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Simplicity Rediscovered

I was having dinner at a friends wedding reception recently when one of the guests began lamenting about the complications of modern society. He had had to face them one night when he and his wife discovered that they were spending more time communicating on their blackberries than with one another during the course of their dinner. His comments struck me because he had come to the conclusion that in the past, we were fascinated by gadgetry and new technologies, however nowadays, people value simplicity. It is entirely possible that I mininterpreted his thoughts completely. This happens at Spanish weddings where a really nice tinto is being served. But what I think he was saying is that we are entering a new age where “new” is not enough, “new” also has to make our lives less complicated.

English speakers have an interesting acronym that can easily be applied to new technologies — K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid!) — the “stupid”, of course, being the person in charge of design. When in doubt, the simplest solution is probably the best. So why do so many new technologies miss out, and why is my wedding-guest-friend so disappointed in how all these great new technologies are complicating our lives?

Because the conversation piqued my interest, and perhaps even because I think he may have been on to something, today I list the signs that simplicity is back

The Success of the iPod/iPhone

If any product exists that proves that consumers desire function and ease of use over bells and whistles, the iPod and iPhone are it. Not the fastest, not most memory, not boasting the latest mobile technologies, yet sleek, intuitive and instantly popular. Apple has long been associated with user friendly products, and they have certainly shined with these products. The competion may have a leg up when it comes to features, but actually using the devices’ features in a meaningful way belongs entirely to Apple.

The Emergence of Netbooks

Slimmed down versions of their notebook cousins, netbooks are the latest craze in mobile computing. Simplicity is their strong point as these machines are designed for the user on the go. The first versions were disappointing to say the least, but as the market for a mobile computing experience has grown, so have the capabilities of these little computers. Many now run Windows and are capable of things that make them seem much more like a real computer. The netbook market has been one of the highlights in the computer industry since the global economic crisis began and the market is expected to grow even more in the near future.

Google’s Chrome

Riding the wave of the netbook’s success, Google is designing an operating system that promises to be the essence of simplicity. The company claims that it will boot up in seconds, even on older and low-tech machines. It will also be immune to viruses and actually insure that your other computing applications take less computing power. It remains to be seen if Google can really compete on Microsoft’s home turf, but one thing is for sure, the current King of operating systems is taking note, and will surely respond. Will simplicity finally win out in operating systems?

There has always been something to say about “keeping it simple, stupid”. During the race to space between the United States and the Soviet Union, one challenge that arose was how to write in zero gravity, since conventional ink pens of the time required gravity for the ink to reach the tip. The Americans spent millions designing a pen that would function, and today we can actually write upside down with a drugstore bought ball point thanks to this research. The Soviets solved the same problem quite elegantly as well, they used a pencil.

I’d like to know:

(1) Is simplicity making a comeback? Do you know of any other signs?

(2) What product do you own that you enjoy for its ease of use?

(3) Do you think simple-old Chrome will be able to compete with big-and-complicated Windows?

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