Alan Kay: ‘Much of the iPad UI is very poor in a myriad of ways’

“Born in 1940, computer scientist Alan Curtis Kay is one of a handful of visionaries most responsible for the concepts which have propelled personal computing forward over the past thirty years — and surely the most quotable one,” Harry McCracken reports for TIME Magazine.

“Above all, however, Kay is known for the Dynabook — his decades-old vision of a portable suite of hardware, software, programming tools and services which would add up to the ultimate creative environment for kids of all ages,” McCracken reports. “Kay says that some gadgets with superficial Dynabook-like qualities, such as the iPad, have not only failed to realize the Dynabook dream, but have in some senses betrayed it. That’s one of the points he makes in this interview, conducted by computer historian David Greelish…”

For all media, the original intent [of the Dynabook] was “symmetric authoring and consuming.” Isn’t it crystal clear that this last and most important service is quite lacking in today’s computing for the general public? Apple with the iPad and iPhone goes even further and does not allow children to download an Etoy made by another child somewhere in the world. This could not be farther from the original intentions of the entire ARPA-IPTO/PARC community in the ’60s and ’70s.

Apple’s reasons for this are mostly bogus, and to the extent that security is an issue, what is insecure are the OSes supplied by the vendors (and the insecurities are the result of their own bad practices — they are not necessary)…

The current day UIs derived from the PARC-GUI [the interface developed in the 1970s by Kay and his colleagues at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center] have many flaws, including those that were in the PARC-GUI in the first place. In addition, there have been backslidings — for example, even though multitouch is a good idea (pioneered by Nicholas Negroponte’s ARCH-MAC group [a predecessor of MIT’s Media Lab] in the late ’70s), much of the iPad UI is very poor in a myriad of ways. – Alan Kay

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: And, “the original intentions of the entire ARPA-IPTO/PARC community in the ’60s and ’70s” are sacrosanct in 2013 because…?


      1. To be fair, Kay is not in position to be ultimate judge the UI. His Dynabook, while being tablet, had physical keyboard UI, which is infinitely behind Jobs’ concept (dated from early 1980s) of all-screen tablet, all-screen-touch UI for the iPad.

        That said, there is nothing perfect in the world, so some critique’s of iPad’s UI could be easily legit.

        1. That’s fair, DeRS. Kay may have some legitimate beefs with iOS, although he appears to be mainly concerned with “openness” as the prime measure of merit. All things being equal, I would be glad to have improved interoperability and openness. But I also want a healthy Apple and a reasonable degree of security.

          The iPhone and iPad are leaps and bounds ahead of previous generations of devices. They laid the foundation and the expectation for modern portable electronic devices. Now that the iPhone and iPad exist, it is easy to critique iOS and its user interface and find flaws. This is a natural process in the evolution of any family of products. As long as the critiques are realistic and reasonable, it’s all good.

        2. Shouldn’t you do some checking before just having an opinion and expressing it?

          If you look at the first public paper on the Dynabook (1972) you would find a paragraph about making the entire face of the Dynabook a display, being able to show a keyboard, and to use the touch sensitive surface to do the typing.

          And by the way, guess who worked with Steve in the early 80s? Do you really think that Steve thought up these ideas?

          He and I were friends until he died, and he never claimed to be an inventor — and wasn’t — he was an innovative marketeer with a fair amount of taste.

          1. I’m just a fan from the early days knowing when a good thing comes a long. “Fair amount of taste,” seems less than how I amagined.

            I feel, now that people are talking more, the public needs a proper historical analysts, of who’s who, a six degrees of connection. Who came up with what, and how did we got where we are today.

            I bet, with proper analysis, we will be able to determine, that indeed, in the 60’s and 70’s everyone was listening to the same guy, from Ray Bradbury, Gene Roddenberry, Stanley Kubrick. From the people who visualized the future, to the creators of the future.

            The fact that we have an iPad, didn’t come out of the blue, in the 21st century, but has been in the making or dreams for decades.

      1. And that coming from the most neurotic person I’ve ever seen.

        “And those who can’t teach gym, marry their step-daughters.”

        Woody Allen – the Samsung of Hollywood.

      2. “Do our modern personal computing devices augment education? Have they lived up to what was foreseen in the past? Are they really helping teachers teach in the classroom?”

        a documentary showing physically challenged children proved that iPad was in deed greatly helping kids in the classroom greatly both for the teachers and students

        – they adopted to the device far quicker then any pc
        – they were better off individually expressing themselves
        – enriched and enjoyed what they were learning
        – more satisfied with their own achievements
        – a greater sense of pride
        – comfort with repetition
        – over all grades went up 20%

        all this due to a friendly os – without the hassles of a mouse and the clunkiness of a keyboard

        Apple iPad exceeds – but the sour Kay wants us to think no

    1. Kay failed in his own vision – he never continued to change the world.. he gave up long ago… plus millions of millions of customers find iOS easy to use and understand… Kay needs to button his lip and do something else.

    2. “In traditional personal computing (desktops & laptops) the graphical user interface/desktop paradigm is now well established at 20+ years, having become dominant sometime after the Apple Macintosh with Microsoft’s Windows 3.1 in 1992. Do you see this changing anytime soon? What might replace it? Or will these types of computers always use this type of interface for the foreseeable future?”

      yes – iOS devices out sell pc laptops n desktops even macs

      shut the f-up whiny old turd

  1. I think Mr. Kay, with all due respect, is living in a world I like to imagine could be real someday, where the interchange of data, ideas, software, concepts, eToys, etc., can occur without worrying about consequence. Not on this planet though, not with the current dominant species.

    Consider eToys alone. How long before some pervert kid creates an ePenis? Some other kids download it. And Bang… class action law suit against Apple.

    1. The problem with the ePenis, is that our world considers it perverse. In and ideological world, possibly Kay’s, where eToys could be traded without worry, an ePenis or eVagina would be of no concern.

      As one child’s parent said to me, “We like to keep it real.” This is in response to my confrontation with her, “Why is your boy showing my kids, porn?”

      The inherent problem Kay sees, is a social / political issue, that no technology can solve. He has defined a target outside the model of an interactive device. He needs to split it in two. One of a device capable of definition “A” and a society of practice “B”.

      In some small way, Kay is full of crap. He’s micromanaging the definition of the theoretical device, because he doesn’t want someone to create it within his lifetime, most likely because he can’t doit himself. If you examine what is labeled as a prototype, it looks more like a clay model, non-working, and IO deficient. With near future verbal IO and current touch, a keyboard is hardly necessary.

      Apple has come closer than anyone in designing a DynaBook, something I have never heard of, before today. Steve Jobs saw, that it doesn’t need a keyboard and mouse.

        1. “We like to keep it real.”
          Rape-murder, bestiality, torture, cannibalism are all real. Exposing kids to any of these things with that vacuous justification is just bullshit.
          Depending on how old your kids are, you way want to consider whether these people and their children are suitable company for your family. Or maybe ask your children to leave the situation.

      1. The real problem with the ePenis is that some jerk would hide a virus or trojan or othe malware in it (or on it, in the case of the Trojan). Just look at Google Play for proof of how well Kay’s vision of “openness” works in reality.

        1. In a theoretical society, openness and a lack of threat, go hand in hand. People wouldn’t consider a virus to be worth creating.

          Imagine, an open society without secrets, and without privacy. Creating objectionable content, porn and viruses, lead back to the creator, without delay. The creator can’t be separated from the content. Therefore who would go through the trouble if they got caught.

          Kay’s plan requires Big Brother, without question.

  2. Just because you invented the engine or the wheel doesn’t mean you deserve credit for inventing trains and cars. And it certainly doesn’t give you the right to begrudge mr. jobs or apple for taking existing technology, even yours, and using it to make 140 billion more dollars than you were making with it. Yeah, you wish you had a bigger house, I get it, but you dont, and the only person to blame for that is you.

    1. I don’t man it sounds to me like the guy isn’t happy with how the UIs we use now turned out when compared to his original vision of what it would be.

      Not everything is about money.

      1. where were his complaints when the Macintosh came to market… he’s just a sorry ass – apple found a way around his patented royalties on companies needing to licence his mouse idea – lol

  3. As one friend (founding director of a billion dollar company) put it, “Everybody and their dog has a good idea. The point is, can you bring it to market?” There are a lot of ideas WAY more important than “symmetric authoring and consuming” that have not become the status quo — like how to have a vibrant industrial economy without poisoning ourselves and our children.

    1. What are youtube, minecraft, and many sites and web applications? These are the embodiment of symmetric authoring and consuming. I try to encourage my kids to make videos, or create their own content, however it’s too hard. I mean, they can or could do it. But the hurdles discourage them.

      At least in minecraft, you can make towns and villages easily, which can be used, interactively by others. But alas, they are mostly destroyed.

    1. and time passed him by
      with touch screens and virtual keyboards

      his minds eye could not see beyond the splinter of his own ego
      – he is a failure

  4. Is this guy fucking kidding?!

    It’s the most natural and intuitive user interface ever. A two year old can pick it up and their first natural instinct is to touch it – iPad responds and the rest is instant user control…

  5. The iPad UI had to follow Apple’s HIG (human interface guidelines) which were laid down during the development phase of the iPhone which preceded the iPad to market but was in actual fact developed after it.

    Steve Jobs saw that the smartphone market was ripe for the picking and released the iPhone in 2007 which became a commercial success. The iPad builds upon the iPhone base and shares many UI characteristics with the iPhone but obviously where it departs from the iPhone, it is to take advantage of the larger screen.

    But you have to remember that human fingers don’t grow bigger as the screen size increases so the touch elements must retain consistency across screen sizes. If there were marked differences between the iPhone UI and iPad UI that would slow the development curve because users would have to learn a new way of navigating the screen and developers will have to adopt a different approach towards each product line. This would introduce severe fragmentation as UI elements are broken across the range and concepts have to be relearned anew.

    This is why Airbus, and to a lesser extent, Boeing cockpits try to keep as much commonality as possible across aircraft sizes so that pilots do not have to be extensively and expensively cross trained when they fly different aircraft classes. This is known in the industry as an overall approach towards designing for familiarity and keeping fragmentation to a minimum.

    I’m afraid Alan Kay is talking bollocks here.

    1. Alan Kay only theorizes but rarely puts anything into practice. The difference in thinking up ideas and actually testing them out is Kays biggest failure. His view of the iPad UI is completely off base, most likely because he doesn’t have one nor never tried.

  6. I say to hell with all you theorists and philosophers. For me I want something that works without need of a 3 lb manual, and can be taken nearly anywhere and get instant internet access.

    The iPhone/iPad duopoly are the first, and finest, products to meet that criteria. Even with all the copying, Second place is still three years behind.

  7. Well as I barely understand a word he says I rather feel very glad that his ‘pure’ concepts stayed in the lab and for the use of academics and geeks like him. Certainly judging by this example of his communication skills, ease of use and realtime public accessibility doesn’t seem at the forefront of his intellectual thinking, at least the reality rather than his highbrow misinterpretation of the concept anyway.

    1. this from snide younger man who will die sometime later having done nothing to justify his existence.

      (WP) Kay is one of the fathers of the idea of object-oriented programming, which he named, … He conceived the Dynabook concept which defined the conceptual basics for laptop and tablet computers and E-books, and is the architect of the modern overlapping windowing graphical user interface (GUI).[3] Because the Dynabook was conceived as an educational platform, Kay is considered to be one of the first researchers into mobile learning, … After 10 years at Xerox PARC, Kay became Atari’s chief scientist for three years.

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