I’m sure I’m late to this whole thing (I blog once a week – in my underpants – and I really don’t know shit about technology) but having just had Windows 7 installed, I’ve just noticed that the “desktop” metaphor suddenly feels incredibly dated and stale. I’m looking at Microsoft’s state-of-the-art OS – the full-blooded Professional version, no less – and it seems to me that really I’m looking at Windows 3.1 with shinier icons.
Look down there. Yup. A taskbar. With a clock in the corner. Want to click a link? Move your mouse over there until the cursor changes from a pointer to a hand. Where do I keep my stuff? In a load of folders. I spend all day pointing and clicking and typing and dragging and dropping.
I used to work in usability, so took the word of Nielsen as gospel. First rule of interfaces? Consistency! So we’ve all spent the last epoch Doing As Microsoft Have Done. We put menus at the top. Close buttons in the top right. You right click for context menus. From these rules we draw our interpretation of what the software is doing.
Only, when you think about it – what does a game of FIFA 2010 have in common with a news website? And what does a news website have in common with a photography website? There are so many things out there now that doesn’t the idea of a single heterogeneous interface strike you as…. daft?
I don’t own an iPhone. I’m waaay too Yorkshire to shell out that kind of money on a phone. But fiddling with one a few weeks kickstarted my thoughts on the subject of what it brings to the party. The first thing is that an app can have whatever the hell kind of interface it needs to work. Play a game of FIFA and on the screen itself you get a touch-sensitive d-pad. Flick to a photo app and you can resize images by squeezing them between finger and thumb. Sometimes a tap of the finger zooms in somewhere. Other times it selects something.
The removal of the mouse/keyboard metaphor and all the it-must-behave-like-Word shit is suddenly out the window and this is pretty liberating stuff when you think about it. You can design interaction for purpose – not to follow some “rule” about imagined consistency.
I can’t quite imagine at this time how a desktop-less working environment would work but I’ll eat my hat if apps aren’t better than the browser/webpage set up we’ve been labouring under for the last 8 million years. How cool would it be if you could just reach over with a fingertip right now and stick my RSS feed into your favourites? Or send this scintillating piece of writing to a friend without having to put the cursor into the URL bar, copy its contents, open your email client, create a new email, paste the URL, write your friend’s email address and some context and, eventually, click ‘send’. All of that stuff – all of it – is necessary only because of the desktop metaphor.
I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the ‘web’ as we understand it today – a series of interlinked “pages” of content – will be replaced by apps that use the internet purely to draw data into cool interfaces that will totally fit whatever purpose you’re doing. Once you’ve seen a good houseprice app on an iPhone, going to a website seems pretty clunky. And once websites start to get clunky..?