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Wednesday, April 03, 2013, 10:01 am PT (01:01 pm ET)

Computing pioneer Alan Kay calls Apple's iPad user interface 'poor'

Apple's iPad and iPhone may be continually reshaping the way we interact with computers, but at least one computing pioneer believes the company has diverged from the vision of technology that nurtured Apple in its earlier days.

dynabook

Alan Kay holding a Dynabook prototype (via Wikipedia)


Alan Curtis Kay is recognized as one of the few people behind the concepts that have defined much of personal computing over the past three decades. A former Apple Fellow, Disney Imagineering Fellow, and Xerox PARC Labs associate, Kay also developed the vision for the Dynabook, an iPad precursor of sorts that would have been a portable suite of hardware, software, programming tools, and services. The Dynabook was meant as a tool to instruct children in digital creativity, and while the iPad bears some resemblance to it, Kay told Time's Techland that Apple's bestselling tablet in some ways betrays the vision he and others had.

Asked if the Dynabook has not, in fact, been realized in the form of the notebook computer, tablet, and smartphone, Kay said he believes those devices largely miss the point. Apple's iPad — and the wider computing environment, by extension — falls short of the Dynabook's ideal, Kay says, since it lacks the capacity to enable "symmetric authoring and consuming."

Kay continued, calling Apple's restrictions on content creation and sharing on the iPad "mostly bogus," and saying that any potential security issues were the result of flaws in the OS. He also expressed disappointment in the progression of the human-computer interface since the development of the Graphical User Interface.

"The current day UIs derived from the PARC-GUI have many flaws," Kay said, "including those that were in the PARC-GUI in the first place... even though multitouch is a good idea (pioneered by Nicholas Negroponte's ARCH-MAC group in the late '70s), much of the iPad UI is very poor in a myriad of ways."

Kay noted that the presence of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs had been a double-edged sword for the company.

"One way to think of all of these organizations," Kay said, "is to realize that if they require a charismatic leader who will shoot people in the knees when needed, then the corporate organization and process is a failure. It means no group can come up with a good decision and make it stick just because it is a good idea."

Kay's harsh words weren't reserved just for Apple. The computing pioneer took issue with the larger computing industry in general, in particular the ways computers are integrated into education.

"The education establishment in the U.S. has generally treated the computer as sort of like a typewriter," Kay said. "I've used the analogy of what would happen if you put a piano in every classroom. If there is no other context, you will get a "chopsticks" culture, and maybe even pop culture... 'the music is not in the piano.'"