In the Post-PC Era, OS X Should Evolve Differently

Apple has always been known for putting the experience of using its products ahead of technology itself. Customers use Apple products because they want to get something done, not tinker around. Occasionally that has resulted in aspersions, like "Apple's Macs are toys." But now we're in the the Post-PC era, and it's time for a change of direction.

The subject has been discussed for years. At every turn, it seems, Apple dumbs down the User Interface (UI) of OS X. The fear, it seems, is that the larger audience, the everyday folk that Apple wants to attract, might be intimidated by excessive information or options.

That directly contradicts Apple's mantra that they only make the best of anything. Customers who can afford the best are able to pay for it, and they can do that because they're better educated. And they don't like being babied.

Times Change

This is the dawn of the Post-PC era. Mac sales are declining (for now) because a lot of what people want to do can be done with an iPad. That might mean FaceTime, shopping, texting, Twitter or browsing. Apple's iOS is perfectly designed for that.

What that means is that people who are using Macs will increasingly be using them for specific technical purposes. In the language of Steve Jobs, the Macintosh becomes the truck, not a car. A sturdy, competent tool used by a few, not the masses. The iPad is the easy-to-use car. The Mac is now the truck used by video professionals, photographers, artists, writers, developers, podcasters, and so on. These people are behind the scenes doing the heavy lifting.

So why insult them with excessive simplicity?

For example:

  • Why does the new AirPort Utility 6.x hide the generation and name of the Wi-Fi device, say, an Airport Extreme. One may need to know that in a technical environment.
  • Why does OS X now hide the "Detect Displays" option in System Preferences -> Displays?
  • Why has Apple vastly dumbed down the presentation of HTTP Cookie data in Safari?

I could go on, but these are sufficient to make the point. Apple's direction with simplification is now out of sync with the Post-PC era. The truck drivers need options plus more and better information about their OS, not less, in order to make things happen, behind the scenes, for the tablet and smartphone users. As my colleague Bryan Chaffin said, when we discussed this idea, "Yeah, Apple, it's the Post-PC Era. We're in it, you win. Since you won, it's high time you be more realistic about OS X."

A Suggestion

Now that a lot of people who were never really very comfortable with complex computers are embracing tablets, it would please me greatly if Apple were to steer away from further, gratuitous simplification of options in OS X. Preferences that can only be changed with special 3rd party utility apps or arcane terminal commands could once again be considered for inclusion instead of being hidden for fear that someone would hose up their Mac.

Even so, there are still 70 million Mac users who use their Macs profitably, and there's no need to alarm them with additional complexities. Here's an idea: why not have an expert mode that's invoked by holding down the Option key when the Apple-branded app launches? Or when a System Preference is opened. That way, the more technical users can get a better grip on their environment and the average users find that nothing much has changed. One could disable this Option+launch mode for other than the Admin user.

The high-level point I want to make here is that the continuing goal of simplification of OS X in order to attract new customers may now be pointless. The classic thinking about OS X simplicity can now be classified as "overcome by events." Customers who hate complexities and options have already headed to Tabletville. Let's give the truck drivers some flexibility, information and options so that they can make life better for themselves and their own customers.

The era of the purring cat is gone, and now we're into the roar of big time surfing.


Big wave at Mavericks via Shutterstock.