This morning we placed an order to give every employee at our company Apple’s new tablet pc.
When April 3 comes around everyone at BTG (which we are renaming to Base22 soon) will have their hands on what we think will be a transformative device. We made this decision for several reasons. First, it became increasingly clear from office chatter – including from our CEO – that everyone in our company was planning to buy one anyway and several said they would buy two and give one to their mother. As technology consultants we all have both individual, and collective reputations as early adopters. When clients ask about new technology and how it will impact their business we need to have an answer based on more than second hand experience.
From my own perspective, the transition to a multi-touch web is as big as the transition from text to html. Most people don’t know this but the web prior to 1994 the web looked like this:
When I became a webmaster of a popular site in 1995 I had lots of users writing me to remember to check the site in browsers like Lnyx. But these guys were fighting a losing battle. Within a year of its launch the graphic based browser completely replaced the text only version for everyone but the contrarians. Another way to look at it was in 1994 the mouse replaced the keyboard as the main way to navigate the web. In the 2000’s the mobile phone gave the text based browser a small bump but for the most part – the text only web died in 94.
Now the mouse is about to have its own competition. In the next few years, as the prices of multi-touch devices like the iPhone and iPad and their many imitators fall, it will become as unusual for a computer to not respond to touch as it is today for one not to have a mouse. Try to use your computer with out a mouse. It can be done. I promise. But it’s hard and most people today can’t do it (just like most people don’t know how to drive a car with a manual transmission).
In a couple of years it will be just as hard to only use a mouse. People will try to swipe, pinch, and flick and be perplexed when nothing happens. Devices like the iPad will be the gift people give to their techno-phobic parents and grandparents. Many people that don’t want, or can’t drive “a standard” anymore (in quotes because its hardly standard any more for a car to be manual transmission).
One of my first jobs was teaching computer skills to FDA meat inspectors. Most of these guys were older men, former vets and doctors. The FDA was moving from a paper based system to computer based and Texas A&M hosted classes to do the training. They each came to class and sat a computer – many for the first time in their lives – and had to be taught everything. The very first thing we asked them to do was take the mouse and point at the start button. Half the class would always pick up the mouse and point it, literally at the screen. No one would laugh. They just looked up for the next instruction. So we back up and say, “no no, put it down, just move it around and watch the screen – you see that little moving arrow…” and work from there.
We encouraged them to play solitaire. It was a great way to learn how to use the mouse because you use the mouse like you do your fingers – clicking a card picked it up, and you move it and let it go. It taught them the symbolic but abstract relationship between the thing on the screen and the thing in their hand. Now that abstraction is no longer needed. The computer will become much more intuitive and easy to use because of it.
My mother in law now has an iPhone. With the iPhone a whole new world of functionality opened to her. Now she sends SMS messages, takes photos, looks up addresses on google maps, enters contact information in the address book. All these feature were on her old phone – buried under text based menus – but she never used them. Now she does.
What I’m trying to say is that we didn’t buy the iPads for everyone just to make them happy, just to build moral and team spirit. We did it for the same reason we would need to buy them a mouse in 1994 – we have too. The web is going to change – fast.
But that doesn’t stop us from all being very very excited about our new toys. Including me.
I’m very proud that my company is both able (we have had a good year) and willing – all of us on the board understand the importance of staying ahead of the tide.