Speed and Fidelity

I thought I knew how the new iPad would be treated in the marketplace, but as usual I underestimated its impact. The numbers are impressive, but even more telling is the response from Microsoft. Here’s a company that knows how to sit on a lead, so they know just how bad a shape they’re in. But the best they seem to have come up with is a smattering of posts from old media that suggest the great gorilla is stirring.
You know the drill: now that iPad Three has shipped, the next big event is Windows 8 and its touch revamp. What? Developers are being told how to apply the iOS experience to the Windows tablet, emulating the move to tablets and off the desktop. It won’t slow down Apple, but it may hurt Android and set up a reasonable battle for second place. And speaking of Android, let’s offer free replacements of smartphones  with Windows Phone. Developers won’t invest in the platform until there is one in the marketplace.
Problem: how much time do I need a real keyboard? With iOS 5’s push notification view and four finger screen swipes between open apps, multitasking is no longer the panacea it was before apps took over. Yes, I can use a tablet replacement device to more efficiently navigate between cooperating services like Sharepoint, IM, and document creation, but what happens when the tweet or other social object is the master data record of truth? Suddenly we are not staging documents in a document store, but rather a prioritized stream of alerts.
In the Office days, documents were orbited by people. You used email and web pages to assemble the talking points, then pushed the draft out for peer review, then published. Today, you socialize the existence of the project, establish a working group, and sit back to let the collaboration form. Changes are inferred by comment, targeted with @mentions, and triaged by a meritocracy of ideas, political sophistication, and deadlines. There is no document, but rather an iterative group sense of the body of information, status of objective, and consensus formerly known as the editor.
If there is no document, how do you communicate to the outside world? There is no outside world. The knowledge transfer, the political moment, the engagement is continuous. To those who are inside the envelope, the experience is one of continuous total attention, as Linda Stone might now put it. This is the Twitter moment, when the world changes as we know it to what it has now become in real time. We no longer time shift from thing to thing, but rather absorb new data and overlay it with institutional memory.
We may not boil the ocean, but we do work hard to normalize the news to either reflect or change the consensus. Discordant objects are assigned higher authority, or refuse to be driven comfortably into the accepted. People who can continue to function while handling noisy annoying new facts become highly valued for their clear headed ness. They absorb the noise that people actually want a desktop replacement and process that data as confirmation that they want the exact opposite. They want the tablet. They want tablet software. They don’t want a tablet replacement.
Twitter remains valuable because its current leaders (and maybe the others too) realize they have a communications tool on their hands. To this day, we hear that what we want is a way to unfollow someone when they get too noisy, let’s say around an event, and then follow them again when they quiet down. But that is the old Office view of the world, where we are “interrupted” by information. In the push notification reality that’s seating itself now, those interruptions are signal of the savvy of the sender, the awareness of not each object but the signature of the entire stream.
The calculation has been nurtured since the earliest days of Twitter, when Track allowed us to monitor the intention of communicating in realtime without following. Suddenly you could see how people communicated their realtime intuitive profile, how they responded to what events, shared their need to communicate with who when. Luckily, Twitter’s mutual follow rewarded us with direct message tunnels to those who built our trust in them by respecting our sense of rhythm and willingness to collaborate. And that basic taxonomy of the Twitter follow cloud has remained stable and valuable ever since.
This is why iPad Three is selling out in that best possible sense, why Chatter feels so increasingly organic in its growth and value, why Office fades away. As long as Office was a target for being replaced, Microsoft had something to work with. The simple question would always be: how much do you use Excel? And, more importantly, does Outlook work on the iPad? And so on, tying the last generation of dominant software to the next generation of dominant services.
But the push notification platform doesn’t replace Office, it replaces Windows. And, more importantly, it replaces the desktop with the orchestration, the interplay, between services, some of which subsume Excel and Outlook with more collaborative surfaces. No more InBox is about to explode emails with Gmail, lots more analytics streams that answer the questions Excel is used to ask with realtime social data which reaches directly into the emotion of the economy.
Yesterday, faced with the loss of dear friends and the desire to not take anything for granted, I called an old friend I haven’t been in touch with for a while. He answered the phone just as the message began, but I could barely hear him through his hoarse rasp. But I told him I loved him, and missed him, and hoped to talk soon. Carefully, and as clearly as he could muster it, he said he hoped the same. 140 characters is plenty when that’s what we’ve got, and speed is everything.