Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Mar 2020

Going To, Putting On

Is it really a relationship, or something different

Ruminating on the recently announced update for iPad devices (iPadOS 13.4), the conversation about “is this a computer“ is sparked again because of the addition of external pointer/mouse support. And really, this is something that only seems to happen in a very small, yet loud contingent of media and fans of Apple devices devices. But, it was notable enough to cause some reflection to a past writing, and later a statement which lingered a little bit longer than the 280 characters it was given:

Realized as I put on my computers this morning… iOS invites you to ask for richer controls (for your computers). It’s not tap and drag remixes; it’s slides, pulls, 3-finger, 2-hand, etc… iOS requires a different (lost) dexterity. Perhaps that’s why it’s felt like a toy for so many reviewers/press… forgotten muscles

What about computing, or more specifically, our relationship to computing, is based on it being some kind of “point of reference,” versus it being an augmentation? When looking at the contrasts between MacOS and iPadOS, one gets the sense that this argument is being played out in a very acute manner from Apple. The argument, computing is more than something that you go to, more than something that you tap indirectly… and it can and should be more. The other side of the argument, computing is about exploring the outer limits of one’s relationship to ideas in space. That the tool should only foster exploration, not limit it to the language of a few. It’s looking through this lens, you can almost hear Apple saying, “there’s more to interacting with the ideas that you have, help us help you explore.“

And therefore, when we are now considering this idea of remote work as a “near normal.“ When people who are used to go into an office, now have dedicated spaces in their home where their productivity happens. In the spaces, they “go to” the computer. And then once they have gone into that space, they then become “able to input value into the world.” However, when I look at iPadOS, tvOS, HomePod, and even the AirPods in other accessories, I’m starting to feel like Apple is saying less “go to the computer,” and more “ how do you want to extend the moment.”

Admittedly, this is a very tender and new idea. However, it does have some legs. At least from the personal experience of the person writing this; computing is more like manipulating a canvas with several fingers, voice, ears, and silicon in some kind of concert. It’s less “go to” and more “putting it on.” And as such, notifications aren’t the pirate of attention. They are managed like any other stimuli. Reading takes a backseat to sketching. There’s a different pull-push to computing from this perspective… and I’m not sure it’s about sitting under the gaze of what the shadow of “personal computer’ offers.

Is the better reality for personal computers that they amplify us more like clothing, rather than shape us like broadcasting? And if so, then perhaps the tablet was the more personal computer all along.