Brad Reed at Network World describes how the new BlackBerry Torch could sink or swim based on its new operating system. I don't often write about mobile devices, but the thing that interests me about any converged device is how the operating system is stacked. In operating systems of old, the device was king and the user was but a knave.
In days of old, if you wanted something from the king, you first waited in queue to present your request at Court. In a similar manner, with early smartphones, if you wanted to quickly turn off the ringer, you'd have to wait in queue for the OS to grant you permission to use the mute button -- or you had to do what I did and quickly rip the battery out. The problem with older operating systems is that the OS always gave priority to the last task you gave it, even if it was no longer important to you. Making the user wait in queue for what he or she wants to do right now is no longer acceptable. In any new device operating system, the user must now be king.
Brad's commentary highlighted what a crowded field the Torch is moving into, but what that indicates is the booming popularity of that user interface. The instantly responsive touchscreen is prima facie proof that users are demanding instant and immediate control from their mobile devices. Touchscreen gestures such as "flicking" wouldn't work if the touchscreen wasn't given the right priority in an operating system. The most recent command of the user must take priority, even if that directly contradicts a command given by that same user one second earlier. If I started a task but suddenly need to change tasks that change must happen NOW.
The new breed of smartphones are wonderful. They are the electronic equivalent of Swiss Army knives, able to record high-definition video and play games with people around the world. I have a lot of programs installed on my phone and I fully expect those programs to work in the background when the phone is in my holster or on my charging stand. But when I flick a touchscreen, I expect an immediate response, because what I need to do now is more important than what I told the phone to do two seconds ago or what some program I installed two months ago wants to do.
The new era of operating systems in which the user is king is more obvious on touchscreen phones than any other type. When the user wants to do something now, the operating system must be able to immediately set aside its former priorities and focus on the task at hand: answering a phone call, muting the phone, recording a new video, taking a picture, or turning off the ringer in church. As you might have guessed, this is kind of a personal issue for me (I now remove the battery before I walk into church). I just wish these modern operating systems wouldn't take so long to boot after I put the battery back in.