The future of computing? In MY house? More likely than you think
Growing up in my house as a tech enthusiast wasn’t easy. I was lucky when we had dial up Internet and I was the only person in the house who really cared much about tech. My dad was very much a jaded Luddite when it came to technology (due in part to seeing how pathetic dial up Internet is) and I assumed my entire family would be relegated to this technology-less world, never getting any tech equipment unless I bought it for them.
Visiting home again this week I can really see how the tech has changed. Not only has it itself changed, but it has changed my family and it’s turned them into early adopters (they still rely on my hand-me-downs though). So what turned my family into technology loving people? iOS and Verizon.
The Mac provides such a better desktop computing experience but it is still a desktop computing experience. OS X is powerful. Really too powerful for people who want to do simple things with their computers or want those things they do to be really simple. Walking my step mom through sending an email was a laborious process that took 15-20 minutes of over the phone explanation. You might imagine my surprise when I started getting emails with photo attachments from her a couple weeks after giving her my iPhone 3GS. I never actually showed her how to do it; she figured it all out on her own.
My dad has largely been the same way ever since he got an iPhone on my AT&T plan. But due to network limitations (i.e. AT&T sucks in rural Iowa) he was stuck using some unfortunate workarounds to do simple things like texting. After making the transition to Verizon (which required me to pay hefty ETFs but they were entirely worth it) I watched my family’s data usage grow massively as they started being able to use their phones for more things. They are showing me the radio streaming apps they have found and enjoy. My mom showed me the app she started using to dictate notes after she cared for patients (and I showed her how to automatically transcribe them into Evernote). My brother has discovered how to use quantities of mobile data I didn’t even know one could consume on a 3G network. And my sister kicks ass at Angry Birds. The best part of all this? I almost never get questions from them on how to do the things they are doing. They are doing these things completely without trouble and they love their phones. These are people who were constantly complaining about their equipment. I now hear nothing but words of praise (though there are complaints across the board about the Verizon prices, but they are the only carrier to provide 3G to our farm).
I got my family an iPad for Christmas as well. Mostly expecting them to use it for games, the iPad is serving as the family computer. My dad is going to start dabbling in using Numbers to manage his spreadsheets, it’s used quite a bit for Internet browsing and gaming, and a lot of Netflix movies are watched on it. Printing can be done relatively easily with a Mac Mini set up to do printer sharing wirelessly.
Is everything they want to do painlessly easy? No. I often have to resort to suggesting clever and kludgy workarounds in situations where iOS is currently limited. But that number of limitations is shrinking with each iOS release and iOS’s feature set is approaching the set of things that my family wants to do with their iDevices.
This house that I previously struggled to get high speed access for is now blanketed in 3G. I looked around this evening watching my dad play with the GargeBand app in amazement, and I looked over at my sister intently playing Angry Birds Rio. My family may not have been first in line to get first gen iPhones but they are absorbed into these great devices and are for sure the earliest adopters of these iOS devices in my hometown.
The argument that has been going on about iPad since its introduction is this assertion that iPad isn’t a device worth buying because there is nothing it can do that a desktop computer can’t do. But the futuristic and innovative thing about it is that people like my parents are using it when previously they couldn’t do a thing on a desktop computer without my help. That is huge. In 2011 when computers have been in people’s homes for decades now it shouldn’t be huge yet it is. Moving from a command line based interaction model to the mouse and keyboard based GUI was a great leap in usability. The leap to touch based interaction was similarly large and I can see clearly now that this leap takes us to where we need to be to make computers and technology truly ubiquitous.