A few weeks back I made the claim that our current world of fragmented personal computing is not great for consumers. In the 90’s we typically had one computer per home. During the early 2000’s it started to be very common to have multiple computers per home. And now, starting in the late 2000’s, we have evolved to rely on multiple computing devices per user, per home.
We talked earlier about why these devices are different. This post focuses on how they are the same.
I think it would be true to say that for most users the OS, putting all cultural leanings aside, does not define their user experience. It mostly gets in the way. For most users, the OS is that thing that they install their apps onto. In the same way that their browser is the internet, their apps are what really define their computing experience. For some, the elegance of the hardware is part of it. But for this discussion, it is irrelevant. I think Apple proved my point about the apps with their iPhone. Many may have bought it for it beauty. But in my opinion it, and Android, have been successful because they got the OS out of the way and gave you access to tons of apps.
Even the files on these devices, in the end user’s mind, are not accessed through the OS. Their apps are the portals for accessing and modifying any files that might live on their devices. I have helped countless people over the years with their computers. I can attest that for most of those users, Word documents do not exist outside of Word and possibly their email system. The concept of the file system is beyond them—as it probably should be.
For the average users, computing devices have largely been complex machinery that did one thing, give them access to their applications. Now these applications, of course, satisfy a plethora of other needs. But even those can be broken down to a few basic categories.
- Apps for Entertainment/Consumption/Education: media players (for local and remote content), games, news apps, educational materials, media remotes, etc.
- Apps for Communication: email, SIP, chat, etc. Even cellular calls are just apps that require specialized hardware.
- Apps for Creation/Productivity (typically generate and manipulate files): camera, office suite, blogging, video/audio/photo editing, etc.
- Utilities: Administrative tools, antivirus. These are typically power tools for more advanced users for changing things most users don’t care about.
There are many apps that reach across these boundaries, like the browser. And within each app there are a range of tasks from simple to complex. We find the same apps, in countless forms, across the various forms factors. Their only difference, from one device to another, is that their interface and complexity have been adjusted appropriately for their intended form factor.
In summary, all these devices do the same thing. They provide us ways to access and manipulate the same information and services in our lives though similar sets of applications. They also help us communicate with the same people in our lives. Therefore, these devices should be more unified in their approach to helping us simplify these activities.
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