The unveiling of Apple’s iPad this week provoked seemingly everyone to prognosticate the future of the device and the future of computing in general. I was instead prodded to revisit the past—specifically, the original design goals for the Mac spelled out by the brilliant (and humorous) Jef Raskin. Just read the principles Raskin lays out in 1979 in “Design Considerations for an Anthropophilic Computer“:
This is an outline for a computer designed for the Person In The Street (or, to abbreviate: the PITS); one that will be truly pleasant to use, that will require the user to do nothing that will threaten his or her perverse delight in being able to say: “I don’t know the first thing about computers,” and one which will be profitable to sell, service and provide software for.
You might think that any number of computers have been designed with these criteria in mind, but not so. Any system which requires a user to ever see the interior, for any reason, does not meet these specifications. There must not be additional ROMS, RAMS, boards or accessories except those that can be understood by the PITS as a separate appliance. For example, an auxiliary printer can be sold, but a parallel interface cannot. As a rule of thumb, if an item does not stand on a table by itself, and if it does not have its own case, or if it does not look like a complete consumer item in [and] of itself, then it is taboo.
If the computer must be opened for any reason other than repair (for which our prospective user must be assumed incompetent) even at the dealer’s, then it does not meet our requirements.
Seeing the guts is taboo. Things in sockets is taboo (unless to make servicing cheaper without imposing too large an initial cost). Billions of keys on the keyboard is taboo. Computerese is taboo. Large manuals, or many of them (large manuals are a sure sign of bad design) is taboo. Self- instructional programs are NOT taboo.
There must not be a plethora of configurations. It is better to offer a variety of case colors than to have variable amounts of memory. It is better to manufacture versions in Early American, Contemporary, and Louis XIV than to have any external wires beyond a power cord.
And you get ten points if you can eliminate the power cord.
Any differences between models that do not have to be documented in a user’s manual are OK. Any other differences are not.
It is most important that a given piece of software will run on any and every computer built to this specification…
It is expected that sales of software will be an important part of the profit strategy for the computer.
It only took 31 years (not especially a long time in the history of technology), but I think the iPad is the device Raskin envisioned (given, as Raskin would have agreed, that “the interior” and “the guts” now includes the software interior/guts as well as the hardware interior/guts).
Fraser Speirs has called the tech community’s negative reaction to the iPad “future shock” (via Daring Fireball); but it’s really the shockwave of the past—the radical vision of computing Raskin and Steve Jobs always had—finally catching up to the present.