The political season is upon us. That’s when we expect politicians to come out of the woodwork, beg for money, lambast the competition, list all the things wrong with the government, then claim that by electing them to office they will solve the problems.
The problem here is time honored and unsolved. Politicians seldom say how or what they will do to solve the problems they list. It’s easy to itemize everything that’s wrong, but it’s a different set of skills to solve the problems. Google’s design chief is acting like a politician.
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Through the years I’ve seen politicians come and go but few, if any, are memorable for doing exactly what they said they would do before they were elected. Google’s design chief, Matias Duarte, might be a talented executive but like most politicians he’s long on rhetoric and short on delivering the goods.
According to Google, the company that stole the iPhone’s interface and put it on Android OS, says this about the iPhone (reminiscent of a politician attacking a fellow politician):
This idea of a tiny grid that you manually curate starts to feel very heavy and burdensome.
Maybe so, but what do you have that’s better? After all, Android’s user interface was not developed by Google, but was stolen from the iPhone’s interface advances, circa 2007. A grid of buttons to launch apps.
As is true of most politicians, gobbledygook is where it all begins.
The system or the computer can become more accessible and more universal because it operates on atoms of interaction that are more human, that are conceptual, that are things that you could speak to or things that you could draw
Uh, say what?
The history of computing for the masses hasn’t changed all that much through the decades. First, there were keyboard commands which users needed to master for navigation, launching apps, and doing whatever the app required. Then along came Apple and the Mac which brought a graphical user interface to the masses ala point and click. Not much has changed since. Microsoft copied Apple’s implementation of the interface to Windows and two decades later we’re still pointing and clicking.
Keyboards were in use for decades as the primary user interface. The mouse and trackpad are barely two decades old, and the touch interface in its current implementation is less than a decade old.
What Apple did with the iPhone and iPad user interface wasn’t necessarily unique, but more of an extension of point and click. Finger, meet touchscreen. The touch interface is related to point and click and works well for most people, and the variations we’ve seen in tablets and hybrid notebooks and tablets are mere variations on the theme. It was click, now it’s touch; but both the action and the results are similar.
I’m excited that there is this tension in the current tech ecosystem where phones are starting to show their age. Laptop models have shown their age so much that everybody is desperately trying to get to a different model. I’m excited about the potential of that rather than any particular vector that says: ‘oh, this is going to be hot or I have this idea.
Again, I’m not going to disagree that there can be an interface that accesses and navigates all these computer systems that have invaded our personal space, the home, the car, and the office but instead of pointing out that what the iPhone wrought is ‘very heavy and burdensome’ how about showing the world what Google can do besides copy Apple?
Isn’t this much like a politician claiming to the electorate that he’s the one with the good ideas and everyone else’s ideas won’t work?
Google has always had incredible design talent. It just wasn’t organised or scaled in a way to utilise it. And culturally it had a hard time understanding how to work with design.
That’s like saying “Google could have designed the iPhone interface except that Apple did it first.”
Politicians usually incite their followers with platitudes and promises mixed with heavy doses of nonsensical poppycock.
If you’re going to be a product designer and you’re going to make furniture you’re going to know a lot about your materials and manufacturing, and that’s what makes you a designer. But you’re also going to know a lot about design, you’re going to know about the history of furniture design, you’re going to know about ergonomics, style and fashion trends. If I look at digital it is almost impossible to identify people who have both of those backgrounds. And that is a sign of the immaturity in the industry.
Uh, OK, but what about the user modern computer user interface? How does the industry improve on point and click? Apple answered that question by bringing a touch interface to the masses. That works better for mobile devices. But the future is coming and it will be more complex, with more systems and functionality connected to the internet, so how do we improve on the touch interface? How do we improve on rows and pages of app icons so we can navigate and use devices with greater ease?
For all of Google’s so-called design and engineering prowess the latest Google Nexus smartphones look and work remarkably like last year’s iPhone models. Are we stuck with point and touch?
I hope not. I really hope not. That would make me very sad and I’m doing my hardest to make sure that that is not the case. That is one of the things that I care passionately about. I’m going to do my hardest to make sure that in 10 years time you’re not going to sitting with a single laptop and walking around with a phone. But instead working with a much richer, continuous mesh of devices and interfaces.
In other words, lots of talk, lots of criticism, but little action. Not much has changed. Executives are the business world’s answer to politicians. Early computer models for the masses required a keyboard and knowledge of arcane commands. Point and click eased the pain of a command line interface but required both a keyboard and a touch device. Apple’s iPhone user interface– fully touch-based– improved on that model but did not discard previous advancements, and was perfectly suited for users with mobile devices.
What of the future computer user interface?
Will it be brain waves? Knowing something about human thinking processes and how they are used to purchase product and elect politicians one can hope that a future interface won’t be brain waves.
Voice? It’s here already but not yet well integrated into operating systems and applications, and voice itself is far more intrusive than point and click or touch screens. So, Google, instead of being critical about what Apple has done through the graphical user interface and the touchscreen and calling the latest iterations heavy and burdensome (while copying every detail ad nauseam), why not show the world a better way? Apple has been doing just that for decades. What has Google done?