Average Users Aren’t Idiots (We Don’t Live In Narnia and Your Friends Aren’t Talking Otters)

January 28, 2010

Ok, the iPad.

Whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

I’m annoyed by all the defense of the device’s failures by my peers who are justifying the shortcomings as features that only mega-geeks want; they say that the mythical ‘average user’, like some strange breed of lobotomized unicorn, is not interested in these issues. (*cough* Jeff Croft’s iPad Thoughts and Jason Beaird’s iPad: It’s not for us are two stellar examples of this ‘average user’ argument *cough*)

Really? Are you patting yourself on the back that much about how awesome you are that you think it’s still 1999 and we’re logging onto the Internet via a series of loud angry screeches? (Oh dialup modems, how I don’t miss you.) Virtually everyone (in America, at least) uses browsers on a very regular basis. Over 350 million people use Facebook. There’s been these little instant messaging programs with names like MSN or gTalk  for a long, long time now. My friend’s grandparents use Skype to talk to their friends in other countries.

What these people lack isn’t a taste for the features we geeks have been talking about. What they lack is the terminology for it. My mom isn’t going to say she wants “multitasking.” She is, however, going to want to have her browser open to look at websites while having access to her IM program to chat with family and friends.

That basic pair of tasks: browsing + chat, does not exist on the iPad. That is a single example that fits the everyday life of millions of people. To tell me that some sort of mythical upper class are the only ones who want to do that is to live a magical life in Narnia, where your friends are mostly talking animals; the majority of which lack opposable thumbs.

One last thing: the App Store. You want to run a program on the iPad? Better hope that Apple wants you to have it. Have fun surfing the Internet without Flash. For better or worse, a good part of the web still runs on it. Apple seems to be pushing farther towards a closed ecosystem, which is the complete opposite of what most of us standardistas believe in. You can’t pretend the device is the replacement to a netbook when it doesn’t have the same breadth and variety of software. Some people celebrate it, claiming the closed ecosystem of the App Store makes it somehow better, filled only with quality software.

Like iFart, which for a time was the #1 app in the store.

The iPad does have a lot going for it (however, the name is killing me.) But let’s not pretend that we’re some rare breed of horse, and that these shortcomings only impact 1% of users. Because that’s clearly a fantasy, and the average person lives in the real world, just like us.

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20 Responses to “Average Users Aren’t Idiots (We Don’t Live In Narnia and Your Friends Aren’t Talking Otters)”

  1. Totally agree with you.

    There are two markets for an iPad like device. One is a casual user (a content consumer), which is what the iPad is aiming for. The other is “power” users, or to be more accurate – people who create content. That’s not who iPad is aimed at.

    I’d like an iPad that runs OSX. A lot of people would. Those people are content creators. But an iPad aimed at us is not viable because the technology isn’t there yet. And so we get the “average users” argument, which is just weak justification for why “power users” ought to put up with it.

    Fact is that iPad doesn’t do what we content-creators want from a tablet, and that’s OK because it’s not aimed at those people yet.

    But I sure as hell hope Apple make one aimed at us in the next few years.

  2. Frankly, if I wanted a product like what they’re offering, I would just got get myself a laptop. At least I know it has a functional, reliable keyboard that will know exactly where my fingers are (even if they’re on the wrong keys), and will let me do my fifty different things at once.

    I mean… the point of having a computer is generally not to just have one program open. Isn’t that why we have task bars or object docks or whatever in the first place?

    Maybe if the iPad had an “alt + tab” feature…? Well, yeah, don’t see that happening soon.

  3. I agree with you for the most part, but I can also see both sides. I would LOVE the ability to multitask on my iPhone but if you’ve ever used a “jailbroke” iPhone that is using Springboard or whatever it’s called and you are allowed to multitask then comes the awesome battery sucking app that sits in the background. I’ve heard that excuse from Apple in the past when referring to multitasking and the iPhone but it seems like Android handles that decently.

    It seems like the focus is mostly on the iBook Store and “surfing the web” (BTW I hate that phrase as much as I hate the idea of channel surfing) and someone mentioned yesterday that not supporting Flash could be Apple’s way of saying that they have that much faith in HTML5. Personally, I don’t think there is a single site that I visit daily or even weekly that is solely built on Flash. Without Flash my internet experience still goes on and I’m not missing out on anything. When I first started playing with Flash I saw the potential because I was studying 3D modeling and I saw what a guy named Billy Bussey was doing using 3D models and interacting with them in Flash. I quickly realised that Flash in it’s self is only accessible to those without any visual disability. From that time on I decided it wasn’t for me. You can look at Daniel Mall’s stuff and I think he really does it right. He really uses Flash and knows how to make it accessible. That’s cool, but damn that is a lot of work. I love motion, 3D, vector artwork and all that but I’m some what of a nerd in that I like to be able to look under the hood, see some code and trust that any where can see/access it. That’s why I haven’t been a big fan of developing with Flash. I do know that it has some other purposes like file uploading (Gmail) and what not but HTML can handle that well enough with a decent backend infrastructure and database.

    That all being said I agree that even my totally un-computer-savvy parents can and do use more then one program at one time, but they don’t really need to. After all a person is really only capable of focusing on one task at a time and the average person it’s going to get an iPad so they can be uber-productive. They’re going to get it because it feels good to own it. This, to me, isn’t a revolutionary device. What will be revolutionary is if people decide to do great things with the device.

  4. BTW, I love the Ethan Marcotte inspired captcha :)

  5. I’m with you on the average-user argument — it’s condescending bull — though I suspect that overall I have a higher opinion of the iPad than you.

    I’ve found on the iPhone that the combination of very fast application launches, apps that transparently save their state on exit and restore it on launch, and push notifications combine to make an acceptable substitute for multitasking. I _can_ browse and IM at the same time, because the transition between the two apps is so fast and seamless that it may as well be multitasking. (Certainly it’s less time and clicks than app-switching on the last Windows Mobile phone I used, though it’s probably not quite as fast as Palm’s WebOS. Then again, WebOS’s other performance problems generally make a pretty good argument for why iPhone _doesn’t_ multitask yet.)

  6. Why wouldn’t a developer be able to make an app that is both chat AND browsing? I predict we’ll see a new breed of “multitasking apps” released due to the increased real estate and faster CPU on the iPad.

  7. @Trevor & Dan – You make good arguments for not multitasking on a smartphone, but the iPad, despite it’s OS heritage, isn’t a smartphone. It’s a laptop device that’s in the same market as netbooks and some of the smaller genuine laptops. It’s got more processing power, and thus the “multitasking is too intensive” argument doesn’t fly as well in that category of device.

    So, interesting points, but they seem less applicable to this particular toy.

  8. @Flowb33 – Because Apple won’t approve another actual full browser app in the App Store.

  9. @Dan I love my iPhone, and I hate the way it “handles” multi-tasking. Even with push notifications, the need to constantly close and re-open programs, wait for my IM to load (eBuddy can be horrendously slow) or wait for Safari to reload my web-page when I was in the middle of typing out a comment on something is awful. Not to mention that once I’ve got eBuddy, the iPod, and Safari open, things start slowing down really quickly. Maybe its just my phone, but I crash more often than I’d like.

  10. @Kyle — You’re right that the “too-intensive” argument doesn’t fly here. That was kind of an aside about the iPhone & Pre, I didn’t really intend to apply it to the iPad :-) I think some of it might just be a matter of how much software they wrote before ship date — I wouldn’t be surprised if OS 4.0 brought multitasking to the iPad. But of course, we don’t know, since Apple doesn’t talk about their road map, for better or worse.

    Also, Apple does approve other browser apps, just not other browser rendering engines. There are plenty of iPhone browser or browser-plus-something-else apps, like 1Password, Incognito, Edge Browser, WebMate… But they all use WebKit.

    @Janae — My “almost as good as multitasking” argument is utterly reliant on very fast loading apps, so if eBuddy is loading slowly, then it falls apart. It may be reliant on the additional RAM of my 3GS as well, since Mobile Safari will keep open pages in RAM unless it runs short. (This is a case where Apple follows different rules for themselves than they allow for 3rd-party apps.)

  11. As I told you on Twitter, no multi-tasking is a business decision than technical. e.g. If I can run Pandora in the background, then i’d have less incentive to buy music from iTunes. etc.

    I think it’s best not to compare iPad to iPhone/iTouch or any other tablet devices just yet. I’ll reserve my judgment until I actually hold one in my hand in the Apple store.

    BUT, if I didn’t have a MBP already, iPad is something I’d purchase for myself. It’d be a couch/potty/bed/coffeshop device I use, for pure content consumption purpose.

  12. @Jin – The business decision angle of it, as it were, is something that deeply bothers me. As in, yes, I do want to listen to Pandora while browsing the web. No, I don’t want to pay $500+ for a device that requires me to to then buy more music from Apple if I want to do this.

    From their standpoint, a closed application system is awesome, they get a cut from every App sold. But for me, that’s anathema. Decades of pushing towards more capable open devices only to reverse the trend to make Apple more money? No thanks.

  13. Yehuda Katz’s article ( http://yehudakatz.com/2010/01/27/the-irony-of-the-ipad-a-great-day-for-open-technologies/ ) says it really well:

    “Ironically, despite claims that not allowing Flash or Java represent a victory for proprietary technologies and a loss for open technologies, they represent quite the opposite. By restricting the web platform on the iPhone and iPad to open, patent-free, technologies, Apple has created a highly desirable market for pure-HTML5 apps. This is, frankly, a win for supporters of open technologies.”

  14. @Trevor – I personally think “restricted software” and “open technologies” aren’t compatible concepts. What good is open technology if you have to pay Apple a nickel every time you want to use it on their device?

    This all goes away from my original point, which was and remains: average users aren’t idiots, and don’t deserve to be told what they don’t want by egotistical self-proclaimed geeks.

  15. My comments were based on the last part of your post so I don’t see it as off-topic, rather just pinpointing one topic from the post.

    You’re right. No one needs to be condescending in this matter. That point I agree with you 100%.

    It’s a pretty trivial point to spend the time and effort on to write a blog post about or for that matter commenting on.

  16. @Trevor – When it’s clear that people are being disrespectful, and being applauded for it, I don’t think it’s a waste of time to call them out for that. That’s how some of these “average users aren’t us” posts have gone.

    If posts defending the product of a corporation are more important than posts defending the intelligence of my friends and family, then I don’t want to be identified with the “geeks” that claim the former matters more than the latter.

  17. I agree with you. That wasn’t meant to be a shot at you for writing this blog post. I respect you, your work and your opinions as I would hope you would respect mine.

  18. Perhaps you did your central point a slight disservice by opening and closing your article with iPad commentary. But you are very much correct — average users are not idiots, and we as an industry need to come to grips with that fact. There is far too much condescension and far too little real focus on the inherent usability issues that permeate both tech products and the way we talk about them. (It’s better than it used to be, though.)

  19. iPad = nothing but heavy marketing to trendy folk – doesn’t solve any real world problem

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