I realise that for some people a single post on the iPad might be one post too many, but allow me to indulge my inner schizophrenic for a moment and play a little game I like to call Devil’s Advocate.
Yesterday’s reaction was unquestionably the response of my inner nerd; the techy person, the guy who cares that Apple has made their own CPU for the device, that knows what CPU means, and that actually reads tech specs.
But after a conversation with an old friend on Twitter, I’m starting to think – in fact I’m pretty much convinced – that it’s not about me. And, dear reader, there’s a good chance it’s not about you either.
I owned the first generation hard disk based iPod, back when they came in Mac or Windows flavours. I had to format my Mac flavoured iPod to work with Windows. I had to use specific software to get music onto it because there was no iTunes for Windows. It had a black and white display. And people really didn’t get it. It was odd to them, seeing me carrying around all my music on this little box. You copy your music onto your computer? Nutter. Just look at the iPod now, eh? Even my mother-in-law has one.
And then I got a touch screen mobile phone, back when Windows Mobile looked modern, and that seemed weird to people too. Using a stylus to drive your phone? Freak. Now it’s odd, maybe even unfashionable, to have physical keys.
With the iPad, the shoe is on the other foot. I’m the one that, maybe, doesn’t get it. Because it’s not about me.
Windows 7 is not intended to provide a good tablet experience. Snow Leopard, in just the same way, would suck as a tablet os. Any platform that’s been conceived for a mouse and keyboard is a non-starter for a tablet. They’re two fundamentally different approaches to interaction, and it needs something else. And that “else” is still evolving. It’s not as mature as the software that I – and maybe you dear reader, if you’re even a sliver as techy as me – have been using for years.
As an example: my son is four years old. He can navigate his way around my iPhone effortlessly. He launches whatever app he likes, listens to music, plays games. He knows how to quit them. He knows where his favourite shortcuts are. My other son, is 18 months old. He knows how to unlock the iPhone, that the flower icon means photos, and that he can swipe left and right to see pictures. He can find the picture of iCarl on the homescreen, fire him up, and tickle him for a bit. Then wave bye bye when he goes away.
There is no way on Earth my youngest son could accomplish that on a PC or Mac running a desktop OS.
If I handed either of them the iPad, they’d be up and running in seconds. And there are, as Steve Jobs said yesterday, 75 million people just like them. 75 million people, who don’t need to worry about anti-virus, or firewall, or Windows Update, or anything other than using their fingers. A massive group of consumers who don’t even use the phrase “smartphone” because as far as they’re concerned, the iPhone is just their phone.
To drop into techy mode again for a second, I wanted to mention the screen on the iPad. It’s using a technology called IPS (in-plane switching) that’s specifically designed to make the screen look better when you’re not directly in front of it.
Think about that.
They’ve used a technology that even I wasn’t familiar with, and that costs more than using inferior technology, specifically to make the iPad work better from other angles. The obvious implication for that is typing; you still need a decent view of the screen if it’s flat on a table and you’re typing on it. But think about sharing the experience: flicking through photos like people used to flick through an album, browsing the internet together, and – here’s a radical thought that I hope someone else has had and will develop – board games. Imagine sitting around a table, the iPad in the centre, and you’re all taking turns playing a board game with a dynamically updating board, brilliant graphics, and extra content just a download away. Imagine an iPad version of Snakes and Ladders if you want something simple. Or, for anyone who wasted their youth hanging around a Games Workshop, image Space Hulk on an iPad. Here’s another thought: the iPad has a really nice looking calendar. It’s also got a wireless connection. It can sit on a dock in your kitchen and sync up with all the calendars in your family. With a quick tap you can see everything you’re up to for the next few months. And when you want to go and slouch in front of the TV, unhook the iPad, take it with you.
I mentioned photos. That 18 month old son I also mentioned: he loves flicking through photo albums. Showing someone photos on a laptop isn’t anything like the experience of leafing through an album. I’ve got a slideshow on my TV of digital photos, but even that lacks the intimacy of sitting next to someone and showing them a visual representation of your memories.
There’s the boring stuff: this thing would be superb for schoolwork. Imagine a bluetooth or wifi connected classroom, where the teacher beams things to each iPad as they need to. There’s no restriction on age – you can paint on it, type on it, read text books on it. From pre-school to university, the iPad could have applications in education far beyond anything we have today. Beyond that, consider its potential uses in a medical capacity. Remember the diabetes monitor Apple demonstrated during the iPhone 3 SDK unveil – scale that up to something that runs on the iPad.
You can moan all you like about the lack of multi-tasking, but right now all I’m doing is typing. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity of experience: focus, make the most of what you’re doing. Screw multi-tasking. Do one thing, and do it well. Maybe it’s only us ADD techy types that feel the need to maximise the potential of every last second of our time. And what actual percentage of that 75 million iPhone using horde are actually bothered about multi-tasking?
All these things I’ve described are very mundane, in a way. They’re not exciting to the technologically focused individual who wants more fantastic bells and whistles on his device. They’re there for everyone: the wife, the child, the student, the parent. Apple are trying to sell a device that millions of people can use easily, safely, and enjoyably, and in doing that they’re inevitably going to leave a few boxes unticked for the more technologically proficient.
It’s not about me. It’s about them. And if they buy into it in the way they’ve bought into the iPod, or the iPhone – maybe not with version one, maybe with version two or three as the price inevitably drops further – then the iPad really could change the way we approach computing in the modern home.