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posted by [personal profile] auntysarah at 03:10am on 28/01/2010
Yes, it sounds like the name of a feminine hygiene product.

However, I'm slightly baffled to see the hordes of people lining up to express their view that Apple have launched a dud this time, that they've dropped the ball. "It's just a big iPod Touch/iPhone without the phone, what's the point of that? It doesn't multitask and you can't use Flash on it!" goes the cry.

And then I realised - the announcement is only a few hours old, and the vast majority of the people who even know this thing exists yet are computer geeks.

I think they've missed the point - I think this thing will utterly change what we understand by personal computers over the next five years, and I'm going to explain why I think so.

I'd like to introduce my mother. In terms of sheer weight of numbers, my mother is representative of the typical computer user. She has a computer which she uses to keep in touch with people, store her photos, and email pictures of her granddaughter to her friends.

As far as I can tell, she uses just two applications - the web browser and the photo app. She doesn't even use the mail client - it doesn't work like her web mail and would probably confuse the hell out of her.

From her point of view, all the stuff that comes with the computer - the dekstop, the various other applications which are installed, even the windowing system itself are pointless things put there to get in the way. If it weren't for the photos, I think she'd regard the web browser as being the same thing as the "operating system".

Now a full desktop operating system is a really cumbersome way to launch a web browser and photo app, and switch between them. Indeed, it's quite dreadfully suited to the task. She would most likely just feel better if she could click on the web, and it was there, and click on the photos, and they were there, and not have all the other stuff cluttering it up.

Think about that for a moment - the vast complexity of a general purpose operating system with full windowing environment and icon driven filer, and vast numbers of people like my mother use it to start a web browser, and basically nothing else. With the increasing prevalence of things like Google Docs, and ever more capable web apps, I don't see this trend doing anything other than increasing in future. The computer interface as it exists today is dreadful at meeting the needs of users like that.

There's another factor - increasingly the devices that lots and lots of people spend the most time accessing the internet on are their phones, at least if they're smart phone users. Previously the idea that someone like my mother would be a smart phone user would have been ludicrous, but I think the iPhone, and everyone else's attempt to copy it, has completely changed that. These things are mainstream now, and for lots of people they represent the way they're most familiar with for getting to twitter, facebook, their email, and so-on.

Increasingly people who used to carry their laptops everywhere with them are just carrying their smartphones instead. I see this a lot on trains - a few years ago the Cambridge<->London trains were heaving with laptops. Now everyone sits down and gets an iPhone out instead, and starts browsing the web. The number of laptops seems drastically down.

And now there's a little photo frame thingy that does "the internet" without all that superfluous nonsense of a windowing system that just seems to be there to make launching the web browser more error-prone, and the general purpose operating system, which seems to be there to accumulate viruses and malware.

And it works like their phone. Indeed, it runs exactly the same apps.

Granted, you need a computer to use it at all, because it has to sync with iTunes, but even revolutions don't change everything all at once. Eventually people who buy these are going to work out that they're only using their "main" computer to sync their iPad occasionally, and all that's really doing is backing up the stuff they buy on it.

So yes, it doesn't multitask (or rather, it doesn't allow background processing of apps, and it'll probably do that when iPhone OS 4 is released), and it doesn't do Flash, and it doesn't allow you to install software that's not come through the app store, and most of the millions of people who buy one over the next few years don't care.

Hell, I *am* a computer geek, and I'm totally getting one.
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