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I always thought that content-centric was the easiest for people to deal with, i.e. "I want to change this document", and not "Let's run this app so I can then change that document".

It seems that the popularity of iOS (as opposed to say Windows or MacOS) proves otherwise, everything is an app. Windows 8 is also becoming app-centric, and MacOS is also moving in that direction (LaunchPad shows apps, not your documents.) Perhaps using tools is in our genes?

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Sjoerd, could you elaborate? I think that the relationship between this and iOS is not as self-evident as you assume :) Also - the popularity of iOS as opposed to what alternative? –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Sep 1 '11 at 19:35
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It's an interesting question. OpenDoc (the doomed pre-Jobs-return Apple Technology) was being pitched as a document/content centric model of software and may be an interesting read: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDoc –  DA01 Sep 1 '11 at 20:05
    
Very wild guess without any fact-checking whatsoever: I want to {1} change that {2} document - i.e. might be related to language. –  peterchen Sep 2 '11 at 14:40
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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I'm not sure that these are two competing models.

I remember some online discussion over the merits of FAT vs. NTFS, and then some Apple guy came by and said something like "Apple users don't even know they have a file system". I think this made the Digg front page. The point is that MS and Apple are indeed trying to get away from the file system, especially on mobile. Folders and files are perceived as being too technical and the approach is "Open your image editor and edit your images, you don't need to go turning your computer upside down to look for them among all the other stuff". So the content became very strongly coupled with the app and not so strongly associated with a file type, not as much as it used to be. People are talking about "opening that Word" or "sending that Powerpoint" (maybe in English not so much, but I see it constantly in other languages).

Since most people use a single app for each type of content, the app becomes their "channel" to that content, so it becomes very strongly associated with it. Also, content-centric means going by files, and we have thousands of files - as opposed to about a dozen frequently-used apps, tops. So it makes a lot of sense to first choose the app and then the file. Which is why apps inevitably get to the front of the work process.

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I think we are task-centric, and the first step in most tasks is to find the right tool (aka app) to get the job done.

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I'm not sure why this was downvoted. I think there is something in this. Having said that, I don;t think it is completely correct. We often think "what documents do I need to process to complete this task" –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 1 '11 at 21:00
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Note than Microsoft seems to believe that this is not the reason why iOS became popular, and tries to position Windows Phone 7 as a platform where you don't need to use apps, and are only a glance away from the content.

I wouldn't call Windows 8 more app-centric than previous versions of the OS either. If anything, the new touch UI provides more content at a glance, without the need for a separate app, than was available in the past (without the use of an alternative shell or Rainmeter).

Also, I believe that the renewed interest in NUI (again, mostly at Microsoft, but not only) proves that the general tendency in the UX community is still to blur the barrier between the user and the information as much as possible.

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Sinofsky himself says they're making Windows 8 more app-centric: blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/08/31/… –  Sjoerd Visscher Sep 1 '11 at 22:19
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I would posit two reasons:

  1. Apple did a brilliant job of marketing "There's an app for that". It is not about how people think, so much as the way it was marketed. The fact that people have downloaded a pile of apps and can now do things does not necessarily mean that they are app-centred in their thinking.

  2. The way that computers have been used and marketed for years has been app centred, and so those who use them have become app centred so as to use the existing tools. It takes a long time - and some very good software - to change that attitude, even if a document-centric approach is more natural.

People, I think, have been forced to think "I want to change this Word document" and so open up Word to do it. I think there is a very long way to go before people think differently, because we have had to think in this way for so long.

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One of the reason for 2. may be that different apps are made by different companies and so it makes much more sense marketing-wise to promote an app, rather than the content that app operates with. The same content can be used through different apps and so you'd inevitably market competing products if you'd concentrate too much on content. –  Philip Seyfi Sep 1 '11 at 21:23
    
@Phiilp Absolutely - and it is far easier to market "this app is better than any others you have" than "we can help you manage your documents" - the former can be done with flashy features. And so often, the IT people have been given a very specific problem to solve, not an environment to improve. –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 2 '11 at 9:51
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