Hobbits, Habits & Hobgoblins: Why iOS 7 Must Change

Personal assessments of what technology to adopt and what to ignore is what we do these days. Developers develop, technical columnists experiment and report, and individuals decide "yea or nay." Basing those decisions on old-fashioned or emotional preconceptions in increasingly unproductive.

iOS is Aging Technology

When the iPhone was first conceived and derived from Mac OS X, everything that a mobile OS didn't need was stripped away. The User Experience, because of the small 3.5-inch display, was deemed to be constrained to one app at a time. Multi-tasking on such a small screen and a device with limited capabilities didn't make sense in 2006.

When the iPad was being developed, the desire to maintain commonality is the OS, for the sake of developers and users, dictated the same one-app-at-a-time philosophy.

A Million Apps

Soon, the App Store will have a million apps. And still, seven years after the initial development of iOS, we still run one app at a time. The App Store has been too successful, and the early notion that you would have just a few apps on your iPhone is out of sync with the demonstrated success in the marketplace. That is, that there are lot of things people have found useful to do on their mobile device. A million apps, is, essentially, a repudiation of the one-app-at-a-time notion.

The Cockpit Analogy

Think of any aircraft cockpit, whether it's a sailplane or a 787. If there were only one item of interest at a time to a pilot, there would be one display. The pilot would look at the air speed, press a button, look at the altitude, press a button, and then look at the artificial horizon.

Instead, all the information is displayed at once, and the most effective pilot is the one who best multitasks and integrates his/her knowledge of the state of the aircraft with the environment.

N-Dimensional Information Space

Each one of us lives in a different N-dimensional information space. Some of us are concerned about weather, school closures, where are our kids are, their safety and the state of a project at work. Others, perhaps writers, are concerned with their travel schedule, hotel reservation, flight cancellations and the state of their writing and deadlines. When taken as a sum, that information space needs to be handled by all our mobile devices. Experimental apps that customize that information space, like Google Now or Status Board, give us a global view of information that makes us more effective at what we're doing.

The Hobgoblins

The preconceptions that we build for ourselves can get in the way of this kind of technology integration in our lives. The steps, as I've observed them, are:

  1. One turns away from a technology because it's perceived to be evil, invasive or in violation of some sensible human standard of behavior or tradition. Those notions could be resistance to horseless carriages, aeroplane travel, PCs in the classroom, Location Services, Google Glass or self-driving cars.
  2. The technology advances anyway, faster than expected.
  3. The user then become left behind technically and less able to cope.
  4. Rationalization ensues. One grudgingly grows old with the old stuff.

One need only look about to see the Baby Boomer generation using flip phones from the 1990s, emailing with a PC using Windows 95, or maintaining a fixation on a beloved antique car. Tell me you've never heard someone older complain about how there's no way to change the oil or spark plugs in a modern car.

A New Mobile OS

A modern, mobile OS has to take into account the N-dimensional space of the information that each person needs. There may be interleaving, in time, but over a given amount of time, all the information needs to be there. Some apps can nibble at it, but they're constrained by iOS.  The OS itself has to take the initative.  The beneficial integration into our visual field is key to that development, and it's coming, in some form or another.

The single app concept on a display remains useful, however. It's based on the idea that one is focused on a particular creative task. One may be editing a photo, writing a document on an iPad, or working with a recipe. There's nothing wrong with that for even prolonged periods. However, if the OS itself restricts the user to only doing one thing at a time, then we are not well served, especially when it comes to content creation. If Apple doesn't address this issue in iOS, other companies, keen to deliver what customers need, will offer and showcase that functionality.

For example, iOS Notification Center was an early idea about how to keep the user informed, but it turned out to be information via pestering instead of information via integration. For example: my flight is cancelled, rescheduled. Why does my calendar still reflect the old departure time? It's time for the next stage of development.

That could well entail tablet-space being moved from a physical device over to our visual space.


Old ways of doing things bring with them a Hobbit-like habit of doing things in an inefficient way. Notions that we can somehow preserve a cultural norm by dodging certain technologies almost always fails. Our technical culture changes and moves forward, leaving only the stubborn behind.

Just exactly how users adopt, then orchestrate technology in their lives determines how effective they can be as productive individuals. That's one of the key roles we as technical columnists play in helping readers navigate into the future, whether it's a month-long experiment of TV cord-cutting, living in a new technical environment, or writing travelogues about Google Glass. One of the best at that is Mike Elgan, and it's worth your time to at least ponder what he's trying to achieve in: "Flabby Info Habits? Get On the Google Now Diet!"

The bigger picture for Apple, is that, more than ever, it looks like the capabilities of the Mobile OS we use are the key to that future, and an OS restricted to a 2007-era smartphone with a 3.5-inch display is very likely no longer sufficient.  Plus, if iOS is to develop properly, there's also a real need to take a hard look at our cultural hobgoblins, derived from earlier times, in order to move forward.

New neural pathways are always painful.


Future tech image via Shutterstock.