Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 19th Dec 2011 20:11 UTC
Google Once upon a time, in a land, far, far away, there were two mobile operating systems. One of them was designed for mobile from the ground up; the other was trying really hard to copy its older, desktop brother. One was limited in functionality, inflexible and lacked multitasking, but was very efficient, fast, and easy to use. The other had everything and the kitchen sink, was very flexible and could multitask, but had a steep learning curve, was inconsistent, and not particularly pretty.
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Comment by frderi
by frderi on Wed 21st Dec 2011 07:36 UTC
frderi
Member since:
2011-06-17

Nice writeup, albeit quite thin at times and, well, just plain wrong at others.

Firstly, I wouldn't call the present day smartphone UI paradigm WIMP, since they're mostly, and iOS to a large extent, void of any user-manipulatable windows or menus. One is better off to define this post-WIMP paradigm as FICT : Fullscreen Icon Column Touch. One could argue that these are mere details and the one is just an alternate form of the other. One would be very wrong at making this statement.

Why would one be? Because the move from WIMP to a Post-WIMP environment allows for a whole other UI paradigm altogether in terms of user interaction, directly leading to the abolishment of the traditional HI derived interfaces, and the rise of the Skeumorphic UI design language. A lot of people who have their heads and hearts in the past don't seem to like this, stating lack of UI consistency and plain dumbness of the device as its hurdles. What they fail to see is that it's the paradigm of the whole device itself that's shifting : Post-PC devices are no longer "UI's in a box" like their predecessors were, and by the definition of their interaction characteristics and computational capabilities, do no longer require this traditional paradigm in order to function properly. In fact, as the history of tablet computers can testify to greatly : merely treating them as such has only made them fail in the marketplace, since they just end up doing a worse job than traditional personal computers. Thus, for any post-pc device aspiring to be truly successful, it must throw these conventions out of the window in favor of a more direct way of communicating with the user and to better facilitate the user excerting control over the device.

Over the decades, the "box" in the "UI in a box" has been reduced to the point where it's been to regulated to a quasi non-existant state : from room size, to fridge size, to shoebox size, to book size, to frame size, its evolution has been quite staggering. In terms of handling, the box itself has fallen in the league of traditional portable single task devices like calculators, portable music players, etc. With the addition of touch on the UI level and better graphical capabilities, Skeumorphic designs have gained a clear edge: in a traditional WIMP paradigm, they have often proven to be an infuriating and frustrating design to work with. With Touch based hardware to drive them, they are a much more natural fit. Skeumorphic designs really shine on Post-PC devices and they are certainly one of the reasons why certain Post-PC devices have become so popular : They peel away a layer of abstract convention between the user and the device, making the interaction more natural and direct. There is very little UI convention to learn on a Post PC device simply because there is so little of UI in the first place. What is left is a simple grid, of which each item represents a virtual device. The perks of the traditional WIMP device is, frankly, just a casualty along the way of taking user interaction to the next level. On a Post PC device, WIMP is just a dead end. The carcasses of the ill-fated of pre-iPad tablets are all ugly witnesses to this. On a larger scale, WIMP is silently on its way to becoming an epîsode in the history of computing, just like the command line interfaces before them. Will WIMP dissapear completely? If history is destined to repeat itself, its highly unlikely, although WIMP will be regulated to an ever smaller growing group of users rather than being the mainstream. With both hardware and operating software seemingly reduced to its barest essentials, and increasingly becoming one and the same thing; what will remain for the user in the future will in the scope of things be merely its function.

The history of trying to build a Post-WIMP paradigm has been long in the making. One of the earliest examples we can find in Apple's products is not found on a portable device, but on the Macintosh platform, as At Ease. It did not do away with the WIMP convention an sich; but it certainly did away with some of its earliest and less user-friendly derived conventions, most notably its file system and desktop metaphors. Instead, it introduced a fixed grid with single clickable buttons, each button being either a program or application. While seasoned PC users would raise more than one eyebrow at having such a crude and dumbed down tool to work with on a desktop computer, it certainly lowered the bar for a lot of users in an emerging desktop computer world.

I think you'll be hard pressed to find people to state that iOS is a direct descendant of the Newton. One would be much better off not to draw direct lines between iterations of mobile communication concepts as its structure holds much more queues to biological evolution than to linear algebra. The Newton is one dead branch on the tree of mobile device evolution. PalmOS is another. However, in the tree, Android is sitting awfully close and on top of iOS, and anyone which bothered to check the facts surrounding these two know iOS inspired Android to such an extent that its development took quite an U-Turn in terms of user interface. Just like there's no denying that Palm took quite a few queues of the devices that came before it and improved on existing conventions vastly, just as the iPhone did on the its predecessors and upped the bar on previous generations smartphones significantly. Downplaying the importance of this is like saying Dinosaurs weren't a significant step forward in the evolution of life on earth, simply because they look a lot like reptiles : However : the changes heralded in dinosaurs allowed them to go become much more successful and be the dominant species for , thus ending up being dramatically more successful than its cold blooded ancestors, and altering the face of life on earth. Just like Android and its spiritual father iOS have augmented modern smartphone handset usecases significantly and consequently changed the face of the mobile computing landscape.

You might also want to look up the definition of crapware, Crapware and bundled software are not the same. While crapware is a form of bundled software, crapware is third party software which ships on a device and for which the device manufacturer was paid for, but is low quality or of little value to its user. on the windows side, MSN Messenger, MineSweeper, or Terminal Client are not crapware, and neither is Photo Booth, iBooks or Youtube.

On customizability, after years of tweaking and tinkering with UI's, window managers, icons, hacking ICNS and other resources (Anyone remember Kaleidoscope?) I must say I've come to a similar zen-like conclusion than Anarcho-syndicalist Hakim Bey had about technology as a whole : They offer great toys, but are terrible distractions. The purpose for the UI is to facilitate user interaction, not initiate it. When time progresses, all UI paradigms and conventions will eventually fade anyway, and resizing windows, flicking trough screens, or tapping icons will look as old hat as olivetti typewriters or mechanical calculators.

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