The Personal Computer Column in yesterday's Washington Business incorrectly identified the computer that can use a new accessory called the SwyftCard. The SwyftCard is currently available only for the Appl IIc; a version for the Apple IIe is being developed.
Jef Raskin may be the originator of Apple's Macintosh, but he has no love for its windows, icons or mice. In fact, he says he "hates" the Macintosh interface.
"I happen to hate computers, and I have for a long time," says Raskin, who left Apple in 1982 after a clash with Apple Chairman Steve Jobs to start Information Appliance, one of the more unusual computer companies in Silicon Valley.
"I think a typewriter is an instrument of torture," he says. So he says he's come up with something better -- and he may even be right.
Information Appliance's SwyftCard ($89.95) isn't just clever; it teeters precariously close to brilliant. This is a product that offers genuine ease of use and high-speed performance.
But don't read this as a rave review; read this as an introduction to what is a "must see" product for people who want cost-effective personal computer price/performance without pain. I don't care if you already have an IBM or a MicroVax II or a Macintosh -- the SwyftCard represents an important step forward in interface design and utility and should be seen to be appreciated.
Let's begin with the bad news: The SwyftCard is a preprogrammed chip set on a board "2 by 4" that fits into slot 3 of the Apple IIe and only the Apple IIe. Sorry . . . but I've heard of people who actually went out and bought a IIe just to be able to use the SwyftCard. I believe it.
The SwyftCard boils down word processing, telecommunications, calculations, disc formatting and information retrieval into a simple series of touch-just-one-key commands. There's no operating system, all the functions are simultaneously available and readily accessible, and the SwyftCard is fast.
Turn on your Apple and the SwyftCard environment and its six basic commands are right there. You can start typing away. The word processor has tabs, page break margins and other standard features.
Want to insert something? Tap the INSERT key. Want to delete something? Hit the DELETE key. Need to perform some calculations? Hit the CALC key and multiply to your heart's content (you can also do some BASIC programming in CALC).
Want to print what you have on the screen? Hit the PRINT key. Want to save what you have on the screen on a disc? Put a disc in the drive, hit the DISK key and your blank disc will be formatted and your data recorded in less than eight seconds.
Want to hook up to one of those telecommunications services like The Source or CompuServe? Use the SwyftCard telecommunications protocol: that's the SEND key -- which requires two things: a tap and a modem. No icons, mice or windows . . . but there is something else.
Raskin asserts that people spend 30 percent of their time on the computer just moving the cursor. So he developed what ranks as one of the most fascinating cursor/interfaces since the mouse.
It's called the LEAP, and it's nothing short of amazing. To move the cursor, hold down a key by the space bar and hit the first letter of the word where you'd like to go. For example, if you want to LEAP to the word "tomorrow" you tap "t" -- and in less than 300 milliseconds the LEAP function takes you to the nearest word beginning with "t." This speed makes editing and inserting a breeze. And if you want to put your Rolodex on disc, you can retrieve a phone number/address with the tap of a few keys -- even if you're not sure how to spell things, the SwyftCard will retrieve everything that's close to what you're thinking of -- perfect for those of us with aphasic memories.
The SwyftCard can hold about 20 single-spaced pages worth of information per disc. And the documentation is excellent.
Problem: Technically, this approach cannot be done on the IBM PC. Or, to put it another way, it can't possibly be done as well. Raskin hints at an IBM version. I'm willing to be amazed -- but I ain't holding my breath.
Problem II: SwyftCard isn't being sold retail. That means that unless you have a friend who has one, you can't see it in advance.
Problem III: It needs even more functionality. Though for $89.95, it seems churlish to complain, Raskin hints that a SwyftCard with VisiCalc-like spreadsheet functions is on the way. He promises other products -- perhaps in graphics? -- with similarly innovative style and interfaces.
Information Appliance's toll-free number is (800) 982-5600. Address: 530 University Ave., Palo Alto, Ca. 94301.