Scientists & Researchers Slam Apple's Approach To Designing Computers

ZDNet reports that a gathering of scientists and academics at the Association for Computing Machinery conference spent much of a Q&A session slamming PC makers in general and Apple in particular. According to the stories, the scientists and researchers are tense because computers are not being designed towards their use or towards people, but are instead being designed around technology, or , worse yet, style. According to the report:

Industrial designers poked fun at virtually all facets of computers and other electronic gadgets, and the Apple iMac--displayed in PowerPoint presentations in its groovy new shades--bore the brunt of scorn and jokes about how fashion has superseded functionality. One presenter went so far as to blame the nonintuitive, nonhuman-oriented design of desktop computers for the current economic slowdown that has ravaged the broader technology sector.

"The situation is really serious," said William Buxton, chief scientist for graphics software developer Alias Wavefront and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto. "Much of what is happening economically is because we are pursuing a foolish thing--growing PCs exactly as we have been in the past. I believe design is the key to get us out of this slump."

"If Rip Van Wrinkle went to sleep in 1982 and woke up today, heid be able to drive our modern computers with no problem because theyire essentially unchanged," Buxton said, alternating between a slide of a 1982 computer and trio of iMacs in tangerine and other bright shades. "Thereid just be more crap on it."

"We have a market of very confused customers and observers," said Martin Schuurmans, CEO of Dutch electronics giant Philipsi Center for Industrial Technology. "We distinguish ourselves by the color and design, and...maybe a blinking antenna in Japan. I would call that a world fragmented with features, and...of course it cannot stay that way.

Windows-based PCs joined Apple and the iMac as the subject of derision, but much of the criticism was leveled at Apple. According to the report:

Michael Dertouzos, professor and director of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, said the IT industry has failed to create "human-centered computing" and instead requires people to have a relatively high degree of skill to perform the most simple digital tasks. For example, he said, users of Windows-based computers must know that to turn off the computer they have to click on "Start"--not an intuitive step to end a computing session.

Targets of the criticsi scorn included convoluted commands such as the common "Alt-Control-Delete" sequence used to close a program or perform an emergency shutdown. They also lambasted computer designers who refuse to distribute the machinesi intelligence to smaller devices scattered throughout the home, instead insisting on packing a single box with maximum functionality.

The last main point made was that computers need to be designed with a new paradigm in mind. According to the report:

The essence of the speakersi complaints was that computer engineers have spent the last five decades designing computers around the newest technology--not for the people who use the machines. That has resulted in computers packed with technologically interesting but relatively useless features that have little to do with our daily lives. The vast majority of computers have few interactive features and are largely unable to forecast human behavior, Buxton said, rendering them less advanced than airport toilets that flush automatically when the user departs the stall.

"Shouldnit your computer be as smart as your toilet?" Buxton asked to a round of laughter.

Read the full report at ZDNet. There is a lot that we did not quote. Additional issues include some of the toys on the market that the group considered nifty examples of progress.