Avoid Complexity like the Plague

This is from an excellent article on GoogleTV by David Pogue:

This much is clear: Google TV may be interesting to technophiles, but it’s not for average people. On the great timeline of television history, Google TV takes an enormous step in the wrong direction: toward complexity.

I frankly haven’t paid any attention to GoogleTV but there is a bigger principle here that I do care about:

Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler. – Albert Einstein

There are situations that require exposing complexity (e.g. Airplane Cockpits, though even those could probably be simplified) but its possible to build simple interfaces for extremely complicated devices (e.g. Race Cars, some of the most complex technology in existence yet controlled the same way as a regular car).

Making things simple and consistent is very challenging, and it is even more difficult to take something complex and then simplify it. This is why its particularly important to strive for simplicity from the very beginning – it’s very difficult to fix things later. Google is in a particularly difficult spot since it is working with several partners and wants to get this product out the door quickly but launching a complicated and difficult to use product is not the solution. Reading the description of Sony GoogleTV remote brings back memories of when people would complain about how difficult it was to program a VCR, surely not something worth returning to.

Compare this to the first version of Path which in terms of features is as close to a Minimum Viable Product as possible but is extremely beautiful and easy to use: start with a few well built features and then add more power later. Google started out focusing on simplicity with the initial Google Homepage and much of the success of the more recent Google Chrome comes from its clean UI that lets the website take center-stage. They should remember the same principle for their other products.

Why I Don’t Own an iPad

Highway 101 around San Francisco has been filled with iPad billboards all year long and as I drove by another one today I realized why I was not interested in having an iPad and why I think this has wider significance to me.

The iPad is light, simple, elegant, and simply beautiful. More importantly, it forces you to focus on one particular task at a time; something I’ve been trying to do as much as possible. My problem with it is that it is optimized for content consumption rather than creation.

The iPad is great for reading websites, looking at photos, watching movies, and reading books. Unfortunately I personally do very little of these nowadays. I try to produce more than I consume and when I am consuming it is generally as inspiration for future production or doing or combined with some kind of synthesis and note taking. Even when I’m not programming (which is impossible on the iPad) I’m generally doing things for which it isn’t well suited. It does allow for editing documents and sending emails but it is not as good at this as laptop with a full keyboard and it does not allow you view other sources while you are  writing something that is crucial to me.

Nowadays I always have a notebook (paper or digital) open when I am reading and heavily underline and mark important sections. Every time I read or see something interesting my next step is generally to do something with it: share it, summarize it, integrate into something else, etc. and I want a device that gives me the freedom to do that. I spent lots of time simply reading books without doing much to actively process the information and I’m instead trying to consume less information and do more with it. On the flip side while writing I generally have several other things that I’m looking at and will often reference anything from emails, websites, or videos. Having these available  is crucial to much of my writing.

I love the simplicity and convenience of the iPad and how truly portable it is but I need something that has both of these while being primarily optimized for content creation. I’m strongly considering replacing my Macbook Pro with a Macbook Air.