As people wait in line to worship at the Altar of Apple, I figured you might want a break from the rumors. However, a post I planned to write months ago decided to take a more concrete shape due to the fanboi frothing. Apple is successful with much of its new technology. Not just a little successful, but hugely successful. They put the Macs back on the map by catering to their digital media users. By doing this, it seems like Apple had seen the light and realized their true path, make complex tasks simpler.
In that post months ago, Process Rarely Fixes The Problem, I made a mistake. I took the post in a completely different direction than I originally planned. I had focused on the process aspects and risk management. The original post I was thinking of writing was summarized in this one line:
There is another approach which has wider reaching affects, and that is simplifying the tools.
In many cases in software development, when complexity rises, people put processes in place to manage the risk. This is treating the symptom not the problem. What Apple did was look at digital media gadgets and realize that they mostly suck. There were portable CD players and some played MP3s. However, there are significant technical hurdles to providing a good listening experience. With CDs, you had the possible skipping problems, and the fact that they are a bit bulky to go running or exercising with. So, companies tried treating the symptoms, like adding enough buffering to avoid skips, creating hip clips for runners and other weird solutions to the inherent problem. CDs are portable, but not ultra-portable, which is needed for things like running.
How do we simplify this type of complexity? Apple simplified the problem itself, by putting flash storage directly into the device. Then they simplified the tools, and put some sexy in as well. If you look at the UI of the iPod, it makes browsing all of your digital media (music, pictures and videos) fairly simple. This eliminates the physical constraints of CDs but keeps the portability.
Apple is doing the same thing with the mobile web. People have been trying to throw a web browser onto phones for years, and those browsers typically sucked. In addition to communication speeds graduating to 3G technologies, the mobile web became a possibility. True, Apple created yet another phone with a browser thrown in, but they did it differently. With the iPhone, Apple launched the App Store and their SDK. This is the same path that Microsoft took in their path to Windows dominance, release an SDK and developers will likely flock to it. So, instead of launching a phone, Apple made the iPhone a portable computing experience. You may be asking how this makes “complex easier”. If you had used one of the previous mobile browsers, you know that the interface was atrocious and the controls were barely better. So, Apple first gives you a browser that doesn’t totally suck, but they also give you a desktop application experience. They made the complex task of mobile web applications easier by allowing development just like a desktop PC.
What does this mean for the iPad (or iSlate or iTablet or whatever) ? Well, they need to make something complex simpler. This is not some iPod/iPhone enlarged device, though there will be some basic similarities I am sure. I also do not think this is the savior of “old media”. The most likely included features are an eReader, iTunes integration and App Store integration. Without these ideas, the iPad will be starting with a tremendous handicap, and not including iTunes/App Store integration would be ridiculously stupid and Steve Jobs has never shown himself to be ridiculously stupid. I believe that this new device will be Apple’s latest foray into the living room, complete with all of the lessons learned from the Apple TV. The real question remains, what complex thing could they simplify?