Steve Jobs changes computing (again)

Dear Reader,  I apologize for the length of this article. It’s actually two articles smashed into one.  All together this post will take roughly 5 minutes to read.  I generally like to keep my posts shorter, but, I felt this level of completeness was required to deliver you any real value in a topic so loudly discussed as this product launch.
Thank you for reading.  -Tyler Willis

Today marked an historic announcement. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about Obama’s first State of the Union, but rather Steve Jobs’ unveiling of the new iPad.  So, how has Uncle Steve changed the game? Let’s take a look.


A perfect machine for Baby Boomers


I’m convinced the iPad is the perfect unit for a selling into a large market that hasn’t been catered to yet, has plenty of disposable income, and is would benefit the most immediately from what we will all come to recognize as a new type of computer: Baby Boomers.


At the time of the 2000 census, there were more than 79-million Baby Boomers in the US whom are now starting to slow down the pace of their daily lives as they transition towards retirement. Their personal computing needs (outside the office) aren’t very intensive — they communicate via email, read the news, share photos, maybe use video chat and do light research.


So, it would seem that current laptop or desktop computers do far more than is necessary for this audience.  And since added complexity often causes frustration, there may be a better solution. What would the perfect “home computer” for a boomer look like?


That machine would be:
\n- Simple to understand and use
\n- Quickly capable of completing tasks (see below)
\n- Be available whenever and wherever a need to interact with the digital world arose.


Here’s what that computer should be able to accomplish:
\n- Email/Calendar
\n- Booking movie tickets or reservations online
\n- Looking up references (online recipes, fact checking, manuals, etc.)
\n- Video chating with their family
\n- Storing pictures of family trips or events
\n- Occasionally doing light amounts of work
\n- Online Banking
\n(note: this is not intended to be exhaustive list,)


When you think about a machine that handles those common tasks well, and does so in a very responsive and always accessible way, the iPad is really the first good answer (more will follow if the iPad is successful).


Apple creates Ambient Computing

This type of machine represents a new concept — Ambient Computing.  Ambient Computing is robust enough to handle most computing tasks but requires much less effort to access than a traditional computer.

The most impressive innovation, and the one that truly makes Ambient Computing possible, was the A4 chip.  That chip is at the hart of the new devices speed and responsiveness. While, I hope this new chip design extends to the iPhone in the future, it currently, makes the iPad capable of near-instant boot and it empowers applications to be incredibly responsive.  It removes all of the experience associated with computing other than getting into your desired program and completing your goal.


If Apple has built a machine that almost entirely removes the starting cost of completing an action on a traditional computer (which, even in good scenarios, often takes 20-30 seconds on non apple machines), then it has created a machine that’s much more capable of capturing cognitive inspiration from it’s owner – making you, as the user, more likely to act on your ideas.  Apple is already good at this (going from sleep/closed to working on a new macbook is generally a sub-10 second proposition), but carrying a laptop with you everywhere is a nuisance, and pulling a computer out of your bag for a 1 minute task in most situations is awkward (and often rude). Smartphones already handle these issues well, but they are generally sluggish and unreliable for anything but the simplest tasks.


Bridging the accessibility of a mobile device with the robustness and trustworthiness of a full computer, will appeal to the large audience generally — which will grow over time.  But, Apple’s best bet for establishing this device category is to put up impressive sales numbers for the first model.  There’s also a huge immediate ability to replace the standard machine for lightweight home PC users – like baby boomers, as outlined above — or families, as outlined by Kottke.  If I was Scott Forstall, I’d be focused on empowering applications that resonate heavily with this crowd:  cookbooks come to mind, board games also, news/photos/communication will be killer (and already are on the machine), what else?


Sure, there are fairly unacceptable limitations like no camera, no easy solution for printing/scanning periphery, and questionable support of other screens (TV) for media content, which will have to be ironed out in V2. There are also broader reaching issues that might cause trouble for Apple: like the lack of flash support and the inability to show and track most web advertisements in mobile Safari. But with the hardware improvements announced today, the content and consumer-billing relationships Apple has built, and the knowledge that they can improve over several generations (do you remember the first iPod?), I think we are looking at a large market that Apple has a good chance of succeeding in.


That’s why I’m bullish on the iPad. With the keyboard dock, this could be a full-on replacement PC for some non-power consumers (Think of  WebTV — and trust me, WebTV users didn’t need multi-tasking). For heavier users, this still provides a great “ambient computing” experience that can allow someone to act on their immediate thoughts with far lower effort (creating more personal value), while still having a more robust machine capable of handling more demanding tasks.


I’m concerned about the movement away from open systems, but, that doesn’t change the writing on the wall for this type of device need — kudos to Apple for seeing and defining a great first step at an ambient computing device that I expect to become a category definer.


Great job Apple.

Ancillary thoughts that might be interesting to you:
- Who called this first?  Carl Howe back in 2005?
- I think the computing setup of the future looks like cheapish, durable long-term machines at home and work (think mac mini), smartphone for always there, and a “slate” for heavier-duty work that can travel with you. Phones and slates will change every 1-2 years, the stable machines will go 4-6.  Heavy duty tasks (ex: quickbooks), will migrate towards the slate over time.  At some point, you’ll see home/work machines becoming just docks/enhancements to the “brain” of your slate.  Slates will have to allow for more open computing for this future to occur (i.e. the iPad technology will have to run/support full OSX.
- Many of my friends hate the lack of multi-tasking. Let me make a bold statement: multi-tasking is not important in ambient computing, which, by it’s nature, will be most useful for single tasking.  Multi-tasking is a nice to have, but one that threatens Apple’s music sales (streaming pandora vs. using itunes) and encourages pundits to classify the machine as a replacement computer (hmm, kinda like I’m doing above), which Apple doesn’t want as it would set consumer expectations for the device too high and possibly cannibalize laptop sales (which are much higher margin right now).

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    Politics & Current Affairs

    Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

    Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

    The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

    Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

    In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

    It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

    Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

    Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

    The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

    It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

    In their findings the authors state:

    "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
    upholding First Amendment ideals.

    Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

    With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

    As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

    • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
    • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
    • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
    • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
    • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
    • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

    Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

    It's interesting to note the authors found that:

    "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

    You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

    Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

    • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
    • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
    • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
    • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
    • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
    • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

    Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

    Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

    • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
    • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
    • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
    • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
    • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
    • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

    Civic discourse in the divisive age

    Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

    There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

    "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
    dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
    the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
    These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
    putting our democracy in peril.

    Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
    immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
    become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
    Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
    The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
    re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
    building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

    We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

    This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.