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"We're going to demote the PC"

“Keeping [our] devices in sync is driving us crazy. We have a great solution for this problem. We are going to demote the PC to just be a device.”

- Steve Jobs, WWDC 2011 Keynote

Between iCloud and the Wii U announcement, it’s been a great week for multi-screen experiences. Large players in the industry are getting behind the idea that the system is more important than any given platform. I think this will lead in time to a proliferation of new smart devices, and a whole new range of exciting interaction design problems. 

What I find myself thinking about is some user research I did in 2007 on the future of mobile connectivity. The iPhone was brand new, 4G connectivity was starting to get built out, and we were being asked to think three to five years out, to what the right offering for our client would be as we looked towards a 2010-2013 timeframe.

One thing that we heard over and over again, from interviewees in a range of demographics, was that they wanted an uninterrupted experience across platforms. “Why should I have to learn a different screen layout on my phone than on my computer?” asked one guy.* “It should look the same, it should work the same.”

We put that point into our research and recommendations, and then more or less ignored it. At least for the short-term tools we were building for the client’s initial rollout, there was no way the UI could be the same on a smartphone as on a desktop. And after a long while struggling with the limitations of a mobile screen, we started to wonder - why would you even want that, anyhow?

What I realize this week, looking at iCloud and Wii U and the rest, is that that our interviewee might have been asking for the same UI, but what he really was looking for was the same experience. He wanted what he’s starting to get - the ability to access the same data, the same documents, the features and functionality from one platform to the next, and move seamlessly across them. John Gardner, in The Art of Fiction, says that the writer’s goal is to create “a vivid and continuous dream in the reader’s mind.” We are coming closer - and right on that 3 to 5 year out schedule, no less - to being able to create a vivid and continuous experience. I can’t wait to see where this goes.


* All quotations from memory, and guaranteed unreliable