Future Computing: Solu and the iPad Pro

There is no shortage of Apple love in my corner of the universe. The iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard, and Apple Pencil have been the topic of conversation among friends and family for days. Everybody wants to try it. Everybody wants to know what it’s like. My honest assessment of the device is that OS aside, the combination of largish iPad, pencil, and keyboard feels like the ideal way to outfit someone for college. It truly is a remarkable fusion of liberal arts and technology, and I hope it only gets better. I may even purchase the setup for my daughter next fall when she leaves home for her first semester.

But a few nights ago I was having a conversation with a talented engineering friend, Doug Jones, who mentioned that the more reviews he reads about the iPad Pro being the future of computing, the more he feels that we’ve lost.

That’s sad.

Lost what, I thought? It’s just a computer. Isn’t creating new computers what we expect Apple to do?

Asked what he meant, Doug made the point (shared by many) that because the App Store is a closed environment, Apple ultimately has final say on the software the makes it onto iOS devices. If the iPad Pro really is the future of computing, then we (the developers building software for Apple products, and the customers using those products) concede even greater control to Apple.

He’s right, but the argument is passé.

If you don’t like the way something is, change it.

The first post I published links to a Finnish company, Solu. Solu aims to create a new type of “social computer” that does away with the notion of applications, organizes everything into projects, runs against the cloud, and requires only a single device to function both as mobile and desktop computer. It’s a wildly ambitious project that will require a remarkable streak of good fortune to find even modest success in its first iteration. But I have tons of respect for the idea and the vision. Solu is creating a new computing model that challenges current perception on so many levels.

Solu challenges the idea of abstracting both file and the application required to execute that file. Solu challenges current models of software development and distribution. Solu challenges the ideas of social connectedness, cloud computing, and ownership. Solu even challenges the idea of needing multiple devices to facilitate the mobile and desktop computing experience. Add to that a list of new approaches to the user interface, and the message from Solu is clear:

Fuck the status quo.

Say what you will about the execution. Most people will probably laugh at Solu’s ambition, and it’s weird quasi-future UI. Most people will probably find the idea of everyone needing a Solu computer and a subscription to its cloud service a ridiculous proposition. And most people will be probably be right.

But right there in Helsinki, a small group of people have raised pirate flag and middle finger with clarion ambition to “think different” in the world of computing.

It’s hard to listen to really new ideas within an echo chamber of comfort.

Right now, most of us are pretty comfortable developing within the confines of the computing platforms created for us by companies like Apple. Why shouldn’t we be? The products are so great. The users are so many. Our biggest concern these days is that we get featured on the App Store and achieve sustainable subscription models. The platform is a set of tools and a marketplace. We’re more than happy letting Apple do the hard work of creating new hardware and opportunities where we might thrive.

The iPad Pro is absolutely that amazing new product and opportunity, but it’s important to remember that Apple is on an iterative path to its own destiny. Our agreement to join them on that path — as developer and as customer — comes with the caveat that we not lose scope and become complacent about our role in the future of computing. If new approaches like Solu point to anything, it’s that we still have a long way to go.

The thing I said to Doug is that the future is still anybody’s game.

It may mean stepping outside the bounds of relative comfort and putting a pause on development of the next alcohol delivery app, or even the next Uber. But, if you’re unsatisfied with the outlook of operating within the current environment, don’t wait for Apple to define the future. Go build something new.

Originally published at www.toomanymind.xyz on November 29, 2015.