What to do if you’re concerned about Apple’s coming dominance with the iPad

So you say you’re concerned about Apple’s hegemony with the iPad. You’re concerned that the iPad is for media consumption only, and will quash creativity. You’re concerned that it’s a power play that closes off open formats. You’re concerned that it concentrates too much power in the hands of one gatekeeper to your applications. If so, then go away.

Go to the open source world, because there’s no closed-source corporation nimble enough to catch up with Apple on their touch-based OS.

Apple has just grabbed the high ground in this scramble, and some variation of their personal, slate-like computing paradigm will dominate consumer computing’s attention for years – if not decades – to come. The computer is growing up, and Apple thinks they have the key to turning a general purpose computer into a traditional consumer electronics device.

(Incidentally, I can’t name a player in the computer industry that doesn’t share this common goal of ubiquity. Consider Google’s overt actions in the past year. Nearly every major new effort Microsoft has made for well over a decade has been in this direction.)

So, if we accept that Apple will cast a shadow as long as it has with the iPhone, what is to be done? The only alternative I can see is to work on organizing the open source world into offering an effort that could compete.

Forget the tappity-tappity of single touch alone. Reviews of existing best-of-breed single-touch devices suggest that people already demand something more. Apple owns multi-touch (as in, has key interaction modalities tied up in US Patents), and you would do well to look at something else. Pen-based computing has been around for two decades. Go and improve writing recognition. Consider previous user experience successes (such as the Newton and early PalmOS), and integrate the best of their innovations.

clipboard with paper

What does a responsive pen-based web browser look like? Can you make it swoop and glide like Apple’s offering? Maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it, but you can be sure that consumers won’t accept either long times to refresh a page each time it is moved or the one-line-at-a-time emulation of a user holding down a scroll arrow in a window.

Consider ergonomics everywhere. Apple does. Study people with a pen, clipboard, and some set tasks. How do people act when standing with the clipboard cradled in their arms? When leaning back on a sofa? When poking at it on a table top? How do these three main body positions inform software interaction modalities? Can one UI design accommodate all three? Make sure you can accommodate left-handers easily, now (and others with disabilities).

Once you’ve cracked the basic interactions, make it easy to create an application: be opinionated. There’s already too much flexibility, especially in the open-source world. When presented with a choice, offer the simpler way of doing things. What developers need is a strong vision and the building blocks for making applications. Start with the basics: navigating a hierarchy, filling out a form.

Got that? Congratulations. If you’re very, very good, you might be able to compete with usability of iPhone OS 1.0.

So you say you’re concerned about Apple’s hegemony. So go. Go and run, because Apple has a huge lead.