist, as the mechanism of early typewriters would jam easily otherwise.
The iPad is not cause to celebrate the device itself, but rather to announce the retirement of the 20th century GUI and OS. It has served us well for a few decades and profoundly transformed humanity. Instead, being reminded that Steve Jobs appropriated the innovations of window, menu and icon by Xerox PARC into the Macintosh OS, we revisit Mark Weiser’s (CTO of PARC) vision of the computer for the 21st century. His group’s vocabulary of tabs, pads and boards forms an invisibly cohesive infrastructure of ubiquitous computing as an attempt to deliberately abandon the monolithic totalitarianism of the personal computer.
For certain, Apple leads the industry in being able to amass mighty fortunes ($50 billion this year) to implement our lives with tabs (iPhones, iPods) and now pads (iPad). Of course, there are many more incremental steps to take on the path of computing ubiquity. It did not occur with the singular release of a product and it won’t ever happen at once. But each gradual step is a blip on the continuum, forming a kind of punctuated equilibrium that disrupts conventions sufficiently to shed the cruft and detritus of the regularizing activities of computer industry — feature driven bloatware, piling atop legacy code, reinforcing conservative modalities and affordances that some people “cling to like guns and religion.”1
The tech industry will be in paroxysms of future shock for some time to come. Many will cling to their January-26th notions of what it takes to get “real work” done; cling to the idea that the computer-based part of it is the “real work”.
It’s not. The Real Work is not formatting the margins, installing the printer driver, uploading the document, finishing the PowerPoint slides, running the software update or reinstalling the OS.
The Real Work is teaching the child, healing the patient, selling the house, logging the road defects, fixing the car at the roadside, capturing the table’s order, designing the house and organising the party.
via Fraser Speirs
There is an emancipatory promise in the new tablet computing model if it succeeds at eliminating labor involved with using and maintaining a PC. It’s a new kind of casual computing. A revered Mac developer sums it up:
For as frustrated as I was with the restrictions, those exact same restrictions made the New World device a high-performance, high-reliability, absolute workhorse of a machine that got out of my way and just let me get things accomplished.
The bet is roughly that the future of computing:
- has a UI model based on direct manipulation of data objects
- completely hides the filesystem from the user
- favors ease of use and reduction of complexity over absolute flexibility
- favors benefit to the end-user rather than the developer or other vendors
- lives atop built-to-specific-purpose native applications and universally available web apps
The iPad as a particular device is not necessarily the future of computing. But as an ideology, I think it just might be.
via Steven Frank
Critics correctly point out that the iPad represents a future that biases media consumption over production while enforcing a strict corporate governance over software and hardware possibilities.
A Wolf in Sheep’s clothing:
Some go as a far as dismissing it as “crap futurism” framing the iPad as the anti-computer, more akin to the strip-mall-ification of personal computing. They cannot reconcile the hegemonic force of Apple Inc. as a primary capitalist enterprise bringing mass scale innovations to market.
Furthermore, we could equate the iPad with the re-enabling of an addiction to the corporate media establishment, at the expense of burgeoning peer-production by the free and open source geek-onomy.
Other voices denounce it as “unnovation” for living room leisure and superficial amusements to merely fill e-waste landfills without humanitarian credentials.
A howling Wolf:
These “doing it because we can” arguments also miss the point. A year from today, in 2011, iPad users will very likely enjoy a rich collection of creativity tools, provided by Adobe and numerous indy developers alike.
Developers cautiously reorient us to the creative potential:
Even Parsons students are apparently blind to the stunning potential of using tablet computing as a profound augmentation of the creative process because it lacks a camera.
The PC will still be around for some time to come, of course. But when we start carrying tablets and employing them for ambient computing tasks related to both consumption and production throughout our professional and leisurely life, we will enjoy being more human, less dominated by the totalitarian tendencies enforced by using a laptop which demands our full and private attention and fails to afford partial and shared attention. We take for granted what the disembodied interaction of trackpad, pointer and 20th century operating system models forces us to endure. On the contrary, with tablet computing, we start to benefit from the fruits of the next phase of ubicomp where our Apple pads and tabs are at the ready to help us self-fashion ourselves into less-machined casual computing citizens. The tablet helps us return to a day when we were not stuck in front of computers, but instead we clutched notebooks, palettes, and sketchpads and focused on people and ideas, not “the computing administrative debris.”2
Leave it to Beaver
Try building a player that runs a huge range of dynamic content written on a variety of tools (some of which you don’t control) by developers with massively varying skill levels. Now try making it compatible, consistent, and performant across dozens of OSes, browsers, platforms, and devices. And maintain backwards compatibility with the last 9 versions even while your target platforms change. And keep it under 5MB. And maintain it in parity with an OSS effort (Tamarin). And try to keep up with the demands of one of the most active and vocal developer communities.
via Grant Skinner
The reactions from these members of the Flash elite reflect a humility and respect for what that medium has been able to accomplish. The bombast from the anti-Flash clique, however, espouses open standards at all costs. Both viewpoints will need to reconcile how ubicomp will simplify and dissolve computing into the background. Against Adobe’s ability to conquer divergent hardware with convergent software, Apple is building a nascent ubicomp empire on unified hardware and software.
A fellow named Neil Curtis chopped up the opening Apple keynote of 2010 to just include the adjectives. A somewhat hilarious synopsis of the keynote ensues.
Naturally, nothing could upstage Bishop Stephen Colbert unleashing the wünder tablet out of his suit pocket at the Grammy Awards to mesmerize and prime the purchasing audience. Tuning the zeitgeist.
It is remarkable how easily Apple can infiltrate cultural feeding grounds like this and inject its new product into our attention space to initiate a brilliant marketing campaign to regularize the iPad into existence. Consider how they deployed the iPod into the cultural discourse and how effectively normal it has become, a fully regular life condition, the way you listen to recorded music. Apple is big music.
The next massive regularization phase established the iPhone as an infiltration into everyday communications, primarily by wireless telephone and its bevy of sub-channels. Apple is at the heels of Nokia, the worlds largest mobile device maker. Apple is big telecom.
The iPad affords a new and novel kind of computing. The full adoption of its use in everyday living will reflect yet another stage of regularizing Apple into our lives. At this stage, Apple is ubiquitous to our daily life, always at hand.
Is Apple big ubicomp?