iPad Pro and the toaster-fridge

In 2012 Tim Cook answered a question about merging OS X and iOS by saying:

“You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those aren’t going to be pleasing to the user.”

This year, at the BoxWorks conference, Cook was again questioned about whether OS X and iOS would merge. His response was similar:

“We don’t believe in having one operating system for PC and mobile…We think it subtracts from both, and you don’t get the best experience from either. We’re very much focused on two.”

The philosophy behind these statements is, of course, that the best user experience comes when the software is perfectly suited for the form of the device it will be running on. Devices intended to be put in one hand or two hands or on a lap or on a desk are radically different. Cook’s argument is that this requires that the OS itself be suited to the form of the device. Apple has consistently refused to make toaster-fridges. With one glaring exception: iPad. Continue reading

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The Irreducible Reality of Form

In the second to fourth centuries, the philosophy of Gnosticism became popular. Though it had many variants, a key tenet was that matter was a lesser emanation of a kind of divine spirit. Human spirits were thus spiritual and good, but human bodies and matter were physical and evil, a limitation that had to be escaped in order to achieve true gnosis or enlightenment.

Why on earth do I start an article about technology–and this is an article about technology–with an ancient philosophy?1 Because good design of technology has to be based on an anti-gnostic notion that humans, fundamentally and irreducibly, are physical creatures and use physical products in a physical world. Those physical products, just as fundamentally and irreducibly, have a specific physical form that can be well or poorly suited to a human’s physical body or to the physical world.2 These forms both limit and enable functionality that is unique to that form. This interplay between a form’s function, it’s suitability to the human body and it’s appropriateness for the physical world is what design considers–and it is the interaction of these elements that has led to the success and failure of many technological products.3

Continue reading