Just hours before Steve Jobs gets up on stage to announce what is widely expected to be an Apple table (either called the iSlate or iPad, according to the rumour mill), I want to say a couple things about it.
First, I think we are about to witness what the future will recognize as the beginning of the end of the desktop metaphor paradigm. This shift looks to be as big as the shift from CLI (Command Line Interface) to GUI (Graphic User Interface) pioneered on microcomputers by Apple in the early 1980s. The office/desktop metaphor has been with us for 26 years, and it’s likely time for the next step. That might be something like the iPhone/iPod Touch interface though I expect it will be a bit more refined and a lot more extended than the current iPhone 3.0 interface.
Second, I think we are about to witness a massive change in the way we consume media. In the past, we’ve had books, newspapers, magazines, radio, LPs/tapes/CDs, television, cinema and the web as primary sources of media. More recently, there has been a convergence of these media types into a single media interface, namely the computer. Books have been available in digital format accessible by computer for more than a decade, newspapers and magazines have been publishing on the web for even longer. Radio is available on our computers, in both traditional radio formats (Last.fm, for example) and more recently as podcasts. Music has probably been the most visible example, with the iTunes Music Store, driven by the wild success of the iPod, completely changing the way people buy and consume music. The iTMS has also been making similar inroads with television and movies.
But the face remains that the computer, in it’s current form, is not an ideal media interface. With its keyboard, mouse and familiar desktop interface, it has been far better suited to creating media.
I think this is what Apple, and more specifically Steve Jobs, are aiming to change this, by changing the paradigm – the very way people use computers. Instead of sitting at a desk (or setting on our laps a computer), clicking on the things with a mouse or trackpad, and typing on a keyboard, people will be ‘touching’ their media on the screen, able to manipulate it ‘directly’ rather than through a metaphor for a real-world experience. Coupling the touch screen with other technologies that Apple has been exploring, such as voice recognition on the iPhone, people will be able to speak to their media in addition to touching it.
While I think the hype surrounding this tablet announcement is rather extreme, I think this is in part because even non-techie people are glimpsing the potential that this device represents. It’s not the device itself, it’s the way in which it will fundamentally change our interactions with technology that is exciting people. Even the voices on the Jazz radio station that I listen to in the mornings were talking about it, and this is a station that is not generally up to speed on the latest technology, let alone the rumours surrounding it.
So I raise a glass to Steve Jobs, who may well be doing the ‘most important thing’ he has ever done by changing (again) the way we interact with technology. And I raise a glass to the new paradigm, which, like all new things, will be disruptive to existing paradigms, but open up massive new opportunities for those who are able to see past the actual hardware to the human interactions underneath.