I have never bothered with a smartphone before, but I got an Apple iPhone 4s yesterday because I think it might help me understand how to use Twitter (which I never have) and because it means I do not have to buy a new iPad to get 3G coverage – I can just tether my iPhone to my old non-3G, WiFi original Apple iPad.
A prime example of why is what happened to me in Ireland.
It was my first day working on a contract at the late Tara TV in Dublin; they had PCs using the then-new Windows 98 operating system. I was the last and only person in the office in the evening. When I had finished, I tried to shut down my computer. I could not find any way to do it. There was no on-screen button anywhere. Eventually, I had to phone a friend in England and ask how to switch off the system.
“You click the Start button,” she told me.
This seemed to me to epitomise Microsoft products.
In order to shut down the computer, you had to click the Start button.
It was the only way to do it.
You had to know the rules and follow them.
I once heard a Microsoft executive proudly say they had done market research into what people wanted in their computers and found that most of what people wanted but said they did not have was already in the Windows operating system.
He took this as an example of how good the system was. I took it as an example of how Byzantine the system was. People had no idea how to find or do anything.
The difference between Apple and Microsoft Windows products has always seemed to be that Windows works in a certain way and you have to follow the rules to do anything. Apple computers really are intuitive. If you want to do something, you think, “How would I do that?” and you can probably do it the way you think you can. But there may be five other ways to do the same thing, because different people think differently. Apple designs with the user in mind.
Setting up my new iPhone yesterday was simplicity itself, because everything appeared on screen logically, simply and in plain English, not in nerd-speak.
I think, when Apple design ‘ways to do things’, they do not think “We are creating a system here and then have to tell the user how to use it”… They seem to think, “If I were a user, what would I want to do to use the thing I am using?”
In that way, I think it is like writing.
People who sit down to write thinking “I want to say something. I have an empty page. What am I going to write on it?” may tend to write badly.
The trick is not to think “I am a writer writing this.” The trick is to think “I am a reader reading this as it appears word-by-word on the page.”
I think the best way to communicate (which is all writing is – or should be) is to think “If I read these words appearing on the page as I type, what are they telling me as the reader (not as the writer) and what will I need to know next?”
It is like writing an autobiography or a book on any subject. If you tell the reader absolutely everything you know in total detail you will clutter everything up with thoughts and facts, like Mr Casaubon in George Eliot’s brilliant Middlemarch. (Something I did not need to mention.)
Keep it simple. Keep it clear.
There used to be a television ad for a tinned fish supplier which had the selling line: IT’S THE FISH JOHN WEST REJECT THAT MAKE JOHN WEST THE BEST.
It is keeping an eye on what you exclude – even more than what you include – that makes a difference to the end product.
Good writing is created by a writer who looks at it from the viewpoint of the reader not the viewpoint of the author.
Good comedy is created by a comedian who looks at it from the viewpoint of the audience not the viewpoint of the comic.
Good computer operating systems and programs are created by nerds who look at them from the viewpoint of the user not the viewpoint of the nerd.
That is why I buy Apple computers.
They KIS KIC.