Our old friend Farhad Manjoo has an insightful piece on Slate explaining why he hopes Apple’s tablet will be like a toaster.
Farhad hopes the tablet will have an iPhone-like operating system (as we’ve mentioned here before) that offers a somewhat restricted, locked down computing experience like the iPhone. That is, he hopes Apple has removed all the complexity of using and maintaining a traditional personal computer.
“The most revolutionary thing about Apple’s phone wasn’t its sleek case or the multitouch gestures, but the artful way in which it hid nearly every bit of complexity behind a display of easy-to-understand icons. The iPhone contains no visible “directory structure.” Your music is not in a particular place on your phone; it’s just on your phone, and you get to it by launching the music player. Other than charging it, the iPhone requires no maintenance. Backups and OS upgrades occur automatically, and because all programs are approved by Apple (and because even third-party programmers aren’t given deep access to the phone), you never have to worry about malware. And look how easy it is to install a program: Choose one from the store, press “Install,” and type in your password to authorize the purchase—and that’s it. The iPhone doesn’t ask you where you want to put the new program, or how you’d like to launch it, and whether you’d like it to be the default program for doing a particular kind of task. It just puts up a little icon on the screen. To run the program, click the icon. To do something else, hit the home button.”
I think Farhad has put his finger on the most important feature of the tablet. It’s not designed for nerds, like traditional PCs (even the Mac) but for ordinary consumers who have no interest whatsoever in learning how to use a computer.
If you can get your noodle around it, it’s an astonishing thought. Steve Jobs is attempting to reinvent computing again, but to do it right this time.
The tablet will usher in a new era of consumer-level computing that will be utterly different to computing in the past. Instead of mice and keyboards, there’ll be a new generation of software designed for fingers and voice. It’ll be a lot easier to use (see all those videos of toddlers using iPhones), and a lot easier to maintain. Thanks to Apple’s controls over app installation, it’ll be largely free of the viruses, driver issues and tech-support headaches of traditional PCs. Of course, we’ll sacrifice some freedom to tinker for all this — but who cares? (Our own Leigh McMullen for one. See his “My Tablet Won’t be Running any Silly Phone OS.”)
No wonder Steve Jobs is so excited about the tablet. All the way back to the Apple II in the late 1970s, his earliest ambition was always to make computers accessible to mere mortals — to make the computers “for the rest of us.” It’s the realization of his earliest dreams.