Friday, January 22, 2010

The Book as Information Appliance

The best blog posting on the Apple Tablet that I have read this week is at Gizmodo, by Jesus Diaz, The Apple Tablet Interface Must be Like This.

Anybody blogging now about the Tablet has an excellent chance of being proven wrong in 5 days time. But the most interesting aspects of Diaz's piece are historical, where he speculates about the interface by thinking about what has already gone before, in which he notes that the iPhone has already changed our expectations about how an interface should work. The touch screen is crucial but the flexibility of the 'app-based' interface is also crucial. He is betting, and I am sure that he is right, that the Tablet is going to be an extension and development of the iPhone interface and of its operating system (this is not going to be Mac/OS). Diaz sees the iPhone as having already established a crucial break with the 15 year reign of the desktop metaphor for usability. The genius of the iPhone is that it has shown how a small device can be a succession of information appliances in which the special features of each application are captured in the specialised interfaces which belong to each application (or 'appliance').

When it came out, people instantly got this concept. Clicking icons transformed their new gadget into a dozen different gadgets. Then, when the app store appeared, their device was able to morph into an unlimited number of devices, each serving one task.

In this new computing world there were no files or folders, either. Everything was database-driven. The information was there, in the device, or out there, floating in the cloud. You could access it all through all these virtual gadgets, at all times, because the iPhone is always connected. Gizmodo

Well, I am frankly delighted that this world of windows, files and folders is on the way out. Documents too are under notice of termination! I am very excited about the way in which information appliances will give us many more models and metaphors for the way that our software should work. Gestures will replace commands and trial by touch will replace error.....

But before we chuck all the paper-based metaphors out of the window (along with the files, the folders, the waste baskets and the .docs), I think that an age of software interfaces emulating information appliances is going to be very helpful and very preservative for some parts of our print and our paper heritage. Pages will stay with us. Tablets like pages and canvases. Libraries too -- we need a collective noun for a large collection of apps, and 'library' may be the group noun of choice. Above all, books, magazines and newspapers are great 'metaphors' for information appliances. They are information appliances par excellence, and they have in their 'soft' or emulation versions great potential for use on a tablet or an iTouch interface. Books, magazines and newspapers should behave and will teach us how to use the tablet interface in much the same way that they behave and teach us how to learn in real like. But they will not be the same. They will be software applications, appliances, apps, and so they will have much more potential for compute application. The main advantages of tablet-books or tablet-magazines or tablet-manuals, behaving somewhat like their physical counterparts is that we all know how the physical objects work and the virtual information appliance will work in a similar way to help our expectations and to help our discovery of how they are different.

I have no idea what the Apple digital publishing environment is going to look like when it is unveiled next Wednesday, but I bet that it is going to look much more familiar to book lovers, more retro, than most of us realise. If Apple have got their information appliances right digital books and magazines are going to feel more like real books than most digital publishing experts would have predicted.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

My technical level is way below that of the posts here, but "information appliance" is such an accurately chilling term!