making toast

February 4, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

If I could be like that
I would give anything
Just to live one day
In those shoes
If I could be like that
What would I do?
What would I do?

From the time programmers first tried to interact with the CPU, we have had several paradigms for human computer interaction. From switches, through paper tape to cards to CRTS to field verification to form based transactions to GUIs and even styluses (or should that be styli?). Through this evolution, two fundamental approaches to human-machine interaction have emerged. I’m sure the Interface Engineers out there will offer the appropriate terminology, but the two approaches are characterized by being ‘application-centric’ and ‘object-centric.’

Application-centric, really focuses on ‘loading the application, to access or create the data from within the application environment’, whereas object-centric is more in line with GUI approach of ‘activating the document/object and having the operating system instantiate the application and the environment to use the data.’ The latter is a very content-centric approach, one that I subscribed to until quite recently. Let me explain my change in thinking…

It all comes back to toast.

In the days before toasters, people put bread near a source of heat to make toast. It didn’t matter whether it was a wood fire, electric elements, gas burner etc. Take bread, add high heat, bread gets toasted. Toasting was a technique. A verb that subsequently became a noun, the inverse of nouns becoming verbs like Fax, Fedex, Google.

One day, as energy was channeled via a mass market utility called electricity, the ‘toaster’ was invented. It was a good appliance. It got better over time with more features to prevent burning, to defrost frozen bread, to understand different thicknesses etc.

But for all of it’s newly inherited capabilities, the toaster transformed bread into toast. And the consumer liked the toaster.

People like appliances. They are easy to use because their role is well defined. Just think of the plethora of successful inventions – invariably they have resulted in appliances or devices that are ostensibly single purpose. Cars, refrigerators, phones, ovens, lamps, cameras etc. In fact, if you have seen those combination appliances such as the coffee-maker/breakfast cooker, or the hot-dog maker (cooks franks and toasts buns), you’ll find that they are not best sellers. Why?

I think that the consumer is prepared to pay for specific functionality, not for stuff that they don’t need or understand. Also, they generally use more complicated (or potentially dangerous) appliances in a single threaded manner. Drive car (doing other things at the same time is dangerous). Microwave food (not metal, careful on timing). Saute food (make sure gas is lit, not too high, watch contents or it’ll all burn). Speak on phone (rude to not give the other end focused attention, otherwise why call?). Twitter (and listen to music, or just hear ear candy?).

It’s about focus.

Contrary to contemporary thinking, for effective, focused deep communication, the human brain is generally single threaded. Engaging in effective communication and processing deep concepts requires focused cerebral compute power. Yes, you can multi-task and time-slice your way through many things at once, but at what price comprehension?

Back to application-centric machines.

The iPhone is a perfect example. It is what you need it to be at that point in time, phone, browser, diary, etc… you don’t care where the data is stored – as long as it is! So you don’t need a file manager. Same for the newly released iPad. I believe we are seeing a new era of interfaces – more than just ‘app’ centric, it is really appliance or function-centric. Dare I say ‘wrkflow-centric’? Keep the tasks very focused, do a really good job for the consumer, then enable them to change appliances effortlessly. We’ll see some appliances running in the background, like music players, communications, content downloads etc. just like the refrigerator keeps things cool, and the bread maker makes my next loaf for more toast, while the coffee maker makes the coffee. I’ll still need a toaster, and then I have to pour the coffee and add milk from the fridge. Multi-tasking will not go away, but how we focus on our tasks will need to become more efficient and less disruptive than clicking all over a desktop, or rummaging through unruly digital filing cabinets…

The appliance-centric model provides us a clue to the future. A future that is focused on using information, rather than ‘managing information’. This needs to be the goal of computing for the mass consumer marketplace.

Now, we just need a standardized information utility grid to plug into the information… or is that the ‘cloud’?

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

Entry filed under: Media. Tags: , , .

changing business systems the user

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