There’s an old adage among those of us who have been in media for awhile and it’s simple. “If the headline ends in a question mark, the answer is ‘no.’” Can Apple kill paper? No. But Apple might be able to kill what looks like digital paper and how we use it.
My example of this is the popular daily planner Opus One. If you’ve used a todo list app, a task manager app, or even a notes app, you know they often mimic paper, with the daily planner apps the worst offenders. All we’re doing is transferring the physical paper onto the Mac’s screen.
Opus One does that as well as any Mac app, easily porting what could be any popular daily planner made of tree parts to the screen, complete with leather bound edges, metal binder rings, plastic tabs and everything else that makes up a physical planner.
Everything about Opus One on the Mac’s screen smacks of a physical-made-of-paper day planner.
The image above is a screenshot of Opus One, not a real live leather and paper day planner, but you have to look to see the differences.
Why do we transfer our tools made of atoms to bits on the screen? Is the physical way the only way? First, I can see that Opus One is comfortable and familiar but only to those who used a day planner made of tree parts. Everything we once used on paper is on the screen. Tabs for sections. A calendar. Daily events and notes. But with the obvious options of dropping in photos or images or maps which make the digital version even more usable than a paper version.
There’s much to like here if you come from the world of paper day planners.
Opus One is digital. The Mac’s screen is a digital representation of paper, so Apple, Opus One, and other such physical-to-digital transfers have helped to save a large number of trees.
What about those Mac users who never used a paper day planner? Will they be as comfortable with the traditional paper-like page layout used in Opus One and other digital notebooks, todo list apps, task managers, and project planners?
Or, is there a better way than merely mimicking what we once used in the tree-to-paper world? Is the only advancement that we’ve moved a day planner onto the screen but haven’t figured out a better way to plan daily events, take notes, capture thoughts, store tidbits of information?
Even the calendar we use hasn’t changed much in the digital world. It still looks like a calendar.
Skeuomorphism is a design methodology that retains the structure of something original and it’s everywhere.
A skeuomorph is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were necessary in the original. Examples include pottery embellished with imitation rivets reminiscent of similar pots made of metal and a software calendar that imitates the appearance of binding on a paper desk calendar.
And a little more…
Arguments in favour of skeuomorphism in the context of digital interfaces include that it makes devices easier to use for people familiar with the older devices that are imitated. Arguments against include that it takes up more screen space on digital devices, and may be more complex and more difficult to learn than a straightforward interface without it.
By moving many objects we use in the real world onto the Mac’s screen we drag along design cues, which explains why Opus One– a very good day planner that’s actually free to use– looks like day planners of yesteryear. Goodbye, paper. But what’s the actual improvement over the paper version? What can we do to improve on usability beyond what was once the paper dayplanner?
Apple’s Jonny Ive has removed a few of those cues from the physical world starting a few years ago, but it appears application developers still haven’t figured out how to move users into the 21st century with more usable apps that are not based upon the physical world.