When I began this blog with a post about the future of applications, I had in mind something like Clear, a new todo app for the iPhone. It, like Flipboard or Twitter for iPad but to an even greater degree, moves away from presenting an interface composed of standard computer-y metaphors. People who use computers all the time understand cursors, menus, dialog boxes, minimizing, windows, and the like. The designer, through these tools, is trying to say, “Use this program like you’ve used other programs that you’ve gradually learned to use or been taught how to use.” Apps of this style scream to the user, “I’m an interface. Just learn which parts of me to select or click in order to request I do something from the list of things I’m able to do.”
Clear is more like a physical object — but not at all in the faux-thing sense (or skeumorphic sense) of Apple’s calendar app, which is made to look but not completely act like a calendar, or the leather stitching in Find My Friends. No, Clear has an intuitive, internal logic and physics. It works more like a fully realized thing. You learn how to use it more like you’d learn how to use, say, an old cash register or a popcorn popper. In Clear, you pull, pinch, and push, and the app responds as if it’s a thing in the world being pulled, pinched, and pushed — but responding in slightly magical but coherent ways. You play with it for a bit, and then you just get how it works. Imagine that.
Clear’s not all the way there, but it’s pushing the boundaries toward App as Object. I’m convinced that the future of applications lies in the design of coherent, complete, functioning things.
[Note: Posting’s slow and going to continue to be slow for the next couple of weeks as I’m deep in article drafting and revising mode. Will post about that when I reemerge.]