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The era of simplified computing

I’m currently trying to get some thoughts down on the contrasting approaches of Google and Apple to the future of technology. There’s a whole host of stuff buzzing around my mind: are they yet another instalment of the conflict between Apollo and Dionysus? Do they represent yet another clash between C. P. Snow’s “two cultures”? And what is it about both of them that provokes loyalty and hatred in equal measure?

While writing, though, I’ve come to see that we’re entering a new era of computing, one where the paradigms and expectations of the world of the PC won’t give us much guidance. This new era is all about simplified computing, technologies where what’s important is the ability to sit down, get something done, and put down the device. Fast, simple, and most of all requiring as little knowledge about the underlying technology.

Google’s approach to this is to “put it in the cloud”. The only thing you need to do is be able to run a web browser, and the ultimate expression of that is ChromeOS, where there is very little the hardware does except run a web browser.

Apple’s approach is to keep the physical expression of the hardware as simple as possible, to remove options, to pare back the software so that you can only do a limited number of things, all of them “Apple approved”. Of course, the “limited number of things” currently runs to around 200,000 different applications, and you can still access HTML/JavaScript-based web applications too… but you get the idea.

Despite the scare stories, this era of simplified computing doesn’t mean an end to “freedom”. You’re still going to be able to buy computers which let you hack around and do stuff, just as you might have a new car which still lets you dig around under the bonnet. But the people who value the ability to just press the button and get something done will have devices that do exactly that.

One last thought: In all of my thinking about this, I have yet to find a scenario which requires Google to lose in order for Apple to win, or vice versa. The “war” between to two of them is, to my mind, not a war at all – they compete, but both of them are leaders and both of them will end up vastly-bigger companies.

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