Saturday, January 15, 2011


We're now used to living in a world where the iPhone and its larger cousin, the iPad, have spawned a thousand imitators.  It's hard to think back to a time when a smartphone meant having a keyboard, web browser, and graphical texting.  In retrospect, it seems obvious that the way people want to use mobile devices is with little purpose-built apps they can mix and match in any combination they please, customizing their handheld computers for the tasks they want to perform.

But the success of the iPad should remind us just how big a gamble and how bold a piece of imagination our taken-for-granted world once was.  Creating the iOS took an early decision to be user-focused rather than hacker/hobbyist-focused.  Putting the file system and the guts of the operating system of out reach, and allowing access only through a controlled system of miniature programs predictably angered do-it-yourselfers.  When the iPad came out, a lot of frustration was vented about Apple's decision to make it an iPhone writ large rather than a computer writ small.

Making that move required futurist thinking that broke free of the computer operating system models that dominated our experiences five years ago.  Starting from scratch and thinking about how we could interact with a mobile device -- how we could buy, install, update, and use software -- and what we really cared about in our computing interactions (hint: it's not folder hierarchies or knowing where things are stored) -- led to an unbelievably risky proposal that now feels simply inevitable.

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