A lion in the cage, or the future of Apple computers

Apple has a great history of computer design, and these two words – computer and design, together with innovation and user experience obsession, are what made Apple and Steve Jobs what they are today.

However, in Apple’s world of perfect user experience, there’s always been one major problem – the user. The stupid thing would constantly alter it – either installing “useful” crap from all over the internet, or just opening too many apps and calling tech support because their computer is suddenly slow.

The perfect user experience has to be one for everybody and controlled from the opening of the box to the moment you turn off your computer and go to sleep. In the recent and extensive John Sculley interview on Steve Jobs, he voices more than once what was the main concern:

“Steve believed that if you opened the system up, people would start to make little changes and those changes would be compromises in the experience.”

This is hard to match with the “think different” spirit and Orwell inspired ads, but let me be clear on this – Apple is not telling you to be the same as everyone in everything you do, they just think there are better than you in what they do. And they are probably right.

I think that iOS for iPhone and now iPad was a major step towards consolidation of user experience, and limiting the negative impact of users’ stupidity.

It turned out, that on mobile, less powerful devices with a smaller screen estate, user experience matters even more. On the go, people care more about performing standard tasks quickly, not customizing the environment for their activities.

The iPad, with its large screen and touch-based interface instead of the older input methods, was a perfect sandbox for the testing of “directed” user experience. The gestures, clipboard management, “multitasking”, common UI elements – these are the reasons why the learning curve for the device is so short, and people who are otherwise computer illiterate, seem to be able to use it comfortably.

On the latest “Back to Mac” event Steve Jobs took the stage to talk about MacOS X Lion, the next big desktop cat, that will jump on our computers next year, and one of the major features announced was Mac App Store – a controlled environment for the software distribution and updates.

I’m pretty sure the Mac App Store will be a hit, especially if Apple will settle on a more modest share than 30% for bigger developers, but what impact will this have on the Mac computers in general?

Together with numerous iPad interface metaphors they’re adopting in Lion, the OS will be one more step further from the computer interfaces as we know them today.

Let’s try to imagine it in a couple of years. File system will probably become inaccessible for the user, just like on the iPad today, the whole device will have a single “sign on”, enabling features and connecting to the cloud services. App switching and external notifications will be standardized, memory and HDD space management will become even more automatic. The App Store will be the only official source for Mac applications.

There will be a myriad of devices, for which the word “computer” will become an anachronism, since even if they do compute, that’s completely irrelevant for the user, that only sees the result – touch, play, listen.

I’m not sure what will become extinct before, desktop computers as we know them, or users that remember what a command line is, but there’s a huge ideology and user experience shift around the corner, and like Jobs said himself, “many people are not gonna be comfortable with it”

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This article was brought to you by TouchMyApps guest contributor Eugene Shimalsky, developer of  pushme.to for the iDevice. You can find Eugene on his Tumble profile right here.

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