Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Did Apple Reach An Evolutionary Dead-end?

About this time of year the Royal Society, the august scientific organisation created by Charles Babbage amongst others, hosts a series of lectures for the BBC. Ostensibly the lectures are pitched at bright, inquisitive kids, but most normal adults will find the subject matter interesting and perhaps a little challenging. One series a few years ago introduced me to the concept of the evolutionary tree. The idea behind this is that as all species evolve, they effectively choose branches that my lead to further branches or they may find themselves at the end of a branch going nowhere. Which is why some species have rudimentary eyes that cannot improve, no matter how many mutations their DNA goes through. I found this difficult to accept initially as the whole evolutionary idea suggests that ultimately all species should evolve to a sentient state. At least that was my uninformed perspective before watching the lectures that year. Now that the BBC pretty much gives its content away to every citizen on the planet except for those of us in the UK where we have to pay a national tax for the privilege I should commend any of my overseas readers to try and catch the Royal Society Christmas Lectures on the BBC iPlayer. Don't worry, I'll pay.

I mention this because a few days ago I read that 200,000,000 copies of iOS 7 had been downloaded since its release. Make that 200,000,001 now. We downloaded the new version after realising that Apple were preventing crucial access to the annual 12 days of Christmas promotion that it runs at this time of year. Clearly if the 12 days are going to be held to ransom, there is little hope for other applications.

So the iOS was downloaded and the skeumorphisms apparently hated by Jony Ives were banished to the virtual waste paper basket. The iPad works much as before, but is a lot less interesting visually. And because it is being used on an iPad 2 there isn't much in the way of compensating features. I am aware that newer variations of Apple's incredibly expensive hardware does get some benefit from the new iOS, but that doesn't apply to items almost two years old, apparently.

It got me to thinking - did Apple find themselves at the wrong end of an evolutionary branch? Did they realise that they couldn't move the iOS forward unless they backtracked to the joint in the tree where they had committed to the previous direction? Of course iOS6 probably helped with the decision. Microsoft have taken the nuclear option of creating a radically and polarised interface with Windows 8 but Apple have tried to cling to the shadow of their previous iOS. Perhaps the idea is that once everyone has gotten over the disappointment of iOS 7 they can move forward and develop the next generation of iPad and iPhone functionality without the baggage of the previous incarnation.

If that is the case, can they make it quick? And could they make it work with the older devices they happily took our hard earned money for. Evolution should be a gradual process, hence we have small irrelevant parts of our bodies no longer needed, but still there. OK, sometimes they go rogue and hurt us, but I'm personally quite fond of my appendix - if I ever have to have it removed I'll press it flat and stick it in the back of one of my books. Critical these body parts may have been redundant for generations but haven't been thrown completely on the scrap-heap by evolution. We should be able to use older iPads and iPhones while they still work, not until Apple decide we should but a new one. Because the buying decision might not include Apple next time around.

In the meantime, while Apple decide on the next step of their evolution, consider catching the Royal Society Christmas Lectures - perhaps they're discussing technology this year.

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