We Don’t Need A New Apple Hardware Platform

It’s basically all you hear about in the Apple nerd press: “Apple’s working on a new device that’s going to revolutionize something or other”. It might be a watch, it might be a television, we don’t know what it is but all we know is somehow the device — the hardware — is going to make our lives better. I think that’s a myopic outlook that really offers nothing novel other than a new piece of metal and plastic to hold or gawk at. I don’t think we need new hardware.

Joe Cieplinski also ponders the merits of the rumoured “iWatch”:

What Apple does is identify a category of product in which there’s a lot of potential, where there will clearly be an audience, but where there’s currently no product that doesn’t completely suck. Then it makes a product that doesn’t suck in that category and mops up. It’s a beautiful strategy. And it happens to work.

So where are the crappy wrist computers? There’s the Pebble, I guess. A scrappy Kickstarter project that got some of us nerds excited last year. It’s severely limited in features and not altogether fashionable. So there’s potential for ass-kicking, no doubt. But is that all there is out there today? Where’s Microsoft’s wrist computer? Google’s? Sony’s? Samsung’s?

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My point is, if this were the Next Big Thing, wouldn’t others be trying to do it already? Where’s the clear existing audience Apple wants to tap?

I agree with Joe: an “iWatch” certainly doesn’t match the pattern Apple usually follows, and I would say for a good reason: most customers aren’t asking for it and a newer, micro-device which (probably) runs iOS offers almost nothing above the current hardware we already have.

I don’t think Apple needs any new hardware at all in order to bring the world innovative new products; instead they need to provide us with new ways of working with software.

Chuck Skoda is also sick of only hearing about hardware:

If you have an ear turned to the Apple news beat, it seems as though new hardware product launches are all anyone cares about. While actually, software is responsible for an overwhelming majority of our experience using Apple platforms. This fact has been deemphasized by the Apple community over the last few years as we rush to see the next new device for our pockets, and it’s about time software gets its share of the attention.

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Software is the real frontier on our new mobile platforms. Apple’s new hardware breakthroughs come on the order of decades, not years. Yes, I’m judging iPhone and iPad as a single line of innovation, because that’s how it really shakes out. Do the platforms serve different needs, yes, but they come from the same core ideas and design compromises. If you’re waiting for a watch to come change your life, you might as well buy Google Glass (is that supposed to be plural, I can never tell) and get it out of your system.

Whether or not Apple continues to release new hardware platforms is still an unknown, but my disdainful guess is they probably will keep releasing gizmos and ignore the bigger picture of the software that runs on them. It’s what people seem to care about, and it’s what sells in the press.

And why do we care so much about the hardware anyway? I think it’s because, nerds though we may be, it’s still much easier for us (and especially for non-nerds too) to understand something physical than it is to understand something abstract like software. Physical things are tangible but they ultimately depend on the abstract. Of all the physical inventions through the history of humans that we know of, all of them have arisen from a mental, abstract thought. And the best ones, written language, the printing press, the World Wide Web, and even in some regards the handaxe, all of these best inventions allowed for expanded thought and new physical inventions. But none were purely physical.

And a technological society based solely around physical devices is one that lacks imagination to truly take advantage of all those lovely hardware platforms anyway. It would be like a literary society obsessed with printing presses and cover stock. And yet that’s exactly what we expect of Apple and Google and Facebook and all the other tech companies.

I’m not saying there is no room for hardware improvements either evolutionary or revolutionary. I think it’s great for Apple to continue iterating on the Mac, iPhone and iPad and continue to bring us better battery life, performance, and graphics. And I think there are still many more revolutionary improvements which can be made to products of their ilk: things like print-resolution displays (Retina displays are a great step, but they still pall in comparison to the information density we expect from a printed book or newspaper); light, thin, and flexible computers that can be carried around and manipulated as easily as paper; and tactile interfaces so that we can make better use of our extremely dexterous and sensitive hands and fingers when exploring software.

But all of these hardware advancements should come to facilitate the software, not to sell more hardware or to fulfill some science fiction pipe dream. It’s not time to stop thinking inside the box or outside the box. It’s time to stop thinking about boxes altogether.

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