Mouse Pointer 2.0

Apple, throughout  its many incarnations since the 1970s, has always been the pioneer in Graphic User Interface design and deployment. Ever since the Command Line Interface was abandoned, thanks to Jobs’ visit to Xerox Parc in the mid-70s, presenting the functions of a computer in visuals rather than code has brought computers to the rest of us.

I have zero talent at coding so yay!

Jobs leapt on the Macintosh project at Apple after the Lisa bomb, but then was kicked out of his own company. Lucky for all of us who love tech, he went on to create Web Objects at NeXT, and NeXTSTEP, then OS which forms the basis of every Apple computing product today. Not bad for something begun in the 80s.

The 80s is where Jobs and Apple developed the Mouse and the Mouse Pointer, the core function by which users interacted with computers. Their concept of pointer, icons and graphical representations of otherwise quite esoteric functions, were all copied and disseminated through the 80s and 90s. The GUI is the way almost all of us interact with computers.

Every computer on the market today comes with a windowing environment and mouse pointer, whether the OS is Linux, Microsoft, or Apple. But changes have been afoot for a decade now, and are thusly coming to fruition!

Better than an iPhone, Better than a Mac… at some things!

The beginnings of Mouse Pointer 2.0 were in 2010. Jobs introduced his 1980s-envisioned PADD to deafening silence. Unlike the iPhone’s debut in 2007, the audience mostly sat in concerned thoughtfulness accompanied by light applause. This is understandable.

Microsoft had released years of ‘tablets’ which may as well have been made of stone, especially when one considers their size, weight and usability. Just before iPad was released, Samsung flopped spectacularly into a market of solid rejection despite including every port they could think of.

However, following the the same vein as iPod, iMac and iPhone, Apple slimmed down the prevailing concept and focussed on usability, not applicability: there were only two ports on it – neither of which were USB! With iPad 2, however, market demand and fake journalism really began to diverge.

The iPad was the fastest-growing product in tech history; common attitudes disseminated across tech coverage repeated ad nauseam the lack of ports and the lack of Adobe Flash (hahaha good riddance!!) Google and Microsoft and Samsung all followed the market rather than the blogs as they ditched all their own plans to copy iPad to the letter.

Buuuuut superficial case or icon designs both spectacularly failed to find customers, the vast majority of us who want a great User eXperience. And this is where we come back to GUI design and UX – Apple’s most valuable contributions to personal technology solutions.

Just before we get back to pointers, we need to check jus tone more thing: CPUs.

ARM Yes; Intel NO!!!

The iPad was more tactile and useful than an iPhone, with its tiny 3.5” screen; and was more immersive and personal than a MacBook, with their non-touch screens. Another key factor was the processor. ARM CPUs are excellent for power-per-watt, yet were definitely not good for games or intense processing needs. This is where iPad created its own niche.

Over the years, however, the reality of x86 and its inherent and crippling inefficiencies has resulted in a very slow progress. ARM, however, is continuing to double in processing capacity every year. Additionally, Apple is leaping well ahead of other ARM designs with a variety of software-supported hardware such as Neural Engine and Metal.

Several years ago, iPad was already exceeding the capabilities of 90% of Intel x86 laptops, leading many to wonder aloud when iPad would become a ‘real computer’ i.e. have a mouse pointer. Apple dallied with the idea for a couple of years, but in 2019, Apple did it, and has done it very well.

I’m Pointing at YOU, iPad!

Prior to iPadOS, the Pointer for iPad was quite ghastly. It functioned more like the interaction with a PDF, having no tap-to-click or swipe gestures. It was bloody awful! With the now-standard implementation, iPad’s pointer functions exactly like an iPad pointer should. It makes the Mac pointer look like the antiquated 1980s holdover it is!

Rather than a bit-mapped arrow sailing hither and thither about the display, separated from the screen like a digital fly, the iPadOS pointer emerges from the content displayed on the screen, flowing from interactive point to point as is relevant. It changes shape according to contextual function, yet still behaves as one would expect a Mac pointer to behave. It is just wonderful!

Sweeping away the nasty, disintegrated UX of the pre-iPadOS pointer, this new version actually seems to remove the concept of ‘pointer’ as being an objective element in a GUI, and merging the concept of pointer into the function of the GUI. In doing so, the pointer is no longer a focus of the UX at all – our content becomes the soul focus of the UX rather than the system itself.

It is like magic!