The Digital Skeptic: Teens Are Web-Addicted, but Digital Illiterates
The biggest software simpleton of all, of course, is Microsoft(MSFT) . Its latest OS, Windows 8, jettisons the most profitable and complex user interface of all time -- the desktop and pull-down windows -- for the stripped-down tile-based "Metro" interface. Simplicity seems to also now define the Microsoft culture. The word "simple" appears no less than nine times in a single blog post by Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division.
Serious visual-effects packages are stepping down the simpleton software highway as well. Take San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk(ADSK) .
"They make a visual manipulation tool called Maya," Bae says. "And the new package has automatic features for animating hair. That used to be a specialist's job. But nobody wanted to deal with it. The idea was to make it easy enough for a nontechie to use."
Dozens of photo apps also vie to be the super-simplest. The most impressive, to me, is Trey Ratcliff's 100 Cameras In 1. This smartphone photo tool boils photography down into anybody-can-chew bites. According to Ratcliff's travel site, StuckinCustoms.com, this app was recently downloaded 1 million times.
And let's not forget the most lucrative app -- not photo app, but app -- of all time: Instagram. This photo-tweaking tool, which does little more than share a picture made from a few preset image setups, fetched close to $1 billion from Facebook earlier this year.
"All Instagram does is replicate what photographers already do," Bae says. "And make it so simple anybody can use it."
App margins squeezed
The investor pain looming with the breaking wave of digital illiteracy is significant. First, this new generation of low-functioning computer users will almost certainly require near full-time handholding from software vendors -- which will not be cheap.
"It has gotten to the point now that if it takes something basic like a password, they can't figure it out," Bae said of his students. How will the average Macbook user deal with a problem? Go down to the Genius Bar and stand in line for two hours?
You can just hear the margin being ground from software vendors' bottom line.