Stop the Noiz

Who Is Setting the Rules for the Post PC Era?

Frank Fox - 2011.03.09 - Tip Jar

I, Cringely has an article with a stupid title: Fear of Flying - Why the iPad 2 Isn't Even Better.

The straw man argument he sets up: If Steve Jobs wants to claim that post-PC equipment is supposed to be more intuitive, the iPad 2 should have better cut and paste.

This is an overblown statement for several reasons.

  • He offers no proof that easy copy/paste is a post-PC requirement. It's just as likely to be a lingering function of the older PC model.
  • The word "intuitive" itself is misleading. What I think is intuitive may not match his definition.
  • The reasons to limit copy/paste may not be technical; they could be wrapped up in the legal detail called copyright.

Lack of competitive pressure for this feature indicates either that Apple's choice is correct or that the solution is just as hard for the competition to solve.

The Requirements Have Changed

To view a web page, open an app, or play a game should not require that I copy and paste. That's why this is a post-PC market, not a PC market: The requirements have changed. If you still want to write a book or a report for school or work, you're better off with a desktop or laptop computer with a real keyboard and pointing device and word processing program. It may be possible to write using an iPad, but it is not going to be the easiest way.

The iPad is focused as a content consumption tool, not a content creation tool. The reason we are willing to sacrifice a keyboard and mouse is because we aren't doing all of our regular PC activities. The need for copy/paste is low for the implementation for content consumption.

What Cringely needs to get his head around is what exactly is important to the post-PC users? Battery life, a wide variety of copy-protected content (movies, TV shows, books, magazines, music, etc.), connectivity, apps, etc. are the life blood of the device.

Intuitive Is a Euphemism

Steve Job's statement that something is "more intuitive" is a euphemism.* Birds flying south for the winter is an intuitive behavior for birds. People, on the other hand, rely on learning and experience to develop habits that we then treat as intuitive. For me, it is "intuitive" that I either use control-C for copy or I highlight and then right click my mouse to select the text I want to copy. Truthfully, that is not intuitive; it was learned from years of use.

Maybe over time the changes in user behavior will become more adapted to this new product, and new "intuitive" behaviors will be made possible that will extend to the roles of copying and pasting, but it is likely that these "intuitive" steps will not match how it is done on a PC.

The learning curve for new multitouch controls has to be steep, and throwing in tons of new controls to an unprepared population isn't a recipe for success. Remember, intuitive is a euphemism. The public will have to be trained on the new behaviors before they feel intuitive.

Apple and Steve Jobs clearly see the multitouch interaction as a work in progress. It takes time to train people on the use of a device. PCs have been around for decades, and many people still don't understand them. There are people today who don't know keyboard shortcuts or how to use more than one mouse button to get things done faster.

At the same time, Apple and all tablet vendors will have to keep agreements with content providers that may limit what can be copied and how. Who will buy the "intuitive copy/paste tablet" if you cannot watch movies, read books, etc. because publishers and studios don't want their content pirated?

The user who wants better copy/paste is not more important than the user who wants her favorite movies.

What Apple really wants is for iPad users to interact with the device without improperly copying and pasting from multiple sources, since some of those sources may have copyright protection. One possible solution could be to limit the easy and flexibility of copy and paste.

Fear Mongering

Cringely's final criticism - that Apple is holding out on features today so it can add them later to promote its next model - is simple fear mongering. "Don't buy an iPad now, because the next one will have better features."

Duh!

I accept that Apple controls what features it will implement (see Inconsistent Apple) on a new device, and Apple does it both to maximize profits and to push its technology agenda.

In this case, I don't see any proof to supports his straw man argument against Apple. I think that if we accept that other tablet makers can add these desired features ahead of Apple, then either Apple doesn't view them as important or Apple is truly not ready to introduce them.

If this is not an important feature, then delaying cut/paste in order to implement more competitive features was a smart choice. Apple has only so much time and money. Every feature has a real cost to implement and test. Therefore the straw man is false, and Apple's current copy/paste proves how unimportant this feature is. Apple can ignore finding a solution, because it doesn't pose a competitive risk.

Living in the Post PC Era

If Apple is not ready, then something is making the task more difficult than all the other problems Apple has solved with iPad user controls. That is also in Apple's favor, because any other company will have the same difficulties to overcome. Apple is still doing a better job than people with their mind stuck in the older PC model.

Only a competitor with its mind wrapped around the post-PC model will be able to best Apple at this task.

Jobs is still right, and Cringely is an overblown windbag with no perspective of the situation. I find it disingenuous that he had to create a straw man to attack Apple's way of doing things.

If I were going to attack Jobs' statement, I would ask just how many people in product development have liberal arts or humanity degrees. I'm not talking about the people who work in marketing or retail departments, but people who are developing these post-PC products.

If this is significant, maybe I'll get a degree in French poetry and apply for a job at Apple - but that sounds less likely to than getting copy/paste working. LEM

* What Apple really does is try to make things idiot-proof. However, it would be a poor choice of words for the CEO of a company to call its customers idiots.

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