iPad, the Future, and the Luxury of Starting Over

A luxury that you seldom have in the world of software development is the luxury of starting over. I am not talking about throwing away everything and start from scratch. But just taking what you have, and all the experiences learned. Apply some major refactoring to make what works really shine, and without care of dependent clients throw out everything that turned out to be irreparable.

The iPad as presented by Apple on the special january 2010 event is a showcase of how Apple has been given this luxury. Not just once but over and over again. Allowing for iterating, and improving with each restart.

The origins

The evolution of the software running the iPad can be traced back along with Steve Jobs himself. With the first Macintosh from 1984 he was one of the many talented people behind ushering the graphical user interface into the world of normal people.

Not entirely by his own choice he founded NeXT in 1985, and got the luxury of starting over, equipped with the experience from the Macintosh project. The lessons learned resulted in the NeXT computers in 1989, a system way ahead of it’s time, with NextStep’s object oriented frameworks, before OOP had even caught on with the main stream. Remember this was before Windows 3.0.

In late 1996 Apple bought NeXT and all their assets, including Steve Jobs as the CEO. Now the experience learned from developing the NeXT computers and the NextStep operating system could be used again. With the luxury of a reset once again, throwing out anything that did not work, and clean up the parts that worked well. The new operating system rising from the ashes would be named Mac OS X, and the application development frameworks be called Cocoa.

The tech as used today

Cocoa is the primary application development framework for Mac OS X to this day. It is an umbrella framework, containing:

  • Foundation – For the non-visual low level components.
  • AppKit – For the components to create a desktop application with mouse and keyboard
  • Core Data – For managing application data as a graph database.

The application development framework for iPhone OS is called Cocoa Touch. It is basically all the nice parts from Foundation, and since iPhone OS 3.0 also Core Data. But AppKit is missing, instead replaced by UIKit. UIKit are the components needed to create a graphical user interface based on multitouch. Not a dumbed down version of AppKit, but a rewrite that is re-using the experience from AppKit. Refining what works well, removing what did not turn out so well, and adding what could not easily be added to AppKit.

Apple gave themselves the luxury of starting over yet again, not burdened by backward compaitibility. The new form factor of the iPhone can not inspire any realistic hopes for application compatibility with the Mac computers.

Where can this lead?

Mac OS X and the Cocoa frameworks where good from a tech standpoint, and for us nerds. But not ready for prime-time by the average user until at least version 10.2, or 10.3 if you are really honest. Many dismissed the first versions of Mac OS X, while others saw the potential. I see the same thing with iPad and iPhone OS, it will be dismissed for now, and others will see a great potential.

I think that the iPad is Apple’s vision for the future of computing. Mice to be replaced by multi-touch. The keyword being multi-touch. A touch device is to a multi-touch device what a black and white TV is to a modern color HD TV. Sure they both display pictures, the basic idea is there, but the execution is on a different level. In 1984 with the first Macintosh a computer mouse was a novelty. Apple want to replace the secondary input of the mouse, with direct input and manipulation using your very fingers. Making the mouse computer mouse a parenthesis in the history of computing.

The iPhone OS is the successor to Mac OS X.

There I said it. There will never be a Mac OX X 11.0, and probably not a Mac OS X 10.8 either. That line of succession is over, the new blood line to reign is the offspring that is iPhone OS. A fresh start, a luxury in our industry, and also a necessity in order to take the great leaps to the future.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Sigge

    I dont know actually. I think I am more thinking in terms of this posting:

    And for the mice thing, I would still say that the convenience not having to move the whole arms or even body on those (probably bigger than iPad) future multitouch computer screens, will make a huge resistance. Not sure what side will win, but common human convenience on moving the body is not to underestimate.

    1. Fredrik Olsson

      What you misses and what Adam Pash at Life Hacker has missed is; The iPad Is For Everyone But Us.

      If you write a tech blog, then you are by definition not a normal user, and your needs can not be projected onto the general public.

      As for the mouse, it will live on, just as command line tools still live on. I am sure that for some tasks, and some people it will continue to be the superior alternative. But for the vast majority? No!

  2. Christian Hedin

    I didn’t really get that Lifehacker post. The iPad is bad because you’re restricted to use apps that Apple allow. This is a problem for the iPad, but not for the iPhone since… it’s bigger?

    True about getting tired in multi-touch UIs, but there are some differences for the iPad:

    1) Most of the time you won’t need to make bigger movements when using multi-touch than when using a mice. Scrolling your thumb down a list etc. Do you also get tired when using an iPhone?

    2) If you do get tired, perhaps using some app that really requires a lot of input, the design of the iPad allows you to simply switch hand to hold the device from right to left and still (even as right handed you have sufficient control on the left hand for this) control the UI with your other hand.

    3) How much input is really needed for the tasks that iPad focuses on? It’s a lot of reading, browsing and watching. That’s actually the focus areas for how a lot of user use a laptop today too. I don’t think we’re that many that actually need to click that much.

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