I confess to being a former mainframe programmer. In fact, I confess to enjoying binary arithmetic expressed in 64-character character set display code, especially while punching operator commands into the master console of Seymour Cray’s Cyber architecture, running NOS/BE (“R-R-R”!).
But the truth that I ultimately had to face was that my technology chops are not as instinctive as many of my peers, nor as pleasantly organic as my much smarter brother, Wayne, who was dealing with the massive amounts of data generated by Fermi National Laboratory’s particle accelerator. Working in IT was a college job for me that I never intended as a career. But I am deeply grateful for the path that providence has allowed me and the continued opportunity to work directly with some of cyber’s most creative talents.
This past Monday, I watched the opening keynote of Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference online, seconds after the 5,200 true believers got to see it live and in person at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The 2-hour presentation (which can be seen online here) left me with a renewed confidence in free market enterprise as only Americans can advance; elegant, valuable, and refined. Even devout Windows fans should watch the first 15 minutes to get a feel for the direction of consumer level technology.
My appreciation for the remarkable design sense of Steve Jobs began around the time of the renowned 1984 Macintosh ad that aired nationally just once during Superbowl halftime. At the time, my head was in the clouds as a cyber security engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL). While my prime directive was controlling access within the JPL enterprise, my professional hobby was convincing the mainframe environment to be a friendlier place by writing intuitive user interfaces.
In early 1984, two techies from Apple Computer demonstrated the original 9-inch monochrome Mac to a handful of us NASA computer nerds. It is very possible that one of the presenters was Steve Jobs himself, or perhaps Steve Wozniak. Wish I had photos. What I especially remember was the tennis shoe graphic that he was freely manipulating with a mouse. My dialogue management code was suddenly put in its place. I thought I was the bally table king. But I just handed my pinball crown to him.
Somehow, there contains in every Apple invention a spark of amity that is never quite realized in rival products. Daniel Turner of MIT’s Technology Review published a thorough discovery of the company’s engineering discipline in an article entitled, The Secret of Apple Design. Turner quotes Apple’s cognitive scientist Don Norman as revealing that, “The hardest part of design, especially consumer electronics, is keeping features out."
While it is simpler to touch hardware than to feel software, the vast majority of Monday’s Apple product unveiling was the enhancement of interfacing with existing products; the Mac, the iPad, and the iPhone. This reality brought cries of disappointment from critics in the technology publishing community. And they so badly miss the point.
Apple did not arrive at Moscone with plans to extol their own consumer offerings. This was a pivotal moment in Apple’s relationship with a rapidly emerging community; app developers. Apple WWDC 2013 was all about exalting the experience for the professionals who will then sell us their software – through the iTunes Store.
Even in Steve Jobs’ absence, Apple has matured to a new level. Their new position is that of a popular platform standard that will natively host new inventions from a community many times larger than Apple itself. In his opening statement at the conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook advanced this notion with the quote, “The app store and the IOS ecosystem give budding developers with great ideas the best chance for success.”
But to toss one slice of rich red meat to hungry tech consumers, Apple did announce one new hardware advancement. The aluminum tower Mac Pro will be replaced by a stunning cylindrical monolith that stands much smaller in stature and far greater in every capacity. Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing unveiled the next generation of desktop computing with, “Can’t innovate anymore my ass!” The new Mac Pro will be stamped Made in America.