A friend recently forwarded me an interview with Robert Cailliau, co-developer of the world wide web. At one point Calliau says the inefficiency of the iPhone drives him crazy, asking why he must take eight steps to enter an appointment instead of two on his Treo.
“I like things to be beautiful,” he says. “But first and foremost they have to be productive…. This is totally ridiculous.… Why are we going backwards?”
Apple’s design philosophy emphasizes beauty and simplicity, sacrificing some efficiency. It’s wonderful to have a one-button phone, but that means it has to take more steps to do other things.
The genius behind Apple’s designs lies in a ruthless enforcement of simplicity. If you achieve purity of design, people tolerate significant limitations (like no copy and paste on the first iPhone). But if you bet on purity, you have to be all in. Once you spoil the purity, people stop forgiving the limitations.
In contrast, the original Palm OS philosophy emphasized the simplicity of efficiency, sacrificing beauty. I sought purity in functional and visual efficiency. Ruthlessly minimize steps for frequent tasks. Press one button to power on and see your entire day’s schedule in a split second. Beauty wasn’t problematic in principle, but it was in practice–back then it would have required making a painfully slow and bulky mobile device.
Unfortunately, an interface optimized for stylus-based input for calendar and contacts (and 1995 hardware) cannot by definition be optimized for a keyboard-based phone with email, browser and camera. Palm OS took us pretty far, but the purity was lost. Apple started with a clean slate and succeeded with a new form of purity.
Palm later came back with webOS, bringing back beauty and fresh innovations to the interface. But I’d like to see a comeback for some of the ruthless efficiency of old. Maybe a few extra seconds doesn’t bother many people. But an iPhone processor is 37.5 times faster than a Pilot processor was. I refuse to believe I’ll never be able to look up a phone number as quickly as I could fifteen years ago.