Since a year ago at TheI named the big-screen iPod as the “next big thing in Content Management,” I feel empowered to comment on Tuesday’s news from Apple.
It’s no surprise to me that Al Gore and Steve Jobs are buddies, (though it’s hard to know what “buddy” means in that particular class). Both have an uncanny knack for getting people excited about ideas (easy computing, global warming, the Internet, digital music, etc.) that are not particularly unique, and seem almost inevitable once presented on bigger-than-life rear-projection screens. I kept thinking of all the Rocket eBooks, Palm Pilots, brick cell-phones, and tablet-PC devices littering the road to Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Apple’s own Newton is there, as well.
It was in either 1997 or 1998 that I went to a Scitex event in Dayton Ohio and watched a video of the “Scitex of the future.” All I remember is some guy climbing on the side of a mountain with a hand-held device in his hand. He was simultaneously doing all these cool things like talking to someone on a picture phone, analyzing scientific data, calling up a topographical map and sending his location to the helicopter pilot hovering above. And believe me, if Scitex “got it” then it was pretty obvious. Of course we want one device to do everything. And of course we want it to be small, easy-to-use and cool—qualities a company like Scitex could surely not deliver. But Apple will.
Unchained Melodies and Spreadsheets
The traditional business community will look at the iPhone the way it always looks at Apple products. “Not enough security.” “Won’t work with my (fill-in-the-blank).” “Too expensive.” “A consumer product.” But of course we all know it’s the beginning of a massive change in computing. There are millions of people chained to desks that should be out in the world, talking to customers, interacting with employees and smelling the roses. And doing email, and reviewing inventories, and working out who’s going to work the night shift. They don’t really need a big computer, and it would be a hell of a lot more productive not to give them one. And yes, those solutions exist now, but there’s something about Apple that makes the concept seem realistic.
So doesn’t true mobile computing change how we present information? It certainly should. I fear the easy internet capabilities of this next-generation hand-held device will give everyone a cop-out for not doing the work. The Web for a large desktop screen and the Web for an iPhone are considerably different. Only the transmission of the Web has become mobile, not the content, which is currently designed for people sitting in chairs, completely dedicated to the information at hand.
So while the digiterati are all talking about Web 2.0 or the Semantic Web, I say what about the Small Web? What does it mean to make your network available and fully functional to people with 3.5-inch screens as the window? You think it’s tiresome waiting for a Flash animation to load now? See what it feels like while you’re standing in line at the Airport.
Small is Beautiful
We need less information. Everybody knows that. We save too much, we have access to too many things, we over-protect and over-value meaningless drivel that was once thrown out at the end of most days or certainly most years. We carry around Gigabytes of “stuff” like we may need it at any moment. It will be refreshing to see companies struggle with down-sizing information the way they have down-sized everything else. But down-size they must! (Maybe we should issue “word credits” the way they issue “carbon credits”—spew out too many words and you have to trade with a bunch of Buddhist monks so it evens out.)
This is good news for the creative community, where less-is-more has always been the thing. And good news for those designers who have strong print aesthetics–mobile design has more in common with print than with the Web. You don’t approach designing a 3 x 5 postcard the same way you do a letter-size brochure.
Now is the time to start lobbying for more staff, pitching to clients and start working on new self-promo pieces. The eBook has finally arrived, only it sings and dances, too. What a great new format. It requires new design techniques, of course, but most exciting, it requires editing. There will be focus groups and usability studies, but they will only confirm the obvious—people on the move want billboards, not encyclopedias.
Oh oh. Didn’t we fire most of the editors a few years ago? Time to ride through all the brew-pubs and Starbucks in the land shouting “Come back. We need you! You matter again!”
No Time to Waste
I would fight for my company or my clients to have an iPhone-specific Web site up by June, and to have all PDF downloads available in a special iPhone-optimized format at the same time. Don’t take a “wait and see” attitude. Take a chance—it’s not even a very big one. Start re-designing your information and it’s architecture for this format. It’s different and it matters.
Oh yeah. And hire a couple of kids right away. Any will do.