The worst-hidden nerd secret since ‘you can fix glasses using sellotape’ is about to be revealed. Apple will announce an exciting iTablet/iSlate/iPad in just a couple of days, which we’re lead to believe will shake up the home computing world, shaping the way we read e-books, music and video in the future. An excellent piece in The Guardian here speculates why, amongst other things, Apple’s keyboard-less wonder will be more significant than their nearest competitor’s attempts. Some are wary, pointing out Apple’s not-unblemished track record. The Apple Cube, and to a lesser extent the Apple TV were not the huge successes that they were intended. But even the now ubiquitous iPod and iPhones had their critics on release.
When the first iPod was announced in 2002, some questioned whether it was too big to fit into your pocket. Exactly how large were Steve Job’s trousers for the match-box sized player to sit comfortably in them without it looking like he had an iRection? Others knocked it’s greedy storage capacity. ‘Style Bible’ The Face magazine’s then bleeding-edge barometer gave it a thumbs down, scoffing at the claim it would hold ‘all your favorite songs in your pocket’. “Who has 1000 favourite songs?” they jibed from behind their rimless glasses. They had a point though. Initially people judged the device on it’s size, and what it could do technically. But it was the fact that it was such a pleasure to use, because of it’s playful scroll-wheel, that was the enduring appeal that sealed its future success.
The iPhone too was not without it’s share of detractors. After a similar level of speculation to that we’re experiencing now, the device was revealed to an audience who had been compiling and blogging lengthy technical wish-lists for years. When Jobs pulled the ground breaking touch-screen device from out of his pocket, many were disappointed to find it had a relatively poor camera and no 3G capabilities. But the moment those same people got their hands on it, all the superficial complaints paled in comparison to how simple and enjoyable it was to use.
What both these devices did was provide an innovative new method of interaction, something that can’t very easily be predicted by the legions of less-innovatory nerd bloggers who fuel this speculation, and the style-mongers who assess it. While both i-products may be flawed in some aspects, the user interface glue that holds them together more than compensates for the average non-technically minded consumer. Apple products aren’t just the sum of their functional parts. They make the accessing of information a pleasure in itself, far exceeding the interaction flaws that blight their nearest competitors.
Much has been said about this by far more knowledgeable people than myself, that Apple create features of what others would consider a product’s hindrance. ‘With thousands of songs to navigate, won’t the user get bored?’ The best example is their very own shops. Apparently in shop design, the biggest challenge is getting people to go upstairs. It’s one thing to get people through your front door, but to get them to make that additional effort often requires hiding lots of enticing otherwise-unavailable items on the first floor. Apple solved this by making a feature of the stairs themselves. Floating translucent panels hang from thin wires making the experience of walking up the stairs feel more like entering the Tardis/Enterprise/Whatever that ship from ‘Flight of the Navigator’ was called.
Most of the predictions and chinese whispers currently floating around the internet at the moment are based on what Apple will do from what we currently know. Odd, seeing as one thing we know about their history is their continual inventiveness. I for one am hoping it will continue their trend of turning people’s expectations on their heads. I look forward to Wednesday’s blog posts brushing past the inevitable hard drive that’s too small and rubbish battery, and having something entirely new to be over-excited about. Unfortunately one place I can’t turn for an evaluation of Apple’s effort the next day is The Face magazine, which sadly folded in 2004.