When I began using Apple® Macintosh computers, I was the only guy at a tiny Alabama newspaper who was not afraid to learn how to make the little box with the rainbow logo do what we wanted it to do – namely print to the monster imagesetter made by VariTyper.
What I found was so gloriously understandable that it surpassed simplicity. This little Mac had real-world, human-understandable names for the System files and the files in its system folder. Not only that, but (in that pre-Internet world), the error messages made sense and pointed out what needed or didn’t need to happen.
These are things that still don’t exist in Windows, Linux, and have mostly gone away Mac OS X. Now, in Mac OS X, this is understandable. In Mac System 7 and Mac OS 8, the TOTAL number of files on the hard drive of a new Mac was only a few thousand. It was possible in those operating systems to actually SEE every visible file on the computer in a couple of hours of looking – so a lost file could be found by HAND if necessary. Compare Mac OS X, any version. The basic install of version 10.0 has a quarter-million files – more than a million if you actually count the files hidden from the user as invisible unix files, application bundles, etc. There is NO WAY to look through that number of files by hand in a reasonable time.
Why does that matter?
Complexity breeds resentment – Or “I can’t find a thing on my computer!”
Yes, you finally mastered your TV/DVR remote, even though you only use 10 of the 50 buttons 95 percent of the time. What you do with the other buttons is figure out how to NOT press them when using the remote.
Yes, you make your mobile phone or BlackBerry sing and dance. But you don’t use most of what it can do, do you? You use a core set of capabilities almost all the time and rarely use the other features, if at all.
Now, your home or office computer is the same way. It can do literally millions of different things. It can edit video, edit audio, edit photos, publish all those, create books, drawings, process numbers, words, presentations, present movies, tv shows, the Internet, email, play games, let you play games, enable you to write other programs that do things. Of the universe of things your computer can do, maybe you use 5-10 percent.
Please note that I am not talking about the intensity of how you use your computer. You can put all of your computer’s resources to near-maximum use just doing a small number of things (think high-end gaming or editing video or animation). I am talking about the POSSIBLE number of things your computer can do.
That said, the lions’ share of nontechnical computer use is likely confined to just a few items: interpersonal communications (email, IM), Internet browsing (reading, shopping, social networking), basic home/home-office tasks (letters, resumes, budgeting, taxes), and family/personal tasks (pictures, home movies, music).
Enter the Canvas
By any standard, a modern Windows-based or Mac OS X-based computer, far exceeds the needs of most non-technical users. Even low-end machines can handle the tasks of the previous paragraph if properly equipped (enough RAM, hard drive space). Any computer that seems slow doing these basic tasks is either lacking in these basic specs or in need of some maintenance or tuning. I’m not saying a low-end PC will blow the doors off a quad-Xeon with 32GB of RAM running OS X 10.6.x. I am saying that saving the family photos will not take 3 days and require 525 floppy disks (ahem). (oh, and What about gaming? – more later).
I believe that Apple’s new Canvas will replace the basic home computer for most home users. It will do this because it will be specialized to do the things these users want and need exceptionally well, while NOT doing some of the other things a regular computer can do. Wait. That needs to be a bit more subtle. The Canvas will do the things a typical home user wants to do most exceptionally well. It will not prevent these users from doing other things, it will simply not be created to do those things as well as it does its core tasks.
This doesn’t mean it will be cheaper or even cheap. It does mean that it will blow you away doing the things these users want most. How? I don’t know. Rumor is that it is a touch-screen tablet, perhaps with an on-screen keyboard that actually gives touch feedback via certain patented riser technology, enabling touch typing. It is supposed to be thin, light, a tablet. There might be accessories (Apple or 3rd party), and there will definitely be apps from the App store. The interface has supposedly been re-designed for touch-screen use – no external mouse or keyboard, and includes multitouch technology (where you can use multiple fingers at the same time to manipulate the desktop, apps). The OS is likely to be similar to the iPhone OS, with no discernible disk structure or only limited access to the underpinnings of the storage media (a place to keep things, but you can’t go dancing around in the System files, etc).
A large number of people get lost in the filesystem of their home PC. They save files in folders that they can’t ever find again and resort to using the OS search function to get to their data – over and over. Or they save everything to the Desktop in a pile of files. This makes sense to them – they can “get” looking through a stack of stuff on a desktop. They can’t easily make the translation to a file system hierarchy – especially one imposed on them by the OS (Do you “get” c://Documents and Settings/Users/Administrator/Desktop/MyDesktopFiles/oh, here’s my letter! versus double-click on the item on the desktop?)
iPhone and iPod Touch users don’t get lost in a filesystem. If they save anything, it is saved under the App itself’s own management or remotely on the web. The user generally doesn’t have to go looking for the file unless it is stored on a remote filesystem as complex as a regular computer’s. This is convenient for power users and novices alike. Need access to complex filesystems – ok. Don’t need it? That’s fine too.
The Canvas will not be a workstation in the traditional sense. Don’t think about doing 3D design work or complex spreadsheets with entire interfaces built into them. Oh, the software and hardware can handle the demands, but the INTERFACE is designed to make NORMAL users happy, not power users. At least that is my opinion.
The Canvas is not designed to be the latest toy of the technorati (though it might be marketed to them as well). It is designed to make it even easier for computer novices to enter the digital world. Intuition, simplicity, ease-of-use for normal people. Almost no one NEEDS a 5-button mouse. or even a 2-button one. Those are kludges (workable and useful kludges) for a more intuitive way of working with your computer.
The Canvas may well revolutionize the digital world to the same degree as the graphical user interface.
Of course, I don’t know anything about this device beyond what I want it to be.