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. “This could not be farther from the original intentions of the … ’60s and ’70s”

    And so are boomers driving luxury german automobiles, golfing in the desert, and brewing coffee using disgustingly wasteful single-serve made-in-China Tassimo machines. Yet here we are.

    The people have spoken — most are consumers, not creators.

    1. I think most if us are pretty clear. The personal computing revolution was supposed to be about creation. Building something. Contributing. That each user would possess the tools for programming. The internet & HTML too was about authorship. Every “reader” would be a “writer”. Every consumer would be a creator.

      All of this was simply wrong. Most people are passive, lazy consumers. Sad, but true.

      1. Which is what Alan Kay was talking about. Not the “walled garden” controlled by the media companies and IP laws. Not the virus and malware landscape waiting to trap us all.

        I met Alan Kay in 82 while he was with Atari when he came up to Seattle to speak to our Atari User group and I used to use his ideas as an example when I spoke to teachers as I was doing education sales at the time. I pointed to Papert and Mindstorms and eidetic thinking. Pilot and Logo and computing in the DynaBook paradigm.

        In effect, information wants to be free a concept that was realized upon the birth of the information age.

        I don’t understand how they can look at what Kay envisioned at a time when computers filled rooms and criticize him and his 50 year ahead of time thinking. So the iPad doesn’t have a physical keypad like the DynaBook. You can still write a poem and send it to someone sitting on the other side of the tree from where you are.

        Our problem is human nature, not the nature of computers.

        1. I hear you. I’m saying that if Kay’s criticism of the iPad is that it betrays the DynaBook’s “…original intent … symmetric authoring and consuming”, then it’s as you say: the problem is human nature. The iPad was designed for real people. The DynaBook was “designed” for an imaginary population Kay (and others) assumed would embrace authoring (by which he means programming).

            1. I shake my head at these normal people. I’m lucky enough to get to work with creative people every day (programmers, writers, designers, and even suits).

              But then we’re all happy to keep driving our “trucks” (Macs), even as the rest of the world moves to “cars” (iPads).

          1. His ideas, published about the same time as the likes of Star Trek, hippies and idealists.

            My heart goes out to them all.

            Steve Jobs was also of this generation, Kay’s was older, but he was in thick of it. Hacker’s ethic, freedom of information.

            The real issue here, consideration of monetization of art and ideas.

            All of Western society would have to give up its fortunes to give up industrialization, open the walls, and let knowledge roam free.

            I think he focussed on children and education, as that would have little impact on the economy. A walled garden, between common adults and children the world over, where all educational and collaborative apps are free, guarded, and observed. Children can be children and create anything for all other children, preferably without concern for language.

  2. Always had respect for Kay, except like others have alluded to… he’s not a doer. The iPad makes the Dynabook look like a piece of junk. I just played a game of mini golf with people around the world on my fuxking phone.

    Get a clue Kay…

      1. Where is Kay’s consumer products? Where’s HIS Dynabook? He’s pointing the finger and criticizing people and the industry yet he’s failed to produce the Dynabook himself.

        If he has such a vision, then he should go out and build it. You don’t sit on the sidelines and call the shots after they’ve happened and expect to still have all of your credibility.

  3. There’s no such thing as “a myriad.” Myriad is an adjective meaning “innumerable.” Something may be “very poor in myriad ways.” i.e.; ” … very poor in innumerable ways, not “very poor in a myriad of ways.” i.e.; “… very poor in an innumerable of ways.”

  4. I can’t believe we are criticizing him on a website which includes collaborative content from users all over the world.

    In 1968 was the “Mother of all Demos” showing a thing called computing, using a mouse for graphical interface, with full networked collaboration — a demonstration ultimately replicated by Steve Jobs at Next.

    The WorldWideWeb was created to foster collaboration and away from a monolithic system controlled by a company that limits the group superbrain.

    Such collaborative technology was created in the late 1960’s. What are the current breakthroughs that will be as transcendent 30 years from now? It’s good to keep the eye on the prize and not on where the puck is, to humorously mix my metaphors.

  5. I am an “everything” apple guy, and I have converted many people to the “apple way”. I have 2 Macs, and ipad and an iphone and will buy an apple TV next. IOS, however, was always a compromise. It is absolutely brilliant in many respects, but infuriating in others. Why, for instance, do my contacts always default to USA for country when my defaults are all set to Australia?

    Jonny Ive will bring great changes. Lets not get complacent – constructive criticism is incredibly useful and this guy has worthwhile things to say, even if you don’t agree with everything he says…

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