Friday, July 10, 2015

iOS, Cognition, and the Ghost of Steve Jobs

Despite my best efforts, Steve Jobs' ghost does not actually come and visit me. I never met Steve Jobs nor do I know what he would think. Instead, I am writing about the mythical Steve Jobs that occupies my mind and is loosely based on a guy that used to run Apple.

I am an Apple user, I love my MacPro, iPhone, and most of all my iPad. I also think that iPads are uniquely well-tailored devices for the classroom and talk about it weekly on my webcast iPads in the Classroom from TechEDGE. I love the iPad because it is designed with the human brain in mind. That is what makes it intuitive. In essence what iPads have done  is to reduce cognitive load, allowing the user to focus her attention exclusively on the task at hand. I believe that is the genius of the device and its interphase. I believe it is also the source of the limitations put on certain features including media multi-tasking. That is, some of the things that other devices can do are not really a failing in Apple's design, instead they are a result of a deep understanding of what people need (instead of what they think they need) to be effective users.

Now, however, in an effort to catch up" with Android Apple will be offering "real" multi-tasking on the iPad screen. I think this is a clear case of yielding to people's perception that they are excellent multi-taskers just like everyone believes they are above average drivers. There is mounting research showing that in general most humans are not good multi-taskers. We underestimate the number of times we actually shift attention and pay a hefty price in accuracy and efficiency when we do (e.g here). Until now the iPads would not allow multi-tasking on the same screen (apps can run in the background though). Now with the new features we can.

Adults can make their own decisions, but when we are concerned with using devices effectively in education the need for reducing cognitive load and increasing student focus is paramount. The new feature is an example of what people think they want but really shouldn't have. My mythical Steve Jobs would not let this happen.

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