It’s all the rage these days. You fire off an email to Apple‘s Steve Jobs, the CEO of one of the world’s biggest and most secretive technology companies, and to your astonishment, the great man himself replies.
You then publish said email, sit back and watch as the tech press dissect each and every word.
It’s quite the media spectacle, especially when you factor in that Steve can’t (and doesn’t) reply to every email he receives. But when he does, the replies are usually sparse and occasionally cryptic.
Steve’s reply to my lengthy email was no different.
We will keep making the best computers on the planet. We love it.
Sent from my iPhone
So what did I ask him?
This is where things get a little personal. It wasn’t so much a question as a stream of caffeine-induced consciousness over an issue that has been on my mind for some time. In fact, ever since I lost my first game of Wii Sports.
As some readers will be aware of, I have a physical disability which means I use a wheelchair and have other ‘challenges’, a fact that is largely hidden in the work I do as a journalist. It’s also, thankfully, very much in the background in my everyday life and, for the most part, a non-issue. Technology, and in particular the personal computer/GUI, has played a major role in helping to create this level playing field.
That said, more physically demanding User Interfaces – touch and gesture – have the potential to turn that world upside down. That’s obviously a bit dramatic – there will always be lots of different products on the market – but it’s a possibility nonetheless. What was so wonderful about the PC/desktop GUI era that Steve and the original Mac team helped usher in, is that technology didn’t have to be adapted for me. It just worked, the same as everybody else. Precisely how I like it.
These days, however, Steve Jobs and Apple are driving the trend towards touch and gesture, which can require greater dexterity and physical effort (the scene in Minority Report springs to mind). It’s for that reason, and to the astonishment of friends and colleagues, that I don’t yet own an iPad despite my excitement over the future of Apple’s tablet. I do, however, posses several touchscreen phones and have reviewed many more.
Moving forward, Jobs has described PCs (and the Mac) as ‘trucks'; they’ll still be manufactured but will become less mainstream and more specialist.
It’s with that reference in mind that I fired off an email entitled: I don’t want to be a truck driver.
I’m publishing it here almost in its entirety, minus a few personal details. Also, take it with a slight pinch of salt as I was clearly trying to invoke a response and, hopefully, start a conversation. At least I succeeded with the former.
I’m a long time Mac user, having owned my first Mac when I was 16.
I’ve just turned 35.
And the thing is, aside from my electric wheelchair, the Mac is the most important piece of technology in my life, having enabled me to live and work independently for approaching two decades… now a technology journalist.
The Mac has put me on a level playing field with those without a disability, and for that I’m eternally grateful to you and all of the hard working people at Apple. (I was born in 1975, the same year the homebrew computer club was founded, I believe. Great timing, eh?)
But now, your description of the Mac (or PC era) as a truck has me worried. You see, I like racing the same cars as everybody else and winning.
However, the trend towards touch and other more physically demanding interfaces, as magical as they may be, is disenfranchising to say the least. A trend that you are setting with the iPhone and iPad, with your usual artistry and vision. As you know, your influence on the whole industry is huge.
But, it’s also a ‘one size fits all’ vision, with your reluctance to build an iPhone with a physical keyboard and optical trackpad for limited one handed navigation, for example.
(Take a look at the Palm Pixi for inspiration, and by the way, Android can accept both touch and trackpad/scroll wheel navigation, for the most part.)
Or an iPad that comes in 5inch, 7inch and 10inch configurations and a built-in kick stand or clam shell design.
It’s not that I can’t use the existing iPhone or iPad, just not as efficiently as everybody else, so I haven’t invested in either.
Am I now destined to drive trucks forever?
And if so, please keep making the best trucks on the market.
Or will you consider building iPhone/iPads with different form factors?
Just food for thought.
So there you have it.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Steve’s answer, it feels a bit stock. However, after re-reading it several times, he’s probably saying: “we hear you regarding accessibility and form-factors” or “don’t worry, we’ll still be making the best trucks on the market.”
In the end, I’ll settle for either. On the smartphone front, there’s always Nokia, Android, BlackBerry, Palm (HP) and tons of others out there producing devices with varying form-factors and modes of operation. The same will be true for Internet tablets. And I can’t see my MacBook (and future Mac OS updates) disappearing anytime soon.
As Steve says: “We will keep making the best computers on the planet. We love it.”
That’s good enough for me.