iPad Haters Love an Oscar Madison-style Mess

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 04/06/2010

Here’s the reason haters hate the iPad: technology people like complexity. Complexity perpetuates a technocracy that puts them at the top, with everyone else reliant on them portioning out support and advice. Brittle systems like Windows play perfectly well into this psychology, breeding powerful IT-departments and consulting services, perpetuating the status quo. The idea of a high tech device that just works correctly every time is an affront to their sensibilities and perhaps even a threat to their long-term job security. Project the world of IT that the iPad represents forward 20 years, and technocracy is all but gone, replaced by disposable interchangeable pads.

I believe that technologists feel an intuitive hatred for futures where things “just work”, and a marketing person like Steve Jobs is at the helm. To deal with this, technologists come up with dozens of semi-valid arguments. Correct: the iPad won’t replace full sized keyboards where you can really get some work done. They’re not meant to. Correct: an iPad doesn’t pack as many bells-and-whistles in as you can get for the same money on tablet PCs. That’s because it’s not a tablet PC–thank goodness. But what iPad will do is let you enjoy what you love most about computers and the Internet without having to deal with what you hate the most about computers and the Internet. In other words, the iPad is one of the first devices to popularly start to fulfill some of the promises of information technology–for the rest of us. It’s the very simplicity and accessibility of the iPad that’s being attacked.

Ironically, this anti-simplicity argument flies in the face of one of the longest-standing and least-realized promises of technology–actually improving your life, giving you you back more time. I believe that a well implemented technology lowers your general frustration levels and frees more time in your day. I believe that a well implemented technology begins to fade into the background, quietly taking instructions from you, taking cues from your natural motions and signals, just as another human being would. This is part of the brilliance of a multi-touch touchscreen user interface, and the fabulous graphics capabilities that let it do springy accelerating scrolls. The way you interact with an iPad is just totally intuitive and natural, requiring almost no computer skills.

This has not been the case for many years because of limited computing resources, poor user interfaces, and complacency with the complex “coding systems” we have had to learn to compenste for those shortcomings. Keyboards and mice are good examples of compromises. They are both counter-intuitive and foreign with critical long-term flaws. In the case of the keyboard, it’s the QWERTY key layout that creates a bottle-neck speed-penalty. We’ll never be able to type as fast as we think, and we’ll never realistically be able to move to a new keyboard system (without the brilliant brutal force of someone like Steve Jobs making it happen). With mice, the fundamental flaw is how it feels like disembodied tele-drawing with a bar of soap. This tele-drawing will never be as easy as just pointing at or touching what you mean. Mice were invented because touch screens were not technologically viable at the time. They are now.

Steve Jobs is not the first to try to solve these consumer electronic computer user interface problems. He’s just very good at it, possessing both the vision, and the “body” to carry it out. He controls that body through pure force-of-will, which you can begin to appreciate by considering how he was ousted from Apple, and came back, instead of an axe to grind, the blueprint for how to take the aging proprietary PowerPC Macs back into the modern age using the NeXT operating system, that he had developed during his hiatus. Certainly, his path has been a circuitous one, and the brilliant cause/effect relationships are not always direct. But foundation work gets laid–sometimes 20 years in advance as with the case of the ARM processor, and dots are connected years later to achieve in years what others cannot do in decades. In fact, it has taken Jobs decades.

This is where Steve Jobs-style thinking leaves the complexity-loving techno-geeks in the dust. Given similar end results, such as the ability to be productive or entertained, simplicity of the tools will always win out over complexity in the end. This is because the masses like simplicity. Not everyone is willing to put the years into learning the nuances of their tools that is required on so many of today’s sub-modern tools. Computers shouldn’t need to be fine-tuned like cars, and you shouldn’t have that hostile feeling of someone trying to turn your machine into a zombie-bot at every turn (and having a fairly good chance). You want to spend all that mental energy on what’s really important–like living your life.

Apple has done far better with the iPhone, and now the iPad, than with the Macintosh. The Mac, and all windowing operating systems, took cues off of the Xerox Star operating system, resulting in the Oscar Madison of operating systems ruling the world for over 30 years. The iPhone OS and iPad OS take cues off of… well… as far as I can tell, it was Apple’s own innovations. Maybe there’s a story lurking where they saw something somewhere. But given Steve Job’s own personal style with is ultra-simple black turtleneck fashion and radically simplified Bauhaus product design, I detect the same philosophies finally sand-blasting the internals of the computer–both hardware and software. Gone are the tons of power-hungry extra silicon inside Intel chips, now replaced by the second coming of RISC chips. And all the windows have been smashed, now replaced by simple screens that forever scroll. And one simple home button. The resulting product is self-evident simplicity–an operation system “on rails”. Or if you will, the Felix Unger of operating systems–a all the world breaths a sigh of relief… oh yeah, except the haters.