My wife is one of the billions who have no interest in computers per se, but want to use them to do things — just as I have no interest in cars but want to use them to drive places. She’s just spent a solid 20 solid minutes trying to figure out how to export a video file from iDVD on her Mac, so she can upload it to YouTube. No dice.
So I stepped in, a professional programmer, wise in the ways of computers. I was ready to click a couple of menu items, File -> Export -> MP4, and save the day in 30 seconds. Twenty more minutes later, here I am.
Over on Gavin Burrows’ blog, Lucid Frenzy Jr., we’ve been discussing how cohesive the Beatles’ Revolver album feels, and how relatively incoherent The White Album seems.
Back in 2005, I won a first-generation iPod Shuffle at a conference for being the most engaged participant or something (i.e. for being a loud-mouth).
The Shuffle is a horrible piece of kit, of course. It has no display, no way to navigate between albums (only track-at-a-time), no EQ, only the crudest battery-state indicator (OK vs. not-OK), and Apple’s appallingly clunky proprietary disk format which means you have to wrestle it to the ground before you can add songs.
I bought my wife an iPad for christmas. The battery recharges via a USB lead, and a mains plug is provided with a USB port, so that you can charge directly from mains.
But the cable is ridiculously short — about one meter. It’s basically impossible to use the iPad when it’s plugged in, for fear of ripping the cable out of the iPad or the mains plug.
This is a very good thing.
It changes what kind of thing the iPad is. When I use a laptop, my default mode is to have it plugged in all the time, and just think of it as being able to survive for a while when isolated from its feeding trough. But with an iPad, the narrative is very different. It’s a device that isn’t wired into anything. It moves happily around the house with you, and just happens every now and then to need parking in its Special Place where the charger is.
Although these two usage models are identical in substance, the psychological difference is huge. I have been used to thinking of laptops as delicate super-powered entities that I must care for and love and cherish and worship. Whereas the iPad is just there for you. And since we’ve had it around, I’ve started to shift my attitude towards my laptop, too.
So the short charging cable is a clever piece of cultural engineering.
I am a big fan of Apple’s minimalist design aesthetic, but I think they may have gone too far with their new iBrick:
I bought Fiona an iPad for Christmas. (So far she’s used it mostly for playing Bejewelled Blitz.) One of the nice extras that Apple offers is personalised engraving on the device. I wanted to use this to include Fiona’s name and email address, using the old RFC-822 standard format Name <emailAddress>. But no:
And I just want to shout: “why not?” How can it possibly hurt Apple if I have angle-brackets engraved on my wife’s iPad? Surely it can’t be that they pass the message embedded in an XML document and they’re incapable of escaping < into <? If it’s that, then am I allowed to use ampersands? Because the text doesn’t say I’m not to.
And what happenes when Rafa Benítez wants to buy a iPad? People do have accents in their names, you know.
In his most recent article, Paul Graham writes about what he calls “tablets” — his general term for iPhones, iPads, and the corresponding things running Android. Like a lot of people, he thinks we’re headed towards a future where we only need, roughly, one device each: a multi-purpose phone/camera/computer/emailer/book-reader.
I’m not so sure.
Back when I reviewed Peter Siebel’s fascinating book of programmer interviews, Coders at Work, Erik Anderson suggested in a comment that I might also enjoy its precursor Programmers at Work [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk]. I bought and read it, and it’s excellent. I’ll review it properly some time soon — but today I just wanted to draw attention to one segment that caught me completely off guard.