Saturday, July 30, 2011

iPad and the downfall of the super-geek

Being a techie in the late nineties was great fun.

Previous era techies were largely thought of as nerds – and treated accordingly. But then came Windows, and more importantly the web. Desktop prices fell, computing went mainstream and suddenly every house had to have a Windows PC – and most people were clueless on what to do when something went wrong with it.

Enter the super-geek.

Suddenly, we were hot stuff. From the next-cubicle colleague, to the clueless aunt; from your boss to the guy you just met at a party – everyone needed us! All you had to do to become popular was to mention you know about computers and suddenly you were mobbed by desperate people wondering why their computers were freezing randomly, or failing to boot, or eating up their files. And only we could help them !! Almost overnight we went from being social outcasts to becoming totally cool.

And then came the iPad. Sigh.

I just got one for my wife. And while I love the device and think that it is a beautiful piece of technology, it is clear to me that I am also looking at the beginning of the end for the super-geek. The thing is dead simple to use, it never crashes, installing apps is a cinch, and even un-installing apps is ridiculously simple once you know how – so who needs geeks when things don’t break ?

Really. With the iPad, computers have finally started to make the transition from being high-tech awe-inspiring, slightly scary things to becoming a household appliance.

Everything about it is designed to turn it into an appliance. You press a button – it’s on. No boot time, and no wondering whether the log-in screen would even come up after the few minutes of mysterious hard-drive whirring and blinking lights. Once it is on, the iPad presents you with a screen of things to do. Contrast it with a desktop which, by default, presents you with a blank screen and a list of icons at the bottom. While the desktop asks what you want to do, the iPad suggests things for you to do. The touch interface of course makes things intuitive anyway. I’ve seen so many early users of Windows struggle with a double-click that the ability to just touch things to make them work is alone making things easier for a lot of people.

Of course, the iPad cannot do a lot of things a laptop can do. But that is kind of the point.

While the PC prided itself on being the everything-machine for everyone, the iPad is focused intensely on a specific type of usage – which happens to be what 90% of the users want to do with their computers anyway. Less powerful, sure. But also less things to go wrong –and super-good at doing the things it does do.

I could go on. But the writing is on the wall. We techies had our time in the sun, but I think our ten minutes of fame are just about up!


PS: For my take on the iPod from its early days, see here.

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