Apple is Shaping Our Future

It’s just another day where I board the train and head home with an iPhone, iPad and MacBook in my bag. Since buying the iPad, I prefer it to the other three devices in nearly every situation except blogging, which still requires a real keyboard and at least a 13″ screen.

Something sort of hit me in the head while reading the New York Times as Bob Marley played into my earphones: I have no visual or performance signs that a song is playing other than the music entering my head. Bob Marley is singing “No Woman, No Cry” and the iPad doesn’t signal to me that it’s actually doing that, which feels magical, but it made me think about the future and how Apple  is shaping it.

In 2001, my iBook G3’s 500Mhz CPU would be 50 percent utilized while playing high quality music through the speakers. That number has dropped to basically zero while playing the same song on my Core i7 iMac, but iTunes is still open, taking up screen space even if it’s minimized or hidden. I know iTunes is open but the way I interact with iTunes hasn’t changed since iTunes 1.0 was released 10 years ago. The way my Macintosh organizes folders, plays music, and manages windows is unchanged, and it still takes a certain technical proficiency to understand this even if it is an easy-to-use Mac.

Today, while music played on my iPad and I was reading the news story, I thought about how there’s nothing showing a song is playing other than a play icon at the top of the screen. When I change the page or zoom in to a photo, nothing about the iPad’s performance is compromised, even if that song is heavily compressed. Music is playing, and my iPad doesn’t mind.

No other consumer electronics company has done this.

That’s a bold statement coming from a guy that uses Apple products almost exclusively, but I’ve been looking for a product like this for years. The iPod did this, but when you clicked a button on the device, it would show you the currently playing song. It was single-purpose, even if it did come with a way to view your calendars (only view, not change). Devices like my Palm Treo did this, but the music app would crash, and browsing the web would have a 50 percent cut in performance while playing music. Yes, it’s been four years, and the Treo was much slower with fewer resources, but Apple has set us on course to a point where our kids won’t have that feeling of, “I shouldn’t open my web browser because the music might skip.” For those of you who used the original iPhone extensively, music skipping was very common when hitting the phone with heavy tasks.

I didn’t see a huge change in how we interacted with technology until Apple came along with iOS and shook things up. The Mac and Windows experiences feel dated. There are power, usefulness and capabilities that iOS (and yes even Android devices) can’t do now, but it won’t be long before they can. In 2007, iPhone was cutting edge for having a tough screen that worked. These days, I can FaceTime with friends, download movies over the air, read the news as it happens, and always know the answer to what guy played in that movie within the time it would take to boot up the ole’ Mac and fire up Safari. Grab iPhone, slide to unlock, click Safari and search.

I don’t give Apple all of the credit, but this is TheAppleBlog, so it’s good to highlight everything Apple got right that set us in this direction. Who was going to change things and set us onto the next era of computing? Microsoft is still introducing product flops (ie. Microsoft Kin) and Google’s business model is to create and leverage technologies in order to target ads to you. I can’t think of another company other than Apple that’s continued to pioneer the technology experience. Cisco is a distant 4th, but it’s too busy powering the entire Internet to make consumer electronics. Sadly, Sony (c sne) has become more irrelevant as simply “expensive” and not as breakthrough as it was in the 90s. I still buy Sony TVs, but only because it’s Sony and not because it’s doing anything truly remarkable over Panasonic or Vizio.

Apple has set itself apart in the way it’s brought power to elegance — where the design of the software and form factor of the hardware fades away, and all you’re doing is sitting on a train, reading a news article while listening to a song. Of course, now that I think about it, that 3G connection to AT&T is ticking along as well. There was no application I had to pull up to initiate the connection (like on Mac OS or Windows 7), and there’s no thought to it. As soon as I leave the office, my Wi-Fi connection there drops and 3G starts. This kind of experience is something we all assume would be common in 2010 but you’d be surprised how many devices simply don’t do this in a way that the consumer can consume with no awareness of what’s going on behind the scenes.

I don’t know what it is but, with Apple technology, I feel the future. It’s not a stylus smartphone with a hardware keyboard; it’s not a 24″ tall tower with a big power button on the front; and it’s not a mouse with a cord attached and a floppy disk that makes this wretched click sound while reading and writing data. Apple doesn’t have any of that, and it’s chosen to integrated technologies into an experience that no other company has.

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