When NOT to Follow Steve Jobs

| Hidden Dimensions

“Under the most strictly held conditions of temperature, pressure and humidity the organism will do as it damn well pleases.”

— Murphy’s Laws

Recently, I reviewed the ZAGGmate, an integrated iPad clamshell case with a keyboard inside. The ergonomics of that device dictate that the keyboard be horizontal but the iPad and its iOS be vertical, and that means reaching out and touching in between keystrokes. Independent of the review of the product, and it’s a great product that received a high rating, that process gave me an “Oops” feeling, a cognitive dissonance.


The ZAGGmate on my desk

After all, this is exactly what Steve Jobs said we shouldn’t have to do during his special “Back to the Mac” presentation in October, 2010 (Available on iTunes.) At about 56m 30s into the presentation, Mr. Jobs shows what he means on the big screen and says:

Don't Do This!

Steve says: “Don’t do this!”  (Courtesy: Apple)

We thought about this years ago. We’ve done tons of user testing on this. And it turns out, it doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical. It gives great demo, but after a short period of time, you start to fatigue. And after an extended period of time, your arm wants to fall off. It doesn’t work. It’s ergonomically terrible. Touch surfaces want to be horizontal…hence iPads. For notebooks, that’s why we’ve perfected our multi-touch trackpads over the years.”

A bit later, Mr. Jobs went on to introduce the new MacBook Airs with all that in mind.

What Mr. Jobs left out of the discussion, however, is that there can be another mode, namely, the ZAGGmate kind of mode where one has a considerable amount of typing to do and must only occasionally touch the iPad display. For example, a long e-mail with thousands of keystrokes can terminate with a simple touch of the Send button. And when that task is done, just pick up the iPad and place it in your lap.

The Public Stance

The reason for Mr. Jobs’s adamant remarks is that a major system vendor has to look at the global picture for all customers and build a corresponding, consistent OS. The comments by Mr. Jobs are right on the mark when it comes to designing the iPad and the MacBook Air because Apple is responsible for defining how the product ought to work, in general, for most customers. Not only that, but Apple has an agenda for moving us quickly into the future for competitive reasons, and that pace is often too fast for some. Accessory makers, however, are free to exploit holes in that strategy that cater to the needs of a class of individuals.

For example, the iPad’s on-screen keyboard doesn’t have cursor keys. (Mr. Jobs tried to get away with that back in 1984 when the original Mac’s keyboard was missing cursor keys — sooo yesterday, right? It created an outcry, and Apple later had to cave.) Instead, today, we have to gently touch the iPad just the right way in order to bring up a magnifying glass editor. Frankly, that has to be one of the worst design elements of the iPad, and having a physical keyboard with cursor keys is just so much more practical. But Apple can’t admit that in public.

Original Mac Keyboard

Original Mac Keyboard (Courtesy Lowendmac.com)

Hybrid Modes are Common

And so, it seems, there’s room for a hybrid mode in which people who must do a lot of typing but want the portability of the iPad and will really like a product like the ZAGGmate, even though it contradicts the purest of Apple’s design intentions as seen in the “Back to the Mac” presentation.

IPad Magnifying Glass 

A Terrible UI for some

This matter will become even more important in Mac OS X 10.7, “Lion,” as Apple tries to integrate some of the best ideas of iOS into Mac OS X. There will be all the hoopla about what Apple says (and wants to coerce us into doing) and then there will be idiosyncratic features built in that, under the hood, allow millions of customers who go their own way, seek customized solutions, and look for accessory developers who can help them.

Of course, part of the charm of Apple (and any good company) is that while they publicly talk about the purest of ideologies, in private the company will admit to these kinds of concessions and user needs and even provide APIs. Sometimes that confuses or irritates pundits from the other camps, but we just smile, keep typing and move on.

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I totally agree, John.

while they publicly talk about the purest of ideologies, in private the company will admit to these kinds of concessions and user needs and even provide APIs

The interesting thing is, while both the Apple keyboard dock and the Apple wireless keyboard have cursor keys and aren’t supported in Apple’s apps, other apps can make use of them. DocsToGo is a good example. Open up the word processor and the cursor keys work just like they should!

While we’re at it, how about support for just the Cut, Copy and Paste keyboard shortcuts?

Arist?teles Soares Ben?cio

There a lot of things to not follow Mr Jobs.

He said in an press conference that: “nobody want to use this” (about handwriting).


The most antique way to comunicate, except speak, the most intuitive and ergonomic way to transfer information, result of millions of years of evolution of brain, isn’t what I want to use?


This is why iPad is my first and last Apple tablet.


What the hey, I’ll chime in too. He also said that nobody reads anymore, books were dead. iBooks, anyone?. smile

Personally, books notwithstanding, I’m one of the last proud few that actually prefers a written blog to an endless parade of videos (I can read and absorb so much faster than a video can deliver).

I’m with you on the handwriting too, Aristoteles. True, notebooks and tablets don’t do it well, but a regular old notebook can still be indispensable.


As much as I miss handwriting on the Newton…. particularly the ability to write text, save it as “ink” and recognize it later… and as much trouble as I have with the software keyboard on the iPhone…. I find that I can definitely type much faster on the *iPad* keyboard than I could ever write on the screen. Even the iPhone keyboard, tiny as it is, seems faster than handwriting.

And I can type even faster using… the nice compact keyboard that you can buy at any Apple store, which I use for my Mac, and which works fine for the iPad.

That being said, there are two handwritten note taking apps that I use on the iPad:

? Dan Bricklin’s Note Taker HD: not bad, particularly if you use the Pogo Sketch stylus, but it lacks the Newton’s nice ability of post-processing handwritten notes. In fact, it doesn’t do handwriting recognition at all, which is disappointing.

? WritePad: handwriting recognition works fine, but I still think I prefer the ability to write notes as ink and then recognize them later.


p.s. While the iPad may lack handwriting recognition in programs other than WritePad, it’s still a fantastic device for drawing and painting: Brushes, Sketchbook Pro, ArtStudio, ArtRage, etc. are just a joy to use on it, particularly with the Pogo Sketch (fuzzy tip and all). And with Air Display the iPad becomes the poor man’s Cintiq… not bad!!

For anyone who likes to create art and music, the iPad is a dream.


For those quoting Steve Jobs, keep in mind that he is really talking trends here.  For handwriting, when he says “nobody wants to use this” he is basically saying that for the most part, people would rather type on a computing device vs. handwrite.  Are there people who would rather handwrite?  Sure.  But for the most part, the trend is away from computer handwriting technology like Newton.  Demand isn’t there.  Go write on a piece of paper or a check if you want to write.  Typing is much faster.

Regarding the “nobody reads anymore, books are dead” I suspect someone is paraphrasing and this is not an exact quote.  Books are dead?  Well, maybe they should be - a huge waste of paper.  Again, trend-wise we as human beings should stop chopping down trees in order to print text on paper when you can just as easily read on an electronic device.  Not sure about the “nobody reads anymore” - I suspect Steve Jobs would not have said this, especially prior to releasing iBook…


Sad thing is, there are probably millions of children and teenagers who don’t read books except for schoolwork.  If Jobs did say this, it probably was referencing this sad trend.  My daughters LOVE to read and we encourage this by making sure appropriate books for their ages are available to them.  Sad thing is, most kids would rather play video games or text each other…


I always found it difficult to read for fun in high school/college (20 years ago) but now I read a good bit.

We thought my son, who read constantly until he was about 12 or so, didn’t want to read anything any more. We bought him a couple books for Christmas, and he read them both by the time New Year’s hit.

I think people get tired of looking at a screen, and think books aren’t and shouldn’t be dead. Plus, paper is renewable, since most tree farms for paper are constantly regrown, not just stripped an left.

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