Strap yourselves in kids, this one is a long-winded trip into my past.
My excitement by the release of Apple’s iPad can be easily be clasified by others as simple Apple Fanboism. The reason I push back so hard against this notion is it discounts my long love affair with touch interfaces and my standing hatred of the ‘computer’.
Don’t get me wrong, I love computers, I love my mastery of them… I just hate using a computer.
I love what they can do and what they allow me to create. I hate that a decent amount of background knowledge is required to get the most out of them. I do not roll gleefully in endless sheets of dot-matrix paper skillfully painted with masterpieces of coding. My passion is creating things with them, not things for them.
Despite using Macs from very early in my life at the advertsing agency at which my father worked, my first computer was an Atari ST 1040. I felt so cool having a computer. A computer which I bought with my own money gained from an appearance in a Toyota Lexcen commercial. The first computer we had in our house.
I was so pumped up. I was going to learn programming. I was going to be a computer hacker just like those ones I had read about… But 1 hour in… The fantasy faded away. I was playing games. I was typing letters to friends… I was waiting 10 minutes for the spreadsheet program to load.
This great fantasy I had crafted in my head about WHAT a computer was and what I wasnted to do with them was false. For me a computer was a tool for fun, creativity and communication. The most frustrating part of that expereince was the realisation that in order to do those things, and do them well, I still had to gain a solid level of knowledge about the inner workings of the beige box.
So, with my move to highschool. I got my first Windows PC and a modem. The world opened up for me. Again, the grandious thoughts of going hardcore filled my head. But, I was spending all my time chatting on IRC, playing games and surfing the emerging web.
Once again, I realized that I wasn’t a hardcore computer guy. The only issue was since I had confidence using the computer, I was fast becoming known as ‘the guy who was good with computers’. Anyone who has fixed a simple issue in Word or helped someone with a small task in Windows knows that the projection of confidence goes a long way in your status of ‘Guru’. This required me to level up my knowledge help others, again pulling me deeper than I truly wanted to go.
The biggest gripe about being ‘the computer guy’… viruses. It sucks. You can lobby as hard as you like to get enough money to put in place the best system possible but as soon as some downloads something or clicks on a link in an email etc… you have failed. It’s a lot easier to criticize the computer guy than try and yell at your employees for doing something you don’t truly understand yourself.
So as I moved from high school into University, and being a computer guy, I waded into a double major in Computer Science at Queensland University… and hated it. I could understand everything that was being taught, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I dropped out that year (not before switching to a double major in Philosophy and acing that for 6 months).
Next year I went to TAFE, kind of like practical university. I loved it. Hands on, the social interaction… but again, my heart slipped away.
So I went and got myself a 9 to 5 at a local fertiliser comapny, funnily enough, as their computer guy/graphic artist. It was the perfect job. I got to help people use computers, set up networks and do really practical stuff… without hardcore knowledge. This was also the first time when someone paid me money to use a computer to be creative.
Something I still do today.
So based on my non-hardcore use of the a computer, I just want something that does what I do.
Touch Me Baby
I love touch interfaces. When I use a keyboard or mouse, there is a mental disconnect. There is something very primal about touching something with your finger and it responding.
Anything touch screen I gotta try. The terminals at the malls for customer service. I use the self-service touch screens at my supermarket. Hell, Subway tends to give me gastro but I ordered it once JUST cause they installed new touch screen ordering terminals.
The Ahh-Ha! moment came for me when I found a funky looking phone on eBay from Germany.
The Siemens SX45.
To big to fit on my pocket (but I didn’t care). No microphone or speaker, just a tanglious headphone cord (I didn’t care)… It had a touch screen. While it did have a stylus, I was able to touch the screen and make things happen.
I bought it. $700. My life was complete. Yes it was a crappy Windows Mobile interface but it was tweaked just ever so to allow my big sausage fingers to whip through the menus. It had email, music player, Word, Excel, ‘web-browser’. Heaps of apps. I was like carrying around a brick but I loved it. I had direct control. Part of the reason I am so frickin’ ninja on the iPhone keyboard is I learnt to type on this about 6 years ago.
So I rocked that for a year or so until Rachael and I decided to get Motorola RAZRs. One of the best and worse phones ever (for me). I loved the usability, the camera and the games… but I couldn’t touch it. Phone navigation is hard at the best of times. Throw in sausage fingers and you’re screwed.
Then, one our 2 years were up, I bought my next phone. The LG KU990. It was the SX45 on steroids. It had a fat 5 megapixel camera and a touch interface based on buttons, not menus.
BAM! I had found sort of a computer that WASN’T a computer. It got out of the way and just let me rock the interface to get to where I wanted to go. It was rough but it was enough.
Now at this stage, the iPhone had just been released. For someone like me, Mr Jobs had just given me the next evolution of my dream device… But I didn’t get it year 1. It wasn’t until my fat ass broken the screen on my LG in a slide at a McDonald’s play ground that I got one.
It was the second Ahh-Ha. 95% of what I did on my PC and Mac was now in the palm of my hand and it wasn’t a computer. It had no File/Edit. It had no Maximize/Minimize… It was full screen environments running the task I was performing.
I’ll explain. The major thing I do on a computer is Adobe Lightroom for my photography. When I use it, I switch it to Full Screen mode and the Windows Start Bar or the Mac’s File Menu disappears. I simple use the application, not the OS.
I have used touch tablets before, all Windows devices. My most hardcore use was the set-up and maintenance of a DynaVox eyetracking computer with Windows 95. Despite all the bolted on features, at it’s heart it was the same tablet computer that Windows was selling off the shelf. I know this because when I unpacked it, I had to assemble it all and load the extra software on top of the pre-installed XP. It soon became clear to me that this was still a mouse and keyboard interface that you could touch. The Max/Min/Exit buttons were painfully small and trying to drag and select multiple files at once was almost impossible.
The attachment of a USB keyboard helped but eventually I had to submit and attach a mouse as well. Now, I am sure in future versions (Windows 7) that tweaks have been made but at it’s heart, and tablet OS maker must understand that a straight port without UI tweaks makes it difficult to use. Especially on anything under 13 inches.
I have the exact same criticism of the OSX interface. It is all still menu based and would be the same nightmare to use as Windows.
While my use may not be as hardcore as some, it is still valid and more closely aligned to the general population.
You win no badges for hardcoredness. It’s not what you got, it’s what you do with it.
So, now I have MY phone. The phone I have wanted for 6 years. The computer I have wanted for 20. It fits my work flow, my uses and I trust Apple based on years of solid service. Mr Jobs has stepped up again and said “Here is what you want, Johnny, but more powerful and a bigger screen”.
My answer? 1 please.