1. 6
  1. 6

    (Holy fsck did I write all this wall of text??)

    If anyone cares for some historical perspective:

    I had the utter misfortune of working in a department where everyone worshipped (the ghost of the recently deceased) Steve Jobs right around the time when Windows 8 was happening, and I remember all this quite vividly for reasons that I can’t quite get into without sounding like an asshole. Suffice to say that I wasted spent about an year of my career in a place where everyone was convinced the “post-PC” age was here and that notebooks and especially desktops are dead and that any CIO worth their money should just stop all PC purchases and get everyone an iPhone and an iPad. At one point I was seriously beginning to question my own sanity.

    But – at the risk of sounding like an asshole – I want to say that what I got out of this experience was that an uncannily vocal crowd of product managers in the software, hardware, and consumer electronics industries are living in some parallel universe. Because this whole “converged UI” and “tablets are the future” craze was never going to happen, and everyone knew it was not going to happen, and the writing was on the wall, in bold font.

    And by “everyone” I mean even people who posted “the future of UX is convergent” on Twitter (or, well, execs who had their teams post “$exec said the future of UX is convergent at $conference” on Twitter) didn’t believe it. And virtually everybody who was working on it in 2013 or so (at which point Windows 8 was about one year old) knew it was never going to happen but you could not say that out loud, for cryin’ out loud!

    (Edit: just to make it clear, I’m not being hyperbolic about this. I’ve literally seen press releases being drafted that said things along those lines, and people looking over them and saying “are we actually sure we want to say these things, I mean, I really don’t see how this would work…” – and then saying those things, exactly, in interviews and presentations and whatnot.)

    First, for the converged UIs, because this one is shorter: they looked very neat in the presentations. But after having to deal with them in two teams, two extremely different contexts (consumer software used by non-techies, then medical devices used by medical professionals), the most important thing I learned about them is that they performed abysmally in virtually every serious usability study out there, and there is absolutely no way in hell the folks in Redmond didn’t realize that, too.( I can certainly believe Canonical didn’t because, you know, open source desktops would be a lot better if people trusted usability studies, and I mean studies, not “we asked five interns to perform these tasks”, over design folklore).

    Using several devices (laptop + phone, laptop + tablet, tablet + phone) as part of a professional workflow, with time pressure and all, was extraordinarily confusing for all but the simplest of tasks. Early results were encouraging because they looked neat, and early “hallway” usability studies were conducted in environments that made these workflows particularly easy – an empty desk with only a laptop and a phone, in a quiet environment, in a well-lit room, demoed to people who were, if not outright tech enthusiasts, at least techy enough to work in one of the fancy departments at a large company.

    Maybe there were, I dunno, a grand total of 5,000 people in the world who fit this profile, working in about 20 places. For everyone else the whole “you do X on the computer and hey, see? now it says Y on the phone, and you can take the phone with you in the cafeteria and continue working” was a) very confusing, because most of the them needed five minutes to locate their phones in the mess on their desks and b) utterly useless, because b1) only cafeteria staff and people with fancy titles work in the cafeteria and b2) if they keep pulling out their phones, their boss starts hovering over their shoulder, passive-aggresively wondering why they’re not working, and good luck convincing them that they’re actually working, see, this is a convergent UX and it’s the future!

    As for the touch screen thingies. The official line was that virtually all the work currently being done in a modern company is done over e-mail or some internal messenger (this was before Slack), that the boundaries between “work” and “home” are getting blurrier and blurrier, that users are expecting a more personal kind of interaction that PCs cannot deliver, and that, therefore, the productive workstation of the future is the phone, augmented by a tablet when more real estate is necessary.

    At some point, one of these designer-cum-product-manager types delivered a fancy presentation (classical music and all) to an audience of about 100 people from all over the company. And all 100 of us – developers, accountants and whatever – were wondering what the hell this guy was tripping on and, more importantly, where we might get some of that, because literally none of that was true for virtually anyone there.

    Yes, when your entire workday consists of calling people, forwarding email, and attending meetings, you can probably get by with nothing but a phone and a tablet, but that describes the work of a tiny, tiny fraction of the people in most companies.

    Incidentally, they are the ones at the top of the decision-making chain, so I’m pretty convinced that this whole “tablets are the future” push happened through some freak accident of history, when several product managers, at several different companies, got the first thing in the product manager playbook wrong, and they thought their needs happen to be their customers’ needs. And we all had to suffer through about eight years of bullshit because of that.

    (Edit: So the point I’m getting at is that this:

    But tablet makers didn’t deliver. Apple sat on its hands: iPads got slimmer, faster, higher-res and with more storage, and nothing else. Google failed to commit: Android Honeycomb looked good, but almost all the big-screen UI enhancements were gradually dropped from later Android versions. Why? No answer ever came.

    is just a symptom of that alternate reality thing.

    Tablet makers didn’t “deliver” on things they never really committed to – internally – for a second. It was great hype but virtually everyone with an ounce of realism knew it wasn’t going to happen. There’s no way that, by 2014 or so, there was anyone at Apple, Google, Microsoft or anywhere else who had not tried to see if tablets could be used as productive workstations, and had not found out that nope, that’s just not going to fly. Now of course they couldn’t say that – and tank their sales – they just quietly waited for everyone to figure it out on their own.)

    1. 4

      Also much longer than I thought it would be.

      tl;dr Jobs was not a fan of “Convergence” in the Windows8 sense.

      One thing about your experience struck me as weird. So you worked for a company where all the PHBs worshipped Jobs, but were also convinced that “Convergence” would lead us to a “Post-PC” era where everyone would use one portable device to do … everything. That was a common delusion at the time, especially amongst PHBs with high mobile computing needs, and not much engineering or software dev knowledge.

      The part that I find weird is that Apple, and Steve Jobs, were never big believers in this “One device for everything” convergence that your PHBs were such big fans of. The iPhone and iPad and the Mac have always been, and, at this point, always will be, 3 separate devices, with 2 very different operating systems and interfaces, optimized for the purpose that they’re designed for. Apple and Jobs’ vision was almost the exact opposite of “Convergence”, more “The right tool for the right job”.

      More importantly, I think they were proven right. I have a mac laptop, an iPhone that lives in my pocket, and an iPad that lives next to my couch. They’re all perfect for what they do, within the constraints they need to have. The iPhone needs to be able to go everywhere with you, the iPad needs to be relatively portable and comfortable to use while not at a desk, and the mac needs to be able to be used with a keyboard and mouse for heavy duty data entry.

      Rather than try and cram all of these varying requirements onto one device, or in one OS, as Windows tried to do, and all of the proponents of “Convergence” wanted, Apple realized that you can have multiple devices for multiple purposes, and just make sure the file formats were compatible, and it was easy to keep documents and files in sync across all the devices, so you had the data you needed, when you needed it, on the device you had with you.

      1. 3

        The part that I find weird is that Apple, and Steve Jobs, were never big believers in this “One device for everything” convergence

        No, but as with all cults, ideas tend to start having a life of their own if the subject of veneration or the cult founder are absent and don’t provide much-needed guidance. Some folks were chanting the convergence mantra starting from “the tight integration in the Apple ecosystem”, others based on Apple’s primary development focus having already started to shift away from Macs and going towards iPhone and the iPad, and so on. Also, that place was, fundamentally, a Windows shop, so this was all being adulterated by periodic infusions of grand ideas parachuted via various Microsoft evangelists and MVPs.

        Now that you mention it, I do recall asking exactly the same question in one of the endless bikeshedding design meetings – if this is such a grand idea, how come Apple isn’t doing it – and the Apple Evangelism Strike Force patiently explained to me that Apple is absolutely going to do it, and soon, it’s just they have a tradition of not being the first to the market with an idea but being the first to the market with a flawless implementation of an idea, or something along those lines.

    2. 1

      I really miss a good cheap Windows tablet. I used to have one of the very early low-end Surface tablets. It was great for plopping on the couch and surfing the internet, and still let me access the other file systems on my home network and run some applications. But the battery eventually gave out and the damn case was entirely glued. I tried heating the glue, but it wasn’t something I was experienced at and I cracked the screen.