Yesterday, among the gaggle of emails – including, “Get Your Dream 2011 Homecoming Dress at Bluegala,” “Secure Your Personal and Professional Future,” and “V!agqra Be$tt pr1ce$$”— I netted this tidbit from ABI Research:
“Over 1.7 Billion Mobile Social Networking Users in 2016 Means Facebook Needs Its Own Operating System.”
That has to be one of the fastest leaps to an unwarranted conclusion ever made since AT&T predicted selling million Picturephones by 1980.
In the past, adopters of social networking were tech-savvy, ABI explains. Now, an increasing number of social users are only on mobile devices. “A huge problem for Facebook is that while on the web it is a platform, on mobile it’s just another application,” according to ABI senior analyst Aapo Markkanen. “…in the longer term it should absolutely become a mobile operating system of its own.”
What interests me here is the underlying – and unexamined – assumption that the way to do everything is with layers of software interacting with an operating system. Making a phone call on my Samsung SPH-M580 Android phone offers an instructive example of the limitations of the layered software model. To make a call, you must:
- Turn the phone ‘on’
- Return to the ‘home’ screen
- Select the ‘phone’ icon
- Type the number on the less-than-optimally-responsive touch screen (plan on two tries)
- Select the ‘phone’ icon again
Compare that to the wired phone on my desk. To make a phone call, you:
- Pick up the receiver
- ‘Dial’ the number on the human-hand-sized keypad
The point is: when 1.7 billion people use something, we need to think about the architecture differently. Namely, as an ‘appliance’ instead of an ‘application.’ The very simple answer to the problem Markkanen poses isn’t turning Facebook into an operating system. It’s hardwiring a Facebook button.
In 1910, nobody had to read a manual to listen to the radio or program a handset to make a phone call. We need a 21st century version of the on/off switch that hides the underlying technology and complexity, in the same way that a radio doesn’t require listeners to be RF engineers in order to tune in the evening news.
Imagine if instead of the “automatic telephone,” in 1919 Bell Telephone introduced “user-controlled pulse telephony programming.” It’s a safe bet that making phone calls would have remained a pursuit for hobbyists.
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