Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New Interfaces for Whom?

I just finished reading David Meyer’s analysis of the latest reorganization within Apple on ZDNet. His prediction at iOS and OS X will merge into a single operating system with a common user interface strikes me as a reasonably good educated guess. Furthermore, the promotion of Jony Ive from product design to the broader responsibility of human interfaces across all Apple products is a sign that this unification will be seen at the interface level, as well as the infrastructure. I would also agree with Meyer that these changes recognize a potential threat arising from Microsoft’s new commitment to touch-based products.

Still, I have to wonder just who will benefit from those changes that are potentially in the works. I have already written about the fact that those of us who still take “an analytic approach to both reading (as in long reports that often require multiple open windows to support fact-checking, testing, and related queries) and writing (as in responding to such reports with a comprehensive analysis)” are likely to be the losers in this mobile-based world of the future that has seized the attention of both Apple and Microsoft. I would also suggest that, beyond the basic acts of reading and writing, there are also basic issues of content management (once called file management), that have always been fundamental to any operating system. Whether the content is on your own device or off in some cloud, you still have to worry about both saving it and retrieving it; and interfaces should be designed to make those worries less bothersome. Finally, there is an even more fundamental issue of operating system design, which is the idea of managing multiple active processes for those “multiple open windows.” If I am trying to read anything of substance from a computer screen, I am likely to be writing at the same time. That is why I am such an advocate of the support for note-taking provided by Acrobat; but the notes I write usually require that I am running a Web browser (and probably also a tool for searching documents on my hard drive) at the same time. The notes I take may involve both pasting content from other sources or inserting useful hyperlinks. Such multitasking is not currently supported by iOS, nor would I want to do that kind of reading on a telephone. However, the corollary is that I cannot do it on an iPad either.

My fear is that we face a highly consumer-based approach to the next generation of technologies. This obviously plays well for the marketing folks, who can then dream up any number of scenarios of happy consumers for television commercials. However, it pushes those of us who have to do something other than consume, not only those of us who desperately cling to writing as a legitimate form of work but also all of those trying to run businesses confronted with day-to-day decision-making challenges that require hard-and-fast analytic thinking, into a distant background. It will be E. M. Forster’s world in which the machine satisfies all consumption needs but in which no one knows how the keep the machine running effectively; and it seems as if it is no longer in the interests of either Apple or Microsoft to consider the implications of such a future.

No comments: