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Alan Kay Says iPad Betrays Xerox PARC Vision 387

harrymcc writes "Over at TIME.com, we've published David Greelish's interview with Alan Kay, the famously quotable visionary whose Dynabook proposal has provided much of the inspiration for advances in mobile computing for over 40 years now. Kay talks about his work, laments that the computer has failed to live up to its potential as an educational tool, and says that the iPad betrays the vision that he and others created at Xerox PARC and elsewhere in the 1970s."
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Alan Kay Says iPad Betrays Xerox PARC Vision

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  • by The Cat ( 19816 ) * on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:14AM (#43336765)

    Sometimes I wonder why we are so quick to discard the PC. I certainly hope it won't become a symbol of lost opportunity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:16AM (#43336783)

    Of course the 70s' vision has blurred to the point that the iPad betrays it !! This ain't your grandfather's Atari !! It is his Oldsmobile !!

  • Betrayed? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:21AM (#43336839)

    What a stupid idea. The iPad was intended to be a portable screen for viewing content. Virtually every app (outside of games) is for viewing pre-generated content of some form or another. The iPad was never intended to be a "dynabook" or to co-opt the idea, so how can it be a betrayal?

    I have an idea for Kay... build your own damn hardware and write your own damn software. Don't rely on publicly-traded, for-profit companies to execute your "vision".

  • Locked Installs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:21AM (#43336843)

    As you might expect, his problems with it is the major problem many have with iOS devices:

    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.

    The solution is obviously to stop buying devices you don't truly own, but it's difficult when many applications are targeted for that platform first.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:23AM (#43336863) Homepage

    iPad is shiny!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:25AM (#43336895)

    Shiny shiny trendy shiny! Happy trendy shiny shiny!

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:1, Insightful)

    by falcon5768 ( 629591 ) <Falcon5768@comca ... t minus language> on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:25AM (#43336899) Journal
    Actually looking at his gripes, and they are so far and away from legitimate that there is a very valid argument to be made that he's full of shit.

    The interesting thing about this question is that it is quite clear from the several early papers that it was an ancillary point for the Dynabook to be able to simulate all existing media in an editable/authorable form in a highly portable networked (including wireless) form. The main point was for it to be able to qualitatively extend the notions of “reading, writing, sharing, publishing, etc. of ideas” literacy to include the “computer reading, writing, sharing, publishing of ideas” that is the computer’s special province.

    This has been absolutely done by the iPad and other tablets. People love to make the claim you can not create content on the iPad but its been proven time and again for the most part to be false beyond a few exceptions you can create just fine. People code on them, people write blogs or even books on them, people record and perform music on them etc. They are still a Gen 2 device atm though regardless of the marketing speek (or maybe Gen 3).

    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.

    Even this is disingenuous because Apple doesn't in any way prevent a people from creating a good app uploading it to the store for free and let people download it for free. It shows a blatent misunderstanding of the app store, and reasons behind it. It also shows a 60/70's naïvety toward how nasty our computing world has become toward attacking other users for personal and political gain.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:29AM (#43336949)

    Because for the vast majority of iPad/other tablet buyers, they're either:

    1) Using tablets as a secondary device, and continuing to use their PC (I have a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop. No plans to do away with my "computer", though I expect the somewhat old desktop and somewhat old laptop may converge into a single modern laptop with a dock & dual monitors when it comes time to replace them.)
    2) Basic users who have zero need for the features of a PC.

    Choice is good. Just because somebody else chooses something that's not appropriate for your needs doesn't mean they're "wrong" - they may have different priorities, and different uses for the tool.

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:4, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:35AM (#43337021)

    They don't?
    Please show me were I can upload applications for free to the Apple store and without restrictions.

    My application is a wireless network monitoring tool, which my understanding is that they are totally banned.

    Apple is very successful at turning computers into something their owners do not control.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:40AM (#43337065)

    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.

    Even ignoring the fact that Android doesn't seem like it has any limitations that matter in this regard (and to me the question was more "do we have a dynabook yet" rather than "is the iPad a dynabook"), the statement is incorrect when applied to the iPad.

    That's because you can share "eToys" within the context of an app. Codea [twolivesleft.com] for example, is an app for creating programs on the iPad - you can export code for a game you develop there, and send it to someone. That is in fact doing exactly what he said you cannot do - share an "eToy" you created.

    Basically he has fallen into believing the myth that tablets are for consumption and not creation, ignoring a great lot of creation occurring all over.

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:42AM (#43337085)

    Yes, I think the objection is not that you can't install a text editor on an iPad, but that the ecosystem is mainly aimed at one-way retrieval of content via Apple. As Kay notes, it's not just that you can't get your content into the App Store easily, but by default you can't even install something your friend made who's sitting right next to you— there's no way to install apps from your friend unless either you jailbreak your device, or your friend gets it into the App Store.

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <dnaltropnidad>> on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:43AM (#43337093) Homepage Journal

    "This has been absolutely done by the iPad ..."
    not on the iPad. You need a middle man.

    Tel my how I can write an app on the iPad, and then share it with whomever I want. How do I just send it to my friend across the table?

    "Even this is disingenuous because Apple doesn't in any way prevent a people from creating a good app uploading it to the store for free"
    You are missing his point.

    "d does not allow children to download an Etoy made by another child somewhere in the world. "
    he is correct. It has to go through Apple. I needs to meet Apples arbitrary corporate 'standard'; which includes many subjective things, such as 'we thing there are enough apps of this type'. Plus, creating an app on an iPad has a much higher barrier to entry then other systems.

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:45AM (#43337115)

    so when you say administer your servers, you mean you have one? Because typing on a tablet, especially technical typing such as using non-alphanumeric characters is quite the pain in the ass in my experience. I can never remember they key to do a tab either so I have to manually type everything or look up what the tab key is. And having to administer multiple servers would make me curl up into a little ball and cry if it had to be done on a tablet.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:45AM (#43337121)

    Sometimes I wonder why we are so quick to discard the PC.

    Because the PC is a nightmare in terms of reliability. Here I am using PC in the generic sense; this statement applied not just to Windows but also OS X or Linux or any desktop app compared to a tablet. In every case they are much harder for people to keep running well over time.

    The "Post PC" era is a term probably overused at this point but at the core it basically means simply: computers that non-technical users can have over time without someone to help them maintain.

    More technical users see this as limiting, but non-technical users see the ability to not rely on technical people to help them as freeing.

    And it's not like PC's, or anything like them, will ever vanish. Those threatened by a world where normal people can use a computer too should just chill out and be happy for them.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:51AM (#43337185)

    In the middle of the interview is the most brilliant thought of the whole article:

    One way to think of all of these organizations is to realize that if they require a charismatic leader who will shoot people in the knees when needed, then the corporate organization and process is a failure. It means no group can come up with a good decision and make it stick just because it is a good idea. All the companies Iâ(TM)ve worked for have this deep problem of devolving to something like the hunting and gathering cultures of 100,000 years ago. If businesses could find a way to invent âoeagricultureâ we could put the world back together and all would prosper.

    This is exactly right. Modern companies are NOT modern companies, they are generally companies as companies have always been. I think in smaller companies we are seeing experiments that show tiny examples of truly different ways to run a company, but I don't know of any that have been able to scale that to thousands of people yet.

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Pope ( 17780 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:51AM (#43337187)

    Tablets are a tool for consumption not production or creativity. They can be used for it in the same way I can stir my coffee with a pen.

    You clearly have no idea what you're talking about.

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fuzzybunny ( 112938 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:51AM (#43337197) Homepage Journal

    That's a condemnation of Apple's methods, not of the tablet format itself.

    The iPad was not technologically revolutionary - but it is hugely significant in that it's ingrained the idea of tablet computing in the mind of the average user vastly more than any product before it. It's essentially set the stage for Android and others to follow on.

  • Re:Betrayed? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NatasRevol ( 731260 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @10:52AM (#43337211) Journal

    I have an idea for Kay... build your own damn hardware and write your own damn software. Don't rely on publicly-traded, for-profit companies to execute your "vision".

    Seconded. Also, stop bitching that someone else didn't execute your vision.

  • Re:Provisioning (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:07AM (#43337419)

    Doesn't the fact that you need a developer 'license' tweak something in your mind about the DynaBook ideals?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:11AM (#43337485)

    Eventually a basic user is likely to become no longer a basic user

    No, they're really not "likely" to become more than a basic user. The standard tasks that most people use their home computer for - browsing the web, sending emails, watching a video, etc. - are not likely to suddenly prompt those people to decide that they need to hack the Linux kernel.

    just as a lot of American kids who owned only a game console and not a PC during the third, fourth, and fifth console generations never got the chance to try their hand at learning what makes a game tick by coding a simple game themselves.

    Why do you thick fucks make the assumption that this is something MOST people would want to do? There's a reason most of us grew up as social outcasts: OUR INTERESTS ARE NOT SHARED BY THE VAST - OVERWHELMING - MAJORITY OF THE OTHER PEOPLE AROUND US. Playing a game leads to "I'm gonna program my own game" about as often as driving a car leads to "vehicular homicide." Stop projecting your interests on the rest of the population - I can guarantee you that they're not shared by the vast majority of the people you're assuming will magically become Linux kernel hackers if you just hand them a computer with a bash shell on it.

    As far as "upgrading" a tablet? Buy a $30 bluetooth keyboard, and you've got yourself a netbook. I just saved you two grand - you're welcome.

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Americano ( 920576 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:17AM (#43337553)

    No, it's like saying "riding a unicycle is hard, if you need a vehicle to get around, why don't you put a second wheel on it, and stop whining about how hard it is to ride a fucking unicycle?"

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gm a i l . c om> on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:26AM (#43337669) Homepage Journal
    Or "if you're going to be always adding a second wheel, why not buy a bicycle in the first place?"
  • by Specter ( 11099 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:28AM (#43337715) Journal

    ...because it's a hot, power hungry, big, buggy, malware ridden, unreliable, overcomplicated, expensive, time consuming pain in the ass for almost everyone who isn't a computer geek (and that's nearly everybody).

  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:33AM (#43337749)

    I don't even think it's really doing much to displace PCs. People shortsighted enough to think solely in terms of new sales certainly feel that way, but it ignores reality.

    Basically, PC market with or without tablets was destined to plateau. PC sales for a couple of decades were driven by more demanding applications and use cases. Now, the products have, largely, caught up to the applications people use. A new purchase was formerly driven mostly by the current owned product being 'too slow'. Now a new purchase is driven more and more by when the thing wears out beyond warranty rather than new capability not previously available.

    Tablet and mobile are really a distinct market that PC didn't really penetrate. Sure, occasionally you'd see someone pretty dedicated lug around a laptop out and about, but those were pretty rare. Most everyone that had a PC 3 years ago still uses their PC, even if they have no need to buy a new one.

  • by Specter ( 11099 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:40AM (#43337855) Journal

    You're living in a very small world and there are very few people who live there with you. (Despite this post, I'm one of them btw.) People who live in the rest of the world, and that's almost everyone, are never going to code up a game themselves. The idea isn't even going to cross their mind. Why? Because they don't care.

    They just want something that works. They own technology to accomplish a task, not for the sake of owning the technology. They want to take a picture, send an email, read a web page, or play a game and they don't care in the slightest how many Mega-pixel-fps-giga-tdp widgets 2.0 this thing has over that thing. This is why the iPad (and the iPhone) is so popular; it gets out of the way and let's people do what they want to do without having to know or care how it happens.

    If the device in their hand does what they want it to do then there is no 'upgrade' (I'd argue: downgrade) path to a PC. The personal computer as you and I know it will die a much deserved death.

    You care. I care. We are, however, a shrinking minority.

  • Re:Fanboy attack (Score:2, Insightful)

    by StuartHankins ( 1020819 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @12:06PM (#43338195)
    Speaking of "douche", wow, it must be your monthly.

    Different people have different needs and different desires, and if I want to use a disposable keyboard with my laptop and throw it away when the keys get Cheetos in them and the letters worn off, that's my fucking prerogative. If I want to do that with my iPad, again it's my money, not yours.

    Can you dig it?
  • Re:Provisioning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @12:41PM (#43338723) Journal

    which is explicitly and entirely unacceptable. You should not need a developer license (permission from apple) to do anything on your iDevice. That is exactly the problem.

  • Re:Betrayed? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @02:27PM (#43340237)

    He's not "bitching" about anything. He was asked this question:

    Do you agree that we now essentially have the Dynabook, as expressed in the three tiers of modern personal computing; the notebook, tablet and smartphone? If not, what critical features do you see missing from these? Have they delivered on the promise of improving education?

    He responded by saying that no, we don't have a Dynabook, that the slim laptops are the closest thing to it, and that the ideals behind the iPad are not the ideals behind the Dynabook. He's answering the guy's question, which apparently he has been asked for the past 20 years.

Fear is the greatest salesman. -- Robert Klein