Alan Kay is one the greatest minds in the history of computing. He worked in the ’70s at the legendary Xerox Palo Alto Research centre, where he said that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it!” He did precisely that. This is what he wrote in a 1971 memo:
In the 1990s there will be millions of personal computers. They will be the size of notebooks today, have high-resolution flat-screen reflexive displays, weigh less than ten pounds, have ten to twenty times the computing and storage capacity of an Alto. Let’s call them Dynabooks.
He was right. His Dynabook design was the first laptop and tablet concept ever. And his idea of always-connected mobile computing is exactly what we have today. Not only he came up with these ideas out of nowhere, but he was also responsible for the overlapping windowing graphical user interface of the Alto. That GUI was the base for the Macintosh, and all the computer user interfaces we use today – except for our iPhones and Androids. Or the iPad, when it comes out.
Lately, however, Kay doesn’t seem to love the windowing GUI concept as much as he did back in the ’80s, when the Macintosh came out. This is what he said to Om Malik in a recent interview, before the iPad was introduced:
When the Mac first came out, Newsweek asked me what I [thought]of it. I said: Well, it’s the first personal computer worth criticizing. So at the end of the presentation, Steve came up to me and said: Is the iPhone worth criticizing? And I said: Make the screen five inches by eight inches, and you’ll rule the world.
I didn’t see the quote back then, but his judgment seems to me spot on. The quote was in a presentation by Evan Doll, from his class at Stanford about designing user interfaces for the iPad. In that slide, Doll quotes Kay, listing then why the iPad’s user interface will change computing as we know it (something that I also said before it came out. Obviously the magic rainbow pills are working).
It’s an interesting slideshow, even without his oral explanations, which covers how the “gulf of knowledge” is making many so-called experts ignore the extreme complexity of computers today, and also ignore why the iPad is the computing device for 95 per cent of the population. Doll makes a great case for this, pointing out the uses of the iPad, and where it would fit in our daily lives – including the inevitable toilet factor:
Beyond Doll’s rationale, however, I find particularly interesting that Kay – the guy who invented mobile computing and the windowing interface – is now behind the idea of a modal, always-connected tablet. Hopefully, he will be right as he was with the Dynabook. [Gigaom via Slideshare]