Steve Jobs and Constraints

Nice article by Matt Gemmell regarding constraints in today’s technology products. As I read it I was reminded of Steve Jobs’ similar philosophy as he described it at the AllThingsDigital D8 conference.

For example, after discussing Flash, Jobs was asked what Apple’s “ultimate goal” is in not using it for the iPhone/iPad.

Jobs: You see our goal’s really easy. We didn’t start off to have a war with Flash or anything else, we just made a technical decision that we weren’t gonna put the energy into getting Flash on our platform… and that was it.

“We just made a technical decision.” A simple statement, but when Gemmell describes the plethora of ports, switches, jacks and other “choices that weren’t made by the designers”, it’s clear those designers should’ve made technical decisions, too.

Later, Jobs was asked what would happen if customers insisted on Flash and thought the iPad was “crippled” in this respect.

Jobs: Well I’d say two things. Number one, things are packages of emphasis. Some things are emphasized in a product, some things are not done as well in a product, some things are chosen not to be done at all in a product. And so different people make different choices…

“Packages of emphasis.” Another simple statement, and when Gemmell discusses various factors — “Performance and power consumption. Size and weight. Noise and heat. Beauty, durability, and portability” and others — he’s listing opposing points of emphasis. Many designers try to cram them all in one box, Apple chooses an emphasis then designs a package for it.

Jobs continues: We’re trying to make great products for people, and so we have at least the courage of our convictions to say we don’t think this is part of what makes a great product, we’re gonna leave it out… we’re gonna take the heat because we want to make the best product in the world for customers. And we’re gonna instead focus our energy on these technologies which we think are… gonna be the right technologies for customers and—you know what?—they’re paying us to make those choices. That’s what a lot of customers pay us to do, is to try to make the best products we can…

“They’re paying us to make those choices.” This is perhaps my favorite statement. When other firms toss every feature into a product and call it choice, what they’re really saying is “here, you figure it out.” But Jobs believed customers expected Apple to make the choices required to build the best product Apple can in a given category. As Gemmell puts it, not doing so results in compromises that “illustrate not only a damaged assessment of the choice that was made, but also a failure to grasp the product’s vision and intended usage scenarios.”

I think Jobs would agree.

The Real Story About Apple’s Taxes

And if there is a scandal, I suppose it is the very ordinariness of these transactions. Apple’s tax avoidance shop, it seems, is a lot less innovative than its phone designers.

Tax Policy Center

Exactly. There’s no indication Apple’s doing anything other than reducing their tax liability just like any corporation (or individual) would: using the laws currently available.

My Thoughts On the iPad in 2010

For the iPad’s three year anniversary I’m not going to dwell on the thoughts of those that didn’t understand it back then (many of them still don’t), but these were my thoughts…

What always amazes me isn’t the [Apple] bashers’ lack of vision or imagination, or their misreading of the target market… or having learned nothing from previous Apple products’ successes… No, it’s the complete lack of originality in their arguments. I mean, it’s been 25 years since the Macintosh and they’re still calling Apple’s products “toys”

Dear Apple iPad Haters: Please Get A Grip (And A Thesaurus)

Touch devices need that input method close to their core, and an API to back it up. That’s why the iPad will be an incredible hit while tablet PCs will continue to fail, no matter what flavor of Windows you slap on them.

The Windows XP, Vista, or 7 UI Is the Tablet PC’s Biggest Weakness

I can’t understand how anybody can watch the videos for Keynote, Pages and Numbers and claim the iPad is “just a big iPod touch”. This device is going to change everything.

Apple iPad Guided Tour Videos: Don’t Tell Me This Can’t Do Serious Work

Right now the iPad is one-of-a-kind, no matter how many pundits blather about “tablets” having been around for 10 years. Those are laptops running a desktop OS with the keyboard snapped off. You don’t build the new paradigm with the old paradigm’s thinking.

iPad alternatives? Only if you stretch the meaning of “alternative”

However, I believe the fact that [the iPad] performs respectably for [some pundits] means it can be a laptop replacement for millions of non-geeks. They just don’t know it yet.

The iPad as a productivity tool

The result is the first and only practical tablet computer.… Apple rightly deserves credit for building what makes sense now, and not chasing failed “visions” from yesterday.

Microsoft: Getting tablet PCs wrong since 2002

Remember when tech pundits used to lead the charge for change, and get excited about new, powerful technologies that made things easier for non-technicians? Yeah, me neither.

What can we learn from the “moderated” Windows SuperSite blog?

increasingly, [iOS] is becoming “mainstream”. By this, I mean there’s less concern in the mind of the average consumer that a purely touch interface can work. No more garbage about how the screen will get too oily, you can’t use a software keyboard, etc. Put simply, the paradigm shift from keyboard/mouse to touch screen—at least for tasks most consumers do—is less of a question. As more and more consumers understand this, iPad sales will continue to roll.

What Sales of Two Million iPads Can Tell Us

It’s this [desktop OS] confusion that a touch OS simplifies. It isn’t just about touch, but about removing the complications of GUIs that have accrued over the years. To me, when I use the iPad I see something with current faults (just as the GUI had faults in the beginning), but it’s clear to me that every computer will eventually work this way.

Every Computer Will Work This Way

The tablet form factor is going to be huge. I’m already on record that it’s how “all” computers will work someday, and I don’t think critical mass will take as long as the GUI did, which is apparently what Forrester is expecting.

Forrester Research: Tablets Will Only Steal Sales From… Desktops?

Chromebooks: Not PC, Not Post-PC

Chromebooks are here and getting a lot of press, just as Netbooks did before them. But in a post-PC world the two categories have more in common than one might think.

For starters, let’s see where a Chromebook differs from the leading post-PC device:

Software

Chrome OS doesn’t approach the rich app ecosystem of iOS. This is further diluted when no Internet connection is available, as some apps require. The basics are there, but the beauty of post-PC—like the beauty of PC—is a wealth of third-party additions to make the machine “yours”. In this regard iPad’s versatility goes way beyond a Chromebook.

Privacy
Chrome OS is from Google. Let’s not pretend a primary function isn’t to gather data about you for sale to ad agencies. It lacks iOS’ easy user-controlled granularity of privacy settings per app, photo access per app, location access per app, etc., as well as default third-party cookie blocking, ability to reset device identity and more.

Hardware
Cheap hardware built to look like a “real” laptop. A major design goal is to beat out the cheapest Windows laptops while not appearing to be a tiny netbook.

Mobility
This is one of the tenets of post-PC, yet Chromebooks are bulky and heavy by any iPad standard. Further, battery life is no better than a “regular” PC notebook.

Netbooks are cheap PCs with small screens and cramped keyboards. They fizzled in the marketplace when it become clear they don’t offer the UX of a conventional Windows laptop. Meanwhile, Chromebooks are “regular” laptop size to avoid the netbook stigma, but remain cheap by ditching the PC OS for Google’s data-gathering tools.

There are many ways to cling to a familiar past while cheating the experience in an attempt to reduce cost and appear “new”. Netbooks and Chromebooks take different approaches but the result is the same: their UX is unlike the laptops they’re designed to imitate. In many ways Netbooks and Chromebooks are the ultimate skeumorphic design. Designed to look like the familiar laptop form we’ve known for 20 years, but in reality being no such thing.

If you want a laptop for its usability and legacy functions, by all means get one. Mac or PC, there are plenty of excellent choices on the market. But be realistic on either cost or functionality. If you’re not, then one way or the other you’ll be disappointed.

Who Wouldn’t Want…?

Over the last decade, as Apple has entered and dominated markets beyond computers, their competitors have attempted to compete via spec sheet. The strategy has been simple: find what feature consumers must want that the iPod, iPhone, MacBook or iPad lack, then supply it.

How does the competition determine a “missing” feature? They look to what Apple removed, and assume it was a mistake; that in fact everybody wants it. I expect the design meetings asked questions like this:

  • “Who wouldn’t want a card slot to add more storage?”
  • “Who wouldn’t want a replaceable battery?”
  • “Who wouldn’t want an FM radio?”
  • “Who wouldn’t want Flash?”
  • “Who wouldn’t want a hardware keyboard on their phone?”

In every case, new devices were cranked out touting these “advantages”, and failed to make a dent in Apple’s growth or popularity.

This is because what Apple supplied in exchange for the alleged deficiencies more than made up for them. To the point where many were not even considered deficiencies at all (most people never added storage, or carried an extra battery, and so on).

The good news is that the competition is mostly in line with Apple now. Apple’s changes are more or less given as norms, and this silly strategy is no longer attempted.

Wait, what’s that I just heard from tablet design rooms everywhere?

  • “Who wouldn’t want a physical keyboard dock?”

Haikus Written During Today’s WWDC Keynote

With much excitement
Today Apple announces
Samsung’s next products.

Dear iPad 1 folk:
No iOS 6 for you.
Best Regards, Apple.

Developers meet.
Let’s stop all this software talk,
Get to the hardware.

Play long video,
Announce whatever they want
After crowd’s asleep.

Apple’s MacBook Pros:
Can competitors keep up?
Dell just peed their pants.

Biggest question now
With Retina display MacBooks:
Will Porn sites upgrade?

iOS upgrades
Get to user base quickly.
Android’s never do.

Samsung design team
Brainstorming, they ask Siri
What do we do next?

iOS 6 adds
Ugly faces everywhere.
FaceTime cellular.

Maps’ navigation:
Users love, competitors
Won’t know where to turn.

Android Supporters Pin Hopes on Non-iPad Competitors Because the Competitors Suck

Finding tablet-oriented apps for Android is a hunt, a chore, and a grind.…

Things get even worse when you realize Google Play shows different apps on its website and on individual tablets; even though the Google Play website claims some apps run on an Asus Transformer Prime, the apps didn’t show up on Google Play on the Prime.

And just because an app claims to run on tablets doesn’t mean it was designed for tablets. Often, after you download an app you’ll discover that it’s ugly or nearly useless because it was designed for a 4-inch screen.

via The iPad Wins Because Android Tablet Apps Suck: An Illustrated Guide.

And on and on. This is why Android supporters claiming it’ll overtake Apple in tablets are nuts, dreamers, or wading chest deep into a river in Egypt.

The Android crowd is waiting for non-iPad competitors like the Amazon Kindle Fire or Barnes & Noble Nook to sell in enough quantities to claim “Android tablets” outsell iPads. Setting aside that the Kindle Fire is not even a real Android tablet, these color e-readers don’t compete against the iPad except maybe in the most superficial way. An iPad sale “lost” to one of these is something Apple wasn’t getting anyway.

Android fans will fool no one but themselves and the usual Apple bashing crowd. It’s there own private echo chamber they’re talking to.