I have long believed that the personal computer, as exemplified by a machine running Windows or the Mac OS is the wrong solution for consumers. The PC is too hard to maintain and exposes too much of its internal working to the consumer. A user is forced to think about the memory hierarchy (disk versus memory) and the organization of the filesystem and its role in permanent storage. Extensible and complicated, the PC is an engineer’s tool.
You need only look to how consumers have taken to the iPhone and iPod touch to understand that a PC is overkill. Give me a good web browsing experience, a decent email client, access to email, calendar, contacts, games and a few utilities and I am basically done.
The rumors are that Apple will be introducing a tablet version of the iPod touch in the fall. This is the right solution for consumers. The touch tablet will probably have an optional bluetooth keyboard, which will be useful for composing longer messages. But what will distinguish the device is not only the touch interface, but also that the computer is an appliance, with no consumer access to the file system and a more limited degree of customization possible.
Microsoft seems to be missing that one half of what makes the iPhone and iPod touch special is not that they are touch driven, but that they run an entirely new operating system not designed for engineers. On a mobile device, touch makes the device more convenient to use for information retrieval, but the alternative on a mobile device is not a mouse, it’s a wheel or trackball.
On the counter-top or desk, a mouse might work fine, but Windows is still the wrong solution.
The Wall Street Journal article reported that MS is investing heavily in getting touch [subscription only] to work well in Windows 7. This is a huge mistake. What Microsoft should be doing, and hopefully is doing, is creating an entirely new operating system that is designed for consumers from the ground up to be easy to use. It should not expose the file system to the user. But MS is so heavily invested in the huge number of apps written for windows that it can’t consider creating an entirely new platform. This is a mistake. They need to leave the baggage behind.
I believe the touch tablet from Apple will herald the beginning of a new era in consumer computing. After that, consumers will migrate away from general purpose computers to computing appliances that provide the applications they need and want without providing the extensibility and associated complication that comes with the PCs we use today. These computing appliances will be primarily based on touch interaction. But more importantly, none will expose the file system, have little icons for the hard drive in the corner or have layered windows.
Personally, I can’t wait for that day. Phanfare already runs on the iPhone and iPod touch by way of our Phanfare Photon app, and by the time they come out with their touch tablet, Phanfare will be at feature parity with our other interfaces.