One of the main reason that we are seeing the tremendous growth in smartphone adoption is because the operating system, for the most part, is invisible. I always considered “Settings” to be less intimidating than “system preferences”. “System Preferences” is the place your tech-savvy nephew goes when you cannot get to your Facebook page, even after restarting your computer 5 times (though restarting twice is hope, and anything more is pretty much lighting a candle for Technolopolus). Although “System Preferences” is less intimidating than its Windows counterpart: the “Control Panel” – <joke> the inspiration for CNN’s Situation Room… </joke> Always trust Redmond to make everything a tad complicated and then feel the false joy in using something complex… I never got that.
Point being it is much easier to use a smartphone than to use a computer. The smartphone just works, while the computer tells you stuff like “The instruction at “0x000000000” referenced memory at “0x00000000”. The memory could not be “read”. Click OK to terminate program” when you are trying to launch Word. Cool stuff if you are watching a science fiction movie, not so cool if you have a term paper due tomorrow. Some might argue that the two devices serve two completely different functions: one is a smartphone and the other is a computer. Not really – when was the last time you used your desktop computer to compute something? Both devices connect us to content that matters – the difference is the smartphone (and the new tablets) is primarily a content consumption device, while the PC (and I use the term interchangeably for both Windows Superior (Apple) and Windows) is used for both production and consumption. The difference is inherent because of the form factor. It is more convenient for me to type/research/copy and paste this post on my Macbook, than it is for me to type this on my iPad or iPhone.
Which still does not let explain, why the operating system still plays such an important role in the usage of a computer… for the computer to become even easier to use, the operating system has to become invisible. It is a lesson that Apple has learnt from iPads and iPhones and is now applying it to laptops and desktops, effectively turning the computer into an appliance.
Some might argue against it – the computer has to be a puzzle for the brain to solve, instead of being a tablet that displays pretty stuff. We need that to stay smart. Really? That’s the argument – complexity for smartness’ sake? That is smart…
It is yet another cue take Microsoft needs to take from Apple – the operating system has to redefined as a human interaction platform. A platform that is invisible to the user and easy to develop apps for any garage developer… That simple, but essential change in philosophy will help.
Interestingly, the Xbox is heading there, with the new Kinect which makes interacting with content even more personal than ever… the innovation in the Xbox has happened because it has been treated as a start up funded by MSFT, rather than a division of MSFT. In all fairness. MSFT is applying lessons learnt from consumer services to the enterprise – Sharepoint 2010 is a CMS with social networking features… so good job there. But not realizing the difference between a truck and a car clearly shows a lack of understanding of where the world is heading – remember the AT&T tilt with a stylus and the Windows interface… doesn’t that seem so 1970s?