On the Magic Trackpad, Its Place in the Universe and What it Means for the Future of Computing and the Entire Human Race 

Joshua Topolsky, in his review of Apple’s latest peripheral:

There isn’t anything truly magical, revolutionary, or groundbreaking about the Magic Trackpad. It’s not the first of its kind, and it doesn’t turn our current computing paradigms on their ear. It’s an excellent device for those who prefer touch input to mouse or trackball, and it’s a solidly built piece of gear that will compliment the uncluttered workspaces of lots of geeks out there. But it’s not a game changer or the death knell for our modern day method of interacting with our PCs as some have speculated.

The “some” he refers to includes Gizmodo, where Jesus Diaz posted an article named “Apple Magic Trackpad: The Beginning of the End for Mac OS X.” Here’s an excerpt:

After the success of the iPhone, the iPod touch, and the iPad, Apple has realized that the consumer market is ready for a new user interface paradigm, centered around multitouch and the idea of fully database-driven modal operating system. The death of the desktop metaphor—that overcomplicated and stinking mass of hurt made out of a zillion folders and files—as we know it. It was good when the world ran on floppies and small hard drives, but it’s time to move on.

[…]

But not only the keyboard and the trackpad will merge. Mac OS X and iOS—which is a customized subset of Apple’s desktop operating system—will merge.

That doesn’t mean that your iMac will run like today’s iPad, but its interface will change completely. It will be a lot simpler, and multitouch based. Gone will be the Finder, gone will be the windows. The traditional computer desktop will be replaced into something streamlined, but not less powerful. Perhaps for some pro users, there will be a mosaic view to watch several apps at the same time, but eventually Apple will move everyone to a modal-based interface.

It is probably inevitable that iOS and Mac OS X will start to merge in some way. Actually, the two are already closely related, as the former borrows heavily from the underpinnings of the latter.

Diaz suggests that iOS will swallow Mac OS X, leaving the desktop in some sort of weird, modal-based world that looks a lot like the iPad.

I’m not sure he’s right. Apple understands that the desktop and the mobile device are different in not only form-factor, but in the way people use them. It would be impossible to use two apps at the same time on an iPhone due to screen size, and running one app at a time on a desktop would feel insulting. The iPad, somewhere in the middle, has the most to gain or lose with a radical UI shift.

I do think the day is coming when iOS apps can be run on Mac OS X. It would give iPhone and iPad customers a strong tie to the Mac, and could increase the halo effect. I wrote this back in December, and while I was wrong about what the iPad ended up being, the theory is still a good one, I think:

Maybe the strongest option would be a hybrid between the Mac and iPhone OS. I imagine this as a device running Mac OS X, but also having the ability to run apps purchased from the App Store in some type of environment like OS X’s Dashboard. That way, the tablet is both the most portable Mac and the largest iPod touch on the market.

As it stands today, Mac OS X isn’t ready for touch. It has lots of small targets. I can’t imagine trying to enter Time Machine from the menubar with my index finger. It’s just awkward. Additionally, reaching up and touching a display all day to interact with it is troublesome and tiring.

Besides the software question, the obvious problem with all of this is hardware. iOS apps are designed to work via touch, not with a mouse or trackpad (no matter how magical it may be). There isn’t even a cursor in iOS. Using an iOS app with a mouse could prove tricky, but with the addition of things like inertia scrolling to its MacBook line, Apple seems to be slowly wearing that boundary down. But an overhaul to iOS apps would probably be needed.

So, will the iMac of tomorrow look and work like a big iPad of today? No. Does the Magic Trackpad indicate where Apple is heading in the future? Maybe. It seems like an obvious evolution in Apple’s peripheral line, but it’s hard to draw any longterm conclusions from it, at least at this point.