Becoming more personal

I agree wholeheartedly with this paragraph from Fraser Speirs in How the iPad Wants to be Used:

The iPad is an intensely personal device. In its design intent it is, truly, much more like a “big iPhone” than a “small laptop”. The iPad isn’t something you pass around. It’s not really designed to be a “resource” that many people take advantage of. It’s designed to be owned, configured to your taste, invested in and curated.

I’ve always felt this way about my computers, even with typical desktop OS features like multiple users. With the single-user nature of iOS, this becomes even more apparent especially as we use computers in more personal ways. iOS devices are designed to be more personal (it’s not just a marketing campaign).

This is the way it should be. One just needs to think for a moment about the prevalence of Facebook or Twitter to appreciate how computing experiences are now defined around personal and social life rather than concrete activities like writing novels, doing online banking or even writing emails—the “business” tasks of a previous computing era. The days of being able to keep a single computer shared between a household, out in the study, seem numbered.

Again, the geeks lead the way here. For us computers have always been intensely personal, as they have been both our tools of creation and a social tool for a long time. Since the first days of IRC and ICQ, geeks have been major users of computer-meditated social interaction. This has caused the aura of protectionism around our computers which outsiders apparently find so strange. I think this tendency will only spread.

In our house, a separation of devices is already happening. There are “work” devices, those Rose and I sit at for prolonged periods to write essays or play games. These live most of their lives in the study. Then we have our personal devices, a lightweight laptop for Rose and the various i-devices for me where we read and drop in to our social stream.

I think the movement of computing from study to living room is part of the reason for Apple’s recent success. Computing is on show now to a great extent, causing the generation of a market for good-looking computers. Apple happened to be ahead of this curve as they’ve always tried to create attractive devices. Apple’s mentality of creating a more personal experience has lead directly to the successes of the iPhone and iPad—they already had the mind set required to foresee and profit from the new usage patterns of the computer.

Conner O’Brien’s article Passionate Ambivalence caught the gist of some of this, in its description of the technology press as focused on the technical details rather than the grand story arc of our lives and how technology fits into them, adapting both itself and ourselves in the process.

Instead of analysing a device with reference to any kind of wider socio-cultural context, gadget reviewers tend to focus on build quality and tech specs: arguably the least important stuff in a “big picture” sense.

No longer do we all use a computer for the same thing. Instead of listing features in a review, describe where this devices fits into someone’s life—cut through the marketing and produce a real evaluation of a device’s strengths. We’re past the stage where faster is better.

Thinking about this, we again see the power of the universal publishing platform the internet provides. Blog-based reviews describing the way the writer uses a device in their day to day lives are often far more useful—and convincing—than a regular review. A short remark by someone on Twitter about how a device fits or doesn’t into their lifestyle could be worth a thousand enumeration-of-feature reviews to a manufacturer focused on utility rather than chasing feature lists.

This move toward personalised computing can only increase as more of us carry around powerful computers in the form of smartphones—the most potently personalised devices we currently have—and companies which understand this transition stand in a place to create some amazing devices and software for us to adapt and be adapted by.

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