Recently, a Microsoft executive suggested that Apple's iOS is boring. Why would he say that? I know exactly why. Thank goodness iOS is very boring indeed.
The number one goal for any technology company today is to seize and maintain control of our visual field, the extent of what our eyes can see.
We see that with television shows and movies that have graphical popups in the corner, sometimes annoyingly animated, that tell us about another show that's coming up. Recently, the NBC local affiliate station in Denver (KUSA) went to even greater extremes by routinely throwing up a giant banner with all kinds of distracting data over the visual field of the local news.
Every conceivable text distraction is displayed.
We also see that with Windows Phone active tiles. They're animated, begging for our attention. That's probably why Terry Myerson, the head of Microsoft's Windows Phone group, thinks that iOS is boring. It doesn't sufficiently seize control of our visual field.
Other examples are Facebook Home and Google Glass. While I am enthusiastic about the potential for good works with Google Glass, it is a prime example of how a company can develop technology that seizes control of our visual field for our benefit, but also its benefit.
Sometimes we have ourselves to blame. Our hunger for visual stimulation is so severe that when we're not watching the HDTV, we find another visual device on our lap to focus on. That effect, "The Second Screen," will be actively exploited. But at least we control if we elect to invoke the second screen. For now. There are plans, I have read, to make it an indispensible part of the primary viewing.
Because there are no socially implicit boundaries related to what extent a company can affront us with disturbances of the visual field, it's left to the marketplace to weed out the most offensive. What the industry is counting on is to boil our frog, inundate us with these visual assaults until we take it for granted and stop thinking about the harm it does to us.
Also, our values are seldom openly discussed. For example, should a mobile OS be declared "exciting" by virtue of what it can do for us? Allow us to achieve on our own? In the absence of that discussion, the idea of "exciting" defaults to how visually alluring the user interface can be made. If you doubt that, just close your eyes the next time you watch a movie trailer and note how the light moves across the inside of your eyelids. The goal is to mesmerize us and create a craving for the movie.
If a company can intercede in the visual field, it can insert its own agenda into our lives. That's one reason why really good thinkers sit quietly, undistracted. The capacity of the human mind to develop independent notions, perhaps dangerously independent notions, comes with reflection. Not with agitating, aggressive visions overlaid on our visual field that distract us from thinking about what's happening to us.
The seizing and holding of the customer's visual field is the new, foremost idea by not just advertisers but makers of technology who want to lure clients to their platform.
I like iOS 6 for its quiet confidence. It's there, ready to do what I want it to do. It invites me to appreciate its technology by what I can decide to do. The basic OS doesn't pester me, rather, it invites me to be in control. That's genuine technical excitement. I hope Apple never allows itself to be sidetracked from that goal for its customers.
I have a feeling Mr. Myerson has his own ideas about what he wants me to do. For him, "exciting" is keeping me glued to his company's cyberportal into my mind.
I saw a tweet the other day that suggested a possible correlation between the popularity smartphones and the reduction in UFO sightings. The notion was that, independent of thoughts about UFOs, no one looks up anymore.
We should look up more.