Something new…

Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Essay, iPhone/iPad | 6 comments

Something new…

(Hey, if I didn’t plan on bookending the “Something Old” posting, I would’ve used another title). Amongst Apple-fanboys (fanboyz?) Friday the 21st will forever be known as iPhone 5 day. Or the day-that-gave-us-an-extra-half-inch-of-screen-real-estate. Oh happy thoughts.

It was fun to read all of the reviewers making use of one of the most overused tech phrases of the past few years (sorry TheVerge), which has got to be such&such is “evolutionary not  revolutionary.” Now, this is usually spoken usually with a dollop of sarcasm and a just a pinch of disappointment. And so it was with the iPhone 5 (may its name be praised). Even though we knew all about it with nearly complete units popping up days and weeks ahead of time the media still seemed a little underwhelmed with what Tim Cook pulled out of his pocket on the 12th. I wasn’t. While it may not have looked like it was handed down from on high with golden trumpets blaring, it was still a very nice piece of equipment. And better in nearly every way then my trusty “old school” iPhone 4.

I’m not sure what the various pundits were expecting. A phone plus built-in shoe shining kit? Perhaps a phone in the shape of a 5-dimensional hypercube? Something that would convert an iPhone into the promise of x-ray specs advertised to a legion of 5th grade boys in the 60s on the back of comic books?

I think the ‘5 is just really cool the way it is and was not disappointed except for the fact I’d like to see them offered on something other than black or white. There’s time for the x-ray spec app after all. But before then what will the reviewers expect? Hard to say. I am sure that Apple does have a lab with all sorts of wonderful devices in prototype stage. We may still see one with a tactile display that would be useable by the blind, or a virtual keyboard that would be projected onto a flat surface. Or amazing software just a little ahead of its time….oops…Siri? AppleMaps? (Eh, maybe not the best idea on the latter).

One of the pitfalls of being the leader in any design is that the leader invariably gets stuck with a suboptimal design language. For example, in the case of the iPhone what started out as a simple flat launchpad for all apps, scales very poorly. The result is that we’ll be stuck with what now would be considered a fairly uninspired design for a long time due to its tight integration into the system. Other interface elements such the dull gray color scheme, hokey looking on/off switches that all looked “ba” (bitch’n awesome) at first, are so much a part of the existing design it will be a much harder task to change when change is called for. Other companies starting with the benefit of lessons learned from Apple’s effort, could see what worked and what failed and tailor their UI experience before Apple could redesign theirs (except Samsung of course), considering how fussy they are.  The original Mac Finder looked downright primeval next to Windows 3, which looked crude compared to OpenLook which was awfully simple compared to SGI’s NEWS interface, which was blown away by BeOS…and so on.

So, back to the main points, if ever there was one….is evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary a bad thing? Not necessarily. Not at all. IMacs are good machines and have hardly changed over the years. MacBook Pros are fundamentally the same as they were years ago. Even the MB Airs and Retina laptops don’t quite hit the “revolutionary” spot but are welcome improvements over their siblings and ancestors. All that points to the fact that Apple generally gets it right the first time, mostly, but have no aversion to refining things later on. So take a MB Air and compare it to a PowerBook, a $250 iPod Touch, to the Newton, the little square iPod Nano to the first bulky iPod. Hokey looking on/off switches and dull gray gradients aren’t that bad when looking back at a Palm One, or Magic Cap device.

There is where you can see the “revolution.”

 After all, isn’t revolution is merely evolution, but in slow motion?