Simplicity of the computer as a tool

1st February, 2010 - 7 minutes read

It seems the new Apple iPad has completely polarised opinion, as always, on  what people think a new product like this should do and what it actually does do. The general consensus from those that do not like it seems to be that it is nothing more than an enlarged iPod Touch; basically the same but with a bigger screen so what is the point. Why not just buy a NetBook or a laptop if it is a question of size and ease of use?

As someone that uses a Touch to browse the web and read emails whilst sat on the sofa, I can perfectly see the appeal of the new iPad. The iPod is obviously portable, it holds my music and I can take it anywhere. Its drawbacks are of course the things that are good about it namely that it is small and browsing the web on it can become a frustrating experience especially when you are constantly zooming in and out to read text or view images or get the touch hotpsot right for a link. The iPad, it seems, offers a much large viewport and so would make browsing the web much more akin to using a laptop screen but with the completely natural, interactive element of touch. Whilst a mouse, either on trackpad or wire(less)d, is an extremely natural way to use a pointing device on a computer, to me the act of touch and drag on a web page is much more intuitive; it is an instant, one-to-one connection between you and the object on the screen.

I recently was showing my dad a location in the map app on my iPod. Zooming in and dragging around as we searched for a specific place. As we sat there he reached over and said ‘probably more this way’ and without fuss dragged the map to the left. It is a simple and obvious way to interact with the map. If we’d been sat round a laptop there would have been the problem of him putting his finger to the trackpad, scrolling about as he tried to find the cursor and then not being able to scroll as his finger movement on the pad may not have matched my own particular scroll speed setting.

Now at this point you might that the use of a trackpad and scrolling is a simple to undersntad, computer basic that everyone knows how to do. But it’s not the case. Ok if you work in the industry or have spent (too) many hours sat at a computer then it probably will be as natural as wearing gloves or eating an apple but the majority of people either don’t have a computer or, if they do, are scared of it thinking that it is something that will destroy all their photos, delete all their documents, break into their bank accounts and steal all their money simple by clicking on the Start key.

A computer is a tool. It is there so you can: read your emails, read the news, research something, download your holiday snaps to, show your holiday snaps to friends with, maybe even watch a film. These are the simple things that most people want out of their machine. They don’t want to be bothered with installing drivers to get their camera work with it, or having to install a software update, or worrying abut whether their anti-virus is up to date, or having to trawl through the files system to find their pictures or documents. A computer should function for the user and not the other way round.

Even for me as a developer with some knowledge of how a computer works, there are occasions when I cannot work out why Internet Explorer is slower than Luca Badeor with a puncture. Now the problems with IE are many but to a user they don’t care that the latest MS update may need to be installed, or that their Google dashboard is too complex for the browser to load, or that they have too many process running at startup. Hell, I dont even care about those things and I know how to turn them off!

When you go to buy car you want to know if it’s comfortable, how many speakers the sound system has, whether it’s manual or automatic. You don’t worry about whether the tyres will be compatible with the roads where you live. You just want to know that when you get in and turn the key it will start and you can drive it to where you want to go.

In the future the computer has to become much more simple, much more intuitive and much less burdened by the need for a 3rd party to come in to sort it out after 6 months because it doesn’t perform as well. It has to become a tool to empower the user and give the internet to everyone no matter what their technical knowledge, their age or their disability. Surely the time is now for the masses to be able to buy a computer that will just work for them? They shouldn’t care if it’s dual core, octo-core, has the latest graphics card or more memory than holes in the UK road network.

Can I use it to upload my photos to? Yes.

Can I read email on it and browse the web? Yes.

Will I need to have every internal component replaced in 6 months or when the next version of Microsoft Word comes out just so that I can read a document sent to me by my grandson? No…

I’ll take it. Do you a have one in green?