Catch-up: Jobs and Windows

Travelling yesterday, I caught up on a couple of Tech Weekly podcasts from The Guardian featuring reactions to Steve Jobs’ death, and an earlier feature on the announcements of Windows 8. These podcasts are good value: 20-30 minutes of serious comment bringing together people with real expertise.

For the Steve Jobs special edition, The Guardian brought in not only its tech people but its editors for design, film, and music alongside a Gartner VP who specialises in smartphones. This wove a coherent picture of Jobs’ impact. In design, the point was made that he (or Jonathan Ive, that is) didn’t try to align with the latest design fashions; Jonathan Glancey referred to Apple’s design roots in the Bauhaus movement which is culturally well established (we might say de-bugged) and, to a significant degree now, has become timeless. What’s now Disney Pixar was Jobs’ initiative after he left Apple – and the same perfection of design shows in Pixar’s animation. The coherence of the iTunes/iPod ecosystem turned the threat of downloaded music on its head, making it easy for people to legitimately buy music – and has led to a resurgence of individual songs rather than albums. And, looking forward with Gartner’s Carolina Milanesi, the impact of the iPhone (and iPad) are only just starting to be felt.

Throughout, the speakers developed a picture of Jobs as an holistic, user-centred entrepreneur. The question he asked himself and his designers wasn’t “What can we do with this new tech stuff?” Rather, it was “What will the users like/want/need? Now how do we provide it?” Implementation is secondary, which is why it doesn’t matter that the iPhone and iPad aren’t built on MacOS. The iPad doesn’t feel wildly different from the Mac – although it is, just as OS X is different from Classic. The same understanding informs the design.

Then, backtracking a few editions, there was a review of early information on Windows 8. I was left, there, with quite the opposite feel. The reviewers seemed to be saying that Microsoft is working very hard to build a common code base that will service different platforms: from standard PCs to tablets to smartphones. But the resulting compromises will affect the user experience on all of them. For example: in an OS created for the tablet’s swipe-screen paradigm, conventional mouse operation is less well supported. Somehow the feel was exactly the opposite of what I’d been hearing about the way Steve Jobs worked. The conclusion seemed to be that Windows 8 will either be a miracle, if they pull it off, or a car crash. We’ll see; the developer beta is available.

This week produced favourite short from the Guardian letters page. “Blackberry jam helps Apple turnover” … The earlier podcast had some comments on RiM and the future of the BlackBerry service and other communication channels. BlackBerry Messaging (BBM) scores with Generation Y through its realtime presence; as we all know, SMS text messages can get delayed. Email in that generation is dead: JP Rangaswami quoted his daughter as saying, of one of her friends, “His phone’s dead. You’ll have to inbox him on Facebook”. Yet RiM is having trouble shifting both older models still in the channel, and newer ones which they can’t abandon because they are leading in the new OS. Step forward both Apple with the iPhone, which knows its market, and the multitude of Android models.

• Steve Jobs special, The Guardian Tech Weekly podcast, 6 Oct 2011
• Windows 8, bad news for Rim, JP Rangaswami, The Guardian Tech Weekly podcast,20 Sep 2011
• Carolina Milanesi, Gartner blog (though the most recent post is February 2011)
• Previewing Windows 8, Microsoft


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