Apple’s war on typing continues

Apps Steve Jobs must hate typing. Perhaps he never really learned touch-typing as a kid and is still sore about it. Or perhaps, like me, he has begun to develop degenerative arthritis in his hands after years at the keyboard and wishes he didn’t have to type anymore. Whatever the reason, he seems determined to do away with it as a mode of input to a computing device.

The touchscreen iPhone was a breakthrough. The touchscreen iPad is a phenomenon. Neither comes with a physical keyboard and both rely on self-contained apps to deliver content to the device instead of the more linear approach of sending content through the browser in response to alpha-numeric input from a keyboard and mouse.

Now, Apple seems to have its sights set on eliminating typing from the PC itself. Last month it announced the new Mac App Store that will allow desktop software to be distributed outside the browser just like fart apps for the iPhone. According to a report by Nick Bilton in the NY Times on Thursday, Apple has now sent out emails to developers formally inviting them to submit apps for the new Mac Store ahead of its launch.

Bilton goes on to cite some iPhone developers as well as Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber wondering aloud how apps created using Apple’s iOS development tools can be made to work on a Mac running the OS X operating system, given the differences in the user interface and input methods between touchscreen mobile devices and desktop computers: touch versus typing. But Bilton seems to have missed an obvious connection in his own reporting.

Back in August, Bilton reported on a patent filed last year by Apple for a touchscreen iMac that can run in both OS X and iOS modes, with a pivoting screen that allows for a more natural, iPad-like touchscreen experience — perfect for desktop apps.

It seems to me pretty clear where Apple is heading, even if it hasn’t revealed all the pieces of the puzzle yet. It’s not thinking about how to adapt apps for the desktop; it means to adapt the desktop to apps. In fact, it means to adapt just about every device with a screen to apps.

It started with the mobile phone, which established the touchscreen as a viable alternative to the BlackBerry’s all-thumbs keyboard.  Apple then skipped the mouse-and-keyboard netbook category altogether — they “aren’t better than anything,” according to Jobs — and introduced the touch-and-apps based iPad instead, which even Microsoft now admits is cannibalizing netbook sales. Now, it’s eying the desktop, and I have no doubt we’ll see a touch-screen iMac within a year. It will still have a keyboard and mouse because it must. But as much as possible it will shift the action out of the traditional GUI.

Fear of typing aside, Apple seems determined, to the degree possible, to free both digital content and applications from their traditional platforms. It began by wresting content from the browser and it now aims to wrest desktop applications from the traditional operating system by containing them within a standalone app. It is gradually training developers to “think different” about what they do and how they do it by taking away (or at least de-emphasizing) traditional input devices and steering them toward multitouch interfaces and non-linear processes.

It will be a hell of a thing if Apple actually pulls it off.