Interoperability dreams

- Posted in computers interface os productivity - 1 comment

I think one of the biggest problems in computing is transporting complex data from one app to another. Or put another way – manipulating the data that’s on your screen in a sensible way, regardless of the app that you are using.

If I draw a table in Figma, and I have a few numbers, why can’t I make a sum from those? As an alternate solution, why can’t I copy-paste a table-like design, move it to Excel, and make calculations in a then-dynamic table?

This concept of moving something from a “drawing app” to a “spreadsheet app” sort of works between Keynote, Pages and Numbers.

If I make a table in Keynote, I can bring it back to Numbers, with calculations and all, but now the scale and formatting is messed up. But what Apple did here is the beginning of what needs to be done: all apps speak the same language. It doesn’t go as far as I want it to go, but it’s a start.

I dream of a computing world where one app understands what certain objects are and what you want to do. We have had copy/paste between apps since forever, but it’s too simple.

Notion has a concept of blocks. These are also another start but you are locked inside Notion.

If you copy paste out of Notion, you get workable markdown. That’s good, but what if I want to keep  continue my work in Pages?

In Figjam, you can now import a CSV as a series of sticky notes.

That’s cool, but I have the feeling that all these small bits and pieces took a lot of engineering work – by people who want to do well. One afternoon a few weeks ago I went deep into MIME types and how the pasteboard can contain different sorts of things. It’s a rabbit hole really. 

It also seems quite limited what you can actually because it seems to me you kind of have to parse things on the spot to try and make it meaningful again (in your app). If anybody knows more about this, has a good resource… do tell!

My conclusion at this point in time is that this is really a problem that needs to be solved at the OS level. Apps need much more advanced APIs to be able to talk to each other.

The pasteboard needs to evolve to understand that it’s carrying a spreadsheet with formulas, or an image with an edit history.

What happened in recent years is that instead of solving the problem we now have two problems. On desktop we have the aforementioned poor copy/paste. On mobile we have a logic with share sheets and intents, with a filesystem that is abstracted away. It’s super unclear where your data lives and if you are going to move data from one app to another, it’s a bunch of guesswork what is actually going to happen.

I wish more work would be done in this space.

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