Saturday, February 06, 2010

A Future Where Usability is the Prime Virtue

(iPad image © Apple)
After months of speculation, rumour-mongering, and hype, the iPad was announced last week. A lot has been written elsewhere about it, much of it utterly wrongheaded, so I won't rehash any of that. However, some folks do seem to grok what the iPad is about — click on the links at the end of this post if you're curious to read what they say. In the meantime, imagine a near-future where computers are different — much more accessible and useful to non-geeks. First, a brief tour of where we came from, and how little progress we've made as computer
victims
users, really — until now.


Jan 2003, self-explanatory:
From: Bill Gates
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 10:05 AM
To: Jim Allchin
Subject: Windows Usability Systematic degradation flame

I am quite disappointed at how
Windows Usability has been going backwards and the program management groups don't drive usability issues
Jan 2004 - Allchin (who led the Vista team) wrote:
From: Jim Allchin
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2004 8:38 AM
To: Bill Gates; Steve Ballmer
Subject: losing our way...

I am not sure how the company lost sight of what matters to our customers (both business and home) the most, but in my view we lost our way. I think our teams lost sight of what bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean, what security means, what performance means, how important current applications are, and really understanding what the most important problems [our] customers face are. I see lots of random features and some great vision, but that doesn't translate onto great products.

I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft...my point is about the philosophy that Apple uses. They think scenario. They think simple.

FAST FORWARD SIX YEARS


Feb 2, 2010 - developer David Alison looks back on his switch in 2008:
In relatively short order I went from having a MacBook to purchasing a Mac Pro, which replaced my primary Windows desktop. Whereas the MacBook was quick, the Mac Pro was-and still is-remarkably fast. With dual 2.8Ghz quad core Xeons and 12GB of RAM, I was suddenly able to run a huge number of applications seamlessly.

The bottom line is I'm really happy I decided to "try out" that MacBook two years ago.
Computing-as a software developer the place I spent a huge number of my waking hours-became fun and exciting again.
Former MS Business Development Director Don Dodge tries out Apple stuff:
The most obvious distinction between Microsoft and Apple is design. Apple is quite simply the best hardware / software design company in the world...You see the design ethic in everything Apple does. The Mac, iPod, iTouch, iPhone and iPad are just beautiful, elegant, and imaginative designs that provide a delightful user experience.
Feb 4, 2010 - Former MS VP **** Brass recounts Microsoft's self-inflicted woes:
When we were building the tablet PC in 2001, the vice president in charge of Office at the time decided he didn't like the concept. The tablet required a stylus, and he much preferred keyboards to pens and thought our efforts doomed. To guarantee they were, he refused to modify the popular Office applications to work properly with the tablet. So if you wanted to enter a number into a spreadsheet or correct a word in an e-mail message, you had to write it in a special pop-up box, which then transferred the information to Office. Annoying, clumsy and slow.
Which, when you think about it, describes most Microsoft products.

Contrast this with
what's coming soon for the iPad:
People should have confidence that their work is always preserved unless they explicitly cancel or delete it. If your application helps people create and edit documents, make sure they do not have to take an explicit save action.


Additional reading
Joe Hewitt: iPad
Fraser Speirs: Future Shock
Lucien Dupont: My Dad and the iPad
Mike Monteiro: The Failure of Empathy
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