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Open the iPad

May 29, 2010 18:25:16.213

Charles Stross makes some good points about the pros and cons of the iPad - his take on Flash is funny, but then I ran across this:

Secondary motive: I want to stay current. I have a bunch of O'Reilly nutshell books on Python. I would like to be able to open a terminal and run a python interpreter while I work through the tutorials. Ditto ruby, smalltalk, or whatever else I want to play with. The "no interpreters" rule in the app store gets right up my nose.

While average users neither know nor care about that rule, the tech influencers do care. I didn't think that mattered at first - which, given my role as a Smalltalk evengelist might be surprising - but I'm starting to think it will matter. As happened with PC's "back in the day", Android (or WebOS) tablets will eventually have a "good enough" user experience, and the open nature of them will matter. Apple lost that war once; they might be setting themselves up to lose a second time.

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posted by James Robertson


Re: Open the iPad

[Bruce Hobbs] May 29, 2010 20:20:14.991

Wouldn't it be sufficient, at least for now, to open a browser window and navigate to a site supporting entry of code snippets in the language of interest?

Re: Open the iPad

[james Robertson] May 29, 2010 23:43:34.683

Not really an option for Smalltalk...

Re: Open the iPad

[Byron] May 30, 2010 21:47:12.447

Okay, ya'll (most tech influencers including Doctorow and Stross) are looking at the iPad completely wrong. You think the iPad is a personal computer with a somewhat unfortunate form factor.

You can be forgiven for making this mistake: it has computer-like specifications. it runs a BSD-like OS. it has a general sort of UI. it even has a root password. it's even reasonably powerful, especially if you remember the computer you had back in, say, 1995.

However, that's not what it's for. The iPad is a touchscreen, a wifi card and a battery strapped to just enough computing power so you can write a halfway decent client. It is clear that the intended use involves an always available network and as such we should all be thinking more like the old mainframe days or the not-so-long-ago X windows days with a shared system.

Is the interpreter thing a bit silly? Yeah, maybe, but frankly it's completely irrelevant. Remember the Newton? The Palm OS? Yeah. You could get interpreters for those machines. Guess what? They sucked and they will continue to suck. With the possible exception of Squeak due to Dynabook, but I think there's a way to do it and might actually be BETTER than the Dynabook.

Clearly, the way people should be thinking of how to write a good UI for a cloud-based service. Smalltalk, I would think, is a pretty good candidate for this environment since you already have a natural over-the-wire protocol in the message send. You need to figure out some sort of UI scene-graph, but this has been done innumerable times. Even the UI isn't all that bad since it doesn't really rely on mouse position for most things and maybe even a bit better since you won't pay the penalty of switching between keyboard interaction and UI elements as much with the soft keyboard on the same surface as the UI elements.

You build that, NOW you're onto something. You've got an environment I can access from my iPad (or similar device) where the UI is a good user experience (unlike a wholly browser based environment which is always going to feel weird) backed up by enough power to build Real Things instead of toys. You start in the Smalltalk environment.

Added bonus: I can't accidentally leave my cloud server in the seatback pocket of an airplane.

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