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Idealog—in the ideas business

The new iPad is insanely greater

Mark Pesce

Mark Pesce is a longtime Apple user and a dedicated futurist and technologist—virtual reality is a specialty—so you’d think he’s seen it all. But the iPad, he reckons, is something altogether different.

“The iPad treats the web as appliance,” he said at Webstock this year. “Something that is just pervasively there when needed, and put down when not. It’s stripped of everything that signifies it as a computer. The basic simplicity of the iPad’s design represents what the web is about to become.” At his keynote address for CreativeTech in September, Pesce will expand on the theme, talking about his favourite apps on the Mac, iPhone and iPad and what they portend for the future. So what’s so special about Apple?

It seems everyone who has drunk the Kool-Aid has a ‘Macintosh moment’—the time when they realised the Mac was something profoundly different. What was yours?

February 1984. I walked into a computer store in Boston, Massachusetts. There was a Macintosh, and a mouse—the first I’d ever seen. Finder and desktop—sadly, not very different today. I played with the mouse a bit, trying to do things. I reckon I did manage to select some things on the desktop. It wasn’t as intuitive as it had been made out to be—some things do need to be taught. But eventually, after a bit of playing, I got the hang of it.

A few months later I had a job where I was actually designing accessory hardware for the Macintosh. So I got to take the office Mac home for the weekend and have a play. I opened up ‘Hendrix’—which created the most amazing guitar sounds as you dragged the mouse across the screen—and I never looked back.

At CreativeTech you’ll be talking about Apple, a company that always makes the ‘whole widget’. Its products are designed and polished by dedicated professionals in secret, and it creates what it thinks we want, rather than what we claim to need. But you’re a futurist and a believer in the power of social networks, open source and the talents of the crowd. These are two different systems of innovation. Is this a dilemma for you? Can open networks ever match the detail and vision of Apple products?

Apple’s products are extensively tested before they reach market. They’re also subject to excruciatingly detailed user experience design work. When Apple misses on one of these (iTunes is a fair example), it sticks out like a sore thumb.

This kind of dedication is something that both the open-source community and Apple’s competitors can learn a lot from. iPhone has been out for three years, yet no one has been able to match its ease of use. Why? Because no one has really tried. (The single exception is Palm and webOS, which was recently acquired by HP. That will present Apple’s first serious competition.) When a model works, it should be copied. Instead, many individuals— both in the open-source community and among competitors—tend to ascribe Apple’s success to the ‘reality distortion field’ or ‘fanbois’ or anything other than the fact that Apple has simply done its homework better than anyone else.

Can open networks do that kind of homework? Absolutely. Linux is a more stable operating system than OSX or Windows 7, or almost anything else out there, because the open network responsible for creating it is fanatically dedicated to speed and quality. Dedication is a necessary pre-condition for success. It’s easy to form an open network. It’s much more difficult to get it to organise itself around the qualities of dedication and perseverance required to produce amazing things.

The web, for example, is an open network from top to bottom. It vastly outweighs the vision and detail of any Apple product.

What’s your secret hope from Apple—the perfect skunkworks project that will be soon unveiled as “one more thing ...”?

“We’ve taken restrictions off of the App Store, so you can use any programming language you like to make great iOS apps.”

What’s the first thing you’ll be looking for in Auckland?

Free wifi hotspots for my iPad. [Er, we’ll end it there. –Ed.]

Originally published in Idealog #29, page 16

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