Innovation has definitely been overused in the tech industry for the last several years and it’s certainly not something I can blame on any one particular individual. We’re all to blame – tech enthusiasts, tech writers and columnists, and even technologists themselves. There’s been such a heavy focus on innovating and pushing out something that’s new, breathtaking and shiny that we often lose sight of the costs of innovation including e-Waste and raw resources, the cost of human capital (especially those who work on the assembly lines around the world), and last, but not least, the simple raw cost to our pocketbooks from buying these gadgets. There are more subtle costs though, and on this eve before the new iPad’s launch, another one dawns on me – that of fragmentation and user experience in the name of differentiation, and how Apple has gone against the trend of innovation and has continually produced outstanding products that oftentimes look and feel very much like its predecessor.
But innovation is still beneficial, no? It creates change in the marketplace and enforces competition to keep trying new things and tackle new problems in cool new ways. It creates jobs and allows for startups to take risks that large corporations are less willing to take. It doesn’t detract it from its problems though, and with Apple’s lock-step approach in hardware and software, and its stance on “sustainable” manufacturing, shouldn’t it be a relatively simple matter to move everyone over to a new user experience vision? Yes, but also no.
iOS has changed very little from its very early iterations on the iPod Touch. A dock at the bottom, with icons in a swipeable main area to scroll through them; apps that run in full screen; a home button on the lower bezel. Those are the fundamentals of an iOS user experience and has never changed, in spite of rumours contrary for the new iPad. There have been subtle changes along the way – a revised notifications system and various activities from double tapping or long holding the home button, but those are relatively cosmetic to the underlying mechanism of the user experience. This lies in stark contrast with what Android offers iteration after iteration, especially from a tablet perspective. The user interface has changed quite a bit since its initial roots in stock Gingerbread, not to mention the various tweaks and customizations that manufacturers make on top of it. Not only does it make the user experience clunky for even experienced Android users, but it artificially creates fragmentation through innovation. By this very reason alone, Apple has forced itself into an innovator’s dilemna, but to its ultimate benefit. Through its strict control of the user experience throughout Apple’s DNA, it will always be a slow UI and UX innovator.
While I’m sure this is not news to many, it’s worthwhile to keep reminding ourselves that iOS will keep evolving, slowly but steady. It will never truly be ground shattering, but it will always continue to wow us with every iteration. It’s that the key to their innovation is to keep it under the hood and let you just enjoy the experience, unhindered and pure. (That, and highly marketable names for new features don’t hurt either.)
Happy new iPad day, let’s all keep enjoying our unchanged user experience on whatever device we use today.
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