The iPad, and Why the Original Mac Didn’t Have Arrow Keys

Bruce Tognazzini, one of the main user interface guys on the Mac recently blogged about parallels between Steve Jobs’s approach to creating the Macintosh, and the iPad.

It’s all interesting, but I wanted to call particular attention to this passage:

Few will remember, but, when the Mac debuted in 1984, there were no arrow keys on the keyboard. That was a big deal. Almost every application then in existence depended on the arrow keys (then called cursor keys) for navigation. With that one stroke, Steve reduced the number of apps that could be easily ported to the Mac from tens of thousands to zero, ensuring that this new computer would have a long and painful childhood.

Steve’s button mania, which grew from his earlier parts-count mania, was already in full flower, and many have ascribed this crippling omission to some sort of self-destructive obsession. It was not. It was one of several strategies specifically designed to ensure that existing software would not run on this new machine because existing software, in Steve’s eyes, sucked (an opinion I share). The absence of those four keys ensured that any developer who wanted to have software appear on the Mac was going to have to start over and write software that conformed to the Mac interface, not the keyboard-oriented precursors to MS-DOS.

via Mac & the iPad.

He goes on to compare this to Jobs’s stance on Adobe Flash on the iPad.  It also goes to one of the key points I made in an earlier post about why people who thought the iPad should run standard Macintosh apps were “crazy”:

There are no apps for the Mac designed for the type of [multitouch] interaction the iPad supports.

5 thoughts on “The iPad, and Why the Original Mac Didn’t Have Arrow Keys

  1. Steven

    Ha, so what is the justification for the iPad. I am really missing the ability to navigate with arrow keys.

  2. Sarah

    It sux. You can’t edit anything more than a text field long without arrow keys. Major flaw to a device I love.

  3. Jon

    Yeah well this is the same type of egoism that ends up running large companies into the ground (like GM)who think they know better what customers want rather than just asking them. The lack of arrows is crippling to touch typists, like me, who sucked up the $1000 price tag so I could manage my online classes anywhere (I’m at the Dr’s office right now). The magnifying glass is not a solution and hinders my workflow. Apple should read the online blogs about their products rather than trying to push Job’s agenda of what he thinks customers want. That’s why God invented market research. By not listening direct to customers on issues like this, Jobs is guilty of the same mistakes as companies he’s always criticized, like IBM and Windows.

  4. Mike Fulton

    You could design a new car that uses a touch pad for everything and justify it by pointing at all the accidents that happen with people using traditional controls. And some people might even learn to drive it…

    … But that doesn’t make the idea any less insanely stupid. (irony intended)

    The idea of discouraging simple ports of DOS-based software is fine, but crippling the keyboard to do it was just dumb. I had several friends who bought the early Mac models and none of them liked the keyboard. But they already loved using the mouse or they would not have bought the Mac in the first place!

    Furthermore, porting over DOS-based apps to the original Mac was already made as difficult as needed by the fact that the Mac’s API simply didn’t have character-based output like a DOS-based machine would have. Any developer who would write his own character-based screen handler to fill in the gap wouldn’t have been stopped by a lack of cursor keys. They just would have used control key combos instead. So, ultimately, the only ones hurt by the crippled keyboard were the end users.

    Besides, the original Mac actually DID have full support in the OS for cursor keys… They just didn’t initially ship a keyboard that had them. That didn’t last long however… My Mac II’s keyboard had them.

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