My brother said something years ago when we were kids and it’s always stuck with me.
my brother: Picture something funny…
me: OK. heh. hehhehh… hhehhehhee…
my brother: See? Isn’t that funny?
Well, this is exactly what Michael Arrington over at Techcrunch is proposing with his ‘Dead Simple $200 Tablet‘ (careful that link crashed Firefox on me a few times).
Here’s a little nugget to chew on from the article:
I’m tired of waiting – I want a dead simple and dirt cheap touch screen web tablet to surf the web. Nothing fancy like the Dell latitude XT, which costs $2,500. Just a Macbook Air-thin touch screen machine that runs Firefox and possibly Skype on top of a Linux kernel. It doesn’t exist today, and as far as we can tell no one is creating one. So let’s design it, build a few and then open source the specs so anyone can create them.
Wow! Perfect! He pictured his invention so it seems as good as done.
I’m currently reading Inside Steve’s Head by Leander Kahney and it’s a good read. I just finished the chapter on Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design. He’s responsible for the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone to name a few products.
In this chapter he talks about simplicity in Apple’s products:
Ive has often said that the simplicity of Apple’s designs is deceiving. To a lot of people, the products seem obvious. They are so plain and simple, there seems to be no “design” involved at all. There are no frills or accoutrements that trumpet the design process. But to Ive, that’s the point. The task, Ive said, is “to appear inevitable and incredibly simple, so you have no sense how difficult this thing was.” [emphasis added]
Daring Fireball has some similar thoughts on everyone’s bitching about the iPhone lacking Cut and Paste functionality:
Additional features take additional time to develop. Many commenters at Engadget, for example, seem to think adding copy and paste to the iPhone is simply a matter of “storing a text string into memory” or writing two lines of code.
Writing the code to implement a system-wide clipboard isn’t the hard part — as I wrote in August, the hard part is coming up with the right UI design for it. Whatever the UI for copy-and-paste for the iPhone OS eventually is, it’s very likely to remain as the UI for copy-and-paste on the iPhone for decades to come. (The basic UI for copy-and-paste on the original Mac remains in use today by everyone using Mac OS X and Windows — same concepts, same menu commands, even the same keyboard shortcuts.)
So what do these two examples have to do with Michael Arrington’s $200 Dead Simple Tablet from the Gods?
The point is, it’s always easier said than done. Once you dive into the circuit boards and screws and plastics and metals and cooling and heating and venting – things start getting tricky.
That’s not to mention when all those physical things are done, getting the software in tip top shape. Debugging, crashing, GUI, the interaction model for this ‘touch’ tablet. Arrington talks about his future tablet casually, as if everything he needs is at Radio Shack, and he just has to slap em all together. Like Ive said – all this appears inevitable in heinsight.
Oh yeah, and designing by committee always seems to work out well too.