Thursday, March 7, 2019

Purism's PureOS is convergent

Three years ago on April 2, 2016, I wrote an article about A brief history of user interfaces. In that article, I followed up on another essay of mine about visual brand and user experience, where I introduced the concept of breaking down a user interface into component parts, as a way to identify the distinctive features that create a "visual brand."

At the end of my article, I made a comment that desktop and mobile operating systems were converging:
Today, computers are more than a box with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. We use smartphones and tablets alongside our desktop and laptop computers. In many cases, "mobile" (phones and tablets) displace the traditional computer for many tasks. I think it's clear that the mobile and desktop interfaces are merging. Before too long, we will use the same interface for both desktop and mobile.

The key to making this work is a user interface that truly unifies the platforms and their unique use cases. We aren't quite there yet, but GNOME 3 and Windows 10 seem well positioned to do so. I think MacOS X and iOS (Apple's mobile platform) feature similar interfaces without uniting the two. Perhaps Apple's is a better strategy, to provide a slightly different user interface based on platform. I think it will be interesting to see this area develop and improve.
This is a similar sentiment to a comment I made on another blog in 2013 about the future of technology. In that article, I theorized how technology might change over time, proposing that our phones might soon substitute for a desktop; just plug in your phone to a keyboard and display, and you can continue your work:
What about five years from now? How will technology inherit the future? What devices will we use at that time? The convergence of mobile devices and laptops seems likely. Some vendors have experimented in this space, with mixed success. It seems a matter of time until someone strikes the right balance, and this new device becomes the next "must-have" technology that displaces even the iPad. …

While the market seems unwilling to adopt this device today, we may in five years consider it obvious that our computer fits in our pocket, as a phone, ready to be docked to a keyboard and monitor for more traditional "desktop" computing.
Well, the future is now. The convergence of mobile devices and laptops is happening. Jeremiah Foster, Director PureOS at Purism, writes in Many Devices, One OS that "Purism’s PureOS is convergent, and has laid the foundation for all future applications to run on both the Librem 5 phone and Librem laptops, from the same PureOS release."

PureOS (which is really GNOME apps on top of the Linux kernel) now sports an Adaptive Design. That means the application can rearrange the user interface to suit the display device it is run from. Take a web browser, for example. On a desktop, you might place UI controls at the top - typical for most desktop UI designs. But on a mobile device, such as a phone, it may be better to move the UI controls elsewhere, such as to the bottom.

Think of Adaptive Design as the application equivalent to Responsive Web Design. A website that uses Responsive Web Design might collapse a list of navigation links to a menu when viewed on a narrow display device, such as a phone. Or the website might rearrange or resize some content (such as images) to better suit a smaller display. Almost every modern website leverages Responsive Web Design.

Congratulations to the folks at Purism for their work in Adaptive Design. Foster comments that Adaptive Design means Purism can re-use PureOS currently used on their 13" and 15" laptops and leverage it to run their 5" phones, coming soon. That's good news for Purism, but it's also a great step forward for technology innovation.

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