Edinburgh-based Charlie Stross has an interesting and, to my way of thinking, compelling theory about Apple's strategy for the future of personal computing in a post somewhat misleadingly titled, The real reason why Steve Jobs hates Flash. Jobs recently posted an open letter called Thoughts on Flash that inspired this theory. His notion, unfairly abridged, is that in a world where desktop computers are becoming commoditized and where wireless broadband is disrupting the wired variety, the momentum belongs to mobile wireless devices that operate in the cloud. The business end of this for Apple is controlling apps and other content that these mobile devices require.
As I was reading it, I was reflecting on how my own computing is changing. Yes, I still prefer a keyboard for composition, but the three biggest improvements in my use of information in the past year have been Evernote, Pandora, Dropbox and a Mobiata iPhone/Android app called FlightTrack Pro. All these apps store my information somewhere in the cloud (don't care where). The first three operate on all or most of the (too many) platforms for which I have devices. If I want to call up meeting notes or a web write-up, I use Evernote from one of my computers, my BlackBerry (w0rk) or my iPhone (personal). If I want to listen to music, I use Pandora, again from a variety of devices, including my TV via Roku (can't remember the last time I used my iPod or listened to music on my iPhone). If I need to pass files among these many devices, Dropbox does a great job (too bad I can't pass files to an editing or spreadsheet app on the iPad). FlightTrack is probably self-explanatory, but it's great for tracking my own travel and that of relatives.
I just finished a two week loan of an iPad and told the next recipient that I probably wouldn't be buying it, in part, because I need to create and move work files better than the iPad can handle, but if Stross is correct, that's likely to be only temporary. Evernote already has a brilliant app on the iPad -- nearly enough to make me want to get the machine. So, Macs and PCs, may be that you're just not that special any more.
I'm midway through a two-week loan of an iPad. While I'm not likely to buy one based on that week of use, it is a beautiful machine. I've downloaded a page full of apps designed for the iPad, and therein came a surprise. I use the iPhone daily and have a serious app jones there. I assumed that the iPad apps would be just bigger screened versions of the iPhone apps, but in most cases they really are a new experience. The Apple multitouch gestures, which are so essential to the iPhone screen, are very often unnecessary on the iPad, particularly those needed to expand certain portions of the screen for visibility.
The takeaway from this realization is that you wouldn't really need an iPad to take advantage of the great design paradigm of the iPad apps (check out, for example, the NPR iPad app which is much nicer than the iPhone app, and the Evernote app, which is not only nicer to look at but much easier to use than the Evernote apps I use on Windows, Windows Mobile, Mac and iPhone platforms.
So, I'll bet that we see this great application interaction/industrial design spread from the iPad to the desktop. Who says that all desktop apps have to follow the standard File|Edit|View, etc. menus found on Windows and Mac desktop apps today? There's not much in an iPad app that needs to change for the desktop.
It's nice to see that CPB is still investing in PBCore, the public media metadata standard. Today, it announced a 2.0 development project. The press release:
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting today announced the launch of the PBCore 2.0 Development Project. ¶ The PBCore 2.0 Development Project will expand the existing PBCore metadata standard to increase the ability, on one hand, of content producers and distributors using digital media to classify and describe public media content (audio and video) and, on the other, of audiences to find public media content on a variety of digital media and mobile platforms. ¶ The PBCore 2.0 Development Project will also work to enhance the PBCore standard to ensure that it will be able to satisfy the demands of multiplatform digital content as well as an evolving World Wide Web. Since PBCore’s development in 2005, it has become not only one of the most widely-used metadata standards in the world, but also the basis of other metadata standards. At the same time, in the last five years, the number of digital media applications that would benefit from PBCore has grown significantly. An updated PBCore will benefit not only public broadcasters, but all users of metadata standards based on PBCore. ¶ PBCore 2.0 will be managed by WGBH, AudioVisual Preservation Solutions and Digital Dawn. For more information on the PBCore 2.0 Development Project, please go to www.pbcore.org.
This a somewhat abridged version of a post that I made to NPR’s internal information services blog.
I took my first programming course in Fortran 40 years ago -- an era of big-iron, big-control computing. We used keypunch machines to program, typing one line of code no more than 80 characters long per Hollerith card. Our deck of cards was then sandwiched between some more cards that told the computer how to interpret them. We walked the resulting deck to a plexiglass cashier's window, and handed it through the security slot to a university IT employee. Some time overnight it was run on a circa-1964 IBM 360 "big iron" mainframe computer and we could (usually) come back the next day to see whether the code worked or bombed. Needless to say, the development cycle was very slow.
Yes, this was a long time ago, but the controlling environment which seemed necessary when you had one computer per university led to a culture of control that still echoes through information technology organizations.
Before I was out of college, my university bought a discontinued IBM 1620, which was an even older technology, but we could actually run our own programs (still with decks of cards) on it. It was slower than Christmas, but faster than the overnight runs. In 1978, I was able to buy my own computer (a Radio Shack TRS-80). I could actually type code right into the computer and save it on a standard outboard cassette player.
I'll spare you the history of computers I've used since 1978, but today most of us have multiple devices in our offices, homes, cars, and hands that serve as a sort of "third hemisphere" for our brains. People's needs these days are highly individualized.
Thankfully, that plexiglass cashier's window is long gone. Some aspects of standardization and control are good, especially in an organization that needs to protect sources and maintain journalistic confidentiality. But we also need to make it possible for people to be productive using a much wider variety of tools than ever before.
If you're past 30, you'll remember when all the cool kids had a Palm V PDA (mine even had a clamp-on device from Omnisky that gave me email), circa 2000. At meetings, we all put them on top of the table so everyone knew we were one of the cool kids.
The category of most interest these days is smartphones. Today's craze is the iPhone (I have a personal account) and Google's new OS is hot on its heels. The iPhone is a great iPod touch built into a phone that uses a network with well-known limitations (they argue that any network bearing the iPhone’s traffic would be burdened), but people are willing to put up with the latter in order to get geographically liberated access to the former and its amazing app store. It is, of course, hugely advanced beyond the Palm V and the next decade will bring products that make the iPhone look similarly primitive.
Does that mean we should hold back support of today's productivity advances and wait for what is surely coming next? No. We know that the BlackBerry fits our enterprise requirements for security and reliability well and operates on an excellent mobile network. We are able to support it fully. But NPR’s Information Services unit is also looking at ways to support iPhones and other devices that work with Microsoft ActiveSync. Our increasing emphasis on expanding control to the user will go beyond smartphones, but this is a good place to start.