Monday, October 4, 2010

Thoughts on the iPad

There are many, many posts on the iPad already. I was quite surprised about the intensity of the debate of its merits, or lack thereof.

I've had my iPad for about 5 months now, and I love it. I preordered it and got it on April 30. Since then it has subtly become part of my daily routine.

Here is a list of my uses for it, ordered from most frequent to less frequent:

  1. Reading books
    • iBooks
    • GoodReader
    • Bible
  2. E-mail
  3. Looking at RSS feeds
  4. Watching movies
  5. Games
I thought it would be interesting to put together a "collage" of interesting blog posts about the iPad.

Here is an analysis of the fact that the iPad is considered to be nothing new. Its critics seize this as a point of weakness but in reality it is probably a point of strength:

Instead of praising the iPad, critics express their disappointment, because they expected more. They expected a genre buster. They expected something they’d never seen before, something beyond their imagination. Something revolutionary.

They’re disappointed that the iPad is so… well… unsurprising. “Oh,” they say. “It’s a big iPhone.”

It doesn’t matter if they utter that phrase in distaste. That little sand grain of dismissal becomes the core around which will form a pearl of understanding.

Steve knows, better maybe than anyone else, that you don’t just slap a product out there and hope it will succeed. You have to prepare people for it, first.

And it’s better that people misunderstand a product, at first, than not understand it at all.

People won’t buy a product if they can’t understand it immediately. They can’t understand it immediately if their worldview doesn’t already have a readymade place for it. And their worldview won’t have a readymade place for it, if they’ve never seen anything like it before.

Steve expertly wields the powerful tool that is the feeling of recognition.

I agree with this post here that the iPad will change the model of personal computing over time.
the iPad will change the model of personal computing -- not immediately and not for everyone, but for many millions of people the PC will begin to look like a dinosaur. One of my reasons for such a bullish view is the number of skeptics coming forward to say that the iPad is not what it is cracked up to be. Skeptics have been a reliable predictor of the next big thing -- the Internet is too insecure to allow for banking and insurance. WiFi is too expensive and slow and will fizzle. Blogging was to peak out some years ago. Social networking is a fad. The iPad is just a big iPhone.
The desktop was revolutionary in its time, with its "small" form factor and personal monitor. But there is no reason why we should be stuck with this metaphor forever. Even the laptop is just a variation on the desktop theme.

This post helps explain why the iPad has been so successful lately. You don't think you want it, and then you try it at the Apple Store or a friend's house and then you realize how much you want it.

there is a certain magic to using the iPad that's nearly impossible to convey in words - you have to touch it to believe it. the iPad becomes the app you're using. That's part of the magic. The hardware is so understated - it's just a screen, really - and because you manipulate objects and interface elements so smoothly and directly on the screen, the fact that you're using an iPad falls away. You're using the app, whatever it may be, and while you're doing so, the iPad is that app.

Some people wonder, will the iPad replace my laptop? I don't think it will. The laptop will always have a place for heavy-duty content creation, coding, etc. But for everyday use and even for travel, I have seen myself use my iPad much more. I'll post in the near future about how I've started taking my iPad on business trips instead of my laptop.

I look forward to seeing what type of brand new applications the iPad will enable in the next few years.

Sure, if the interfaces of iPad apps were just scaled-up versions of iPhone apps (like what you get if you run iPhone-only apps on the iPad), the iPad would be the technological equivalent of one of those oversized novelty checks presented to lottery winners. But what the additional pixels really allow is entirely new, richer, and more complex interactions. Beyond the more sophisticated user-interface possibilities, the iPad’s large screen opens the door for new gestures that simply wouldn’t work on a pocketable device. So can the iPad truly replace a laptop? It all depends on what you use your laptop for. The iPad isn’t going to replace a MacBook Pro anytime soon. But let’s face it: there are plenty of tasks that we currently use laptops for (checking e-mail and Twitter, surfing the Web, looking up some actor on IMDB) that don’t really tap the power of a laptop. These are the tasks the iPad is perfectly suited for.

The iPad has gotten a lot of criticism for being such a controlled environment. But game consoles are similar in how tightly controlled they are. And look how they have transformed the gaming market. I'm the last person to say that PC gaming will die any time soon, but it is only a fraction of the overall gaming market.
Able to control its hardware and software, Microsoft avoided the instability created by the endless hardware/software configurations found on PCs. Not only are users spared the pain of endless crashes, but they don't have to worry about hardware requirements when purchasing games. Rather than fret about whether one has enough Video RAM or processor speed, it's literally plug and play. Of course, that kind of stability has a price. Microsoft requires Xbox developers to register themselves, and all games must be approved by the company before they can be sold to the public. Such rigidity limits the freedom of developers to write for the platform as they see fit, but it allows Microsoft to ensure that end users get the kind of enjoyable experience that keeps them buying Xbox games. Same goes for Sony and the PlayStation, and I'm sure for Nintendo and its Wii as well. In the end, those closed gaming systems have been so effective, that they effectively killed PC gaming.

For all of the iPad's advantages, however, there are definitely some challenges. I'm very glad that Apple has recently lifted restrictions on running interpreted code on iPhones and iPads. But there are definitely some more suggestions that Apple should seriously consider.
Human-computer interaction has found a sweet spot on the iPad. It’s all the power of desktop computing, plus the valuable constraints of mobile devices, minus the limitations of both. It just makes sense. Use one for a couple hours and your desktop or laptop will seem clumsy, arbitrary, and bewildering. It is, simply, how (most) computing should be. The iPad is a beautiful, important, transformative device released under a confusing regime of questionable ethics.
  1. Apple should not charge to put applications you’ve written onto your personal iPad (or iPhone, for that matter).
  2. Apple should lift restrictions on running interpreted code on its mobile devices. Let people run Basic, Python, and Ruby interpreters on iPad and iPhone
  3. Apple should remove the concept of private APIs from its developer offerings. Give developers the same tools that Apple’s own programmers get to use.

I'll end with a final quote from one of my favorite technology analysts, Tim O'Reilly. I've been following him for years and he has generally been dead-on with his insights and predictions.
But the iPad signals more than the end of the PC era. It signals that the App Store, the first real rival to the Web as today’s dominant consumer application platform, isn’t going to be limited to smartphones. It signals that App Store-based e-commerce may replace advertising as the favored model of startup entrepreneurs. It signals that cheap sensors are ushering in an era of user interface innovation. Apple’s Achilles’s heel is that it seems to have come too late to an understanding of the key drivers of lock-in in the Internet era: not hardware, not software, but massive data services that literally get better the more people use them. Media and application syncing across iPhone and iPad is poorly thought out. MobileMe, which should be Apple’s gateway drug for lock-in to Apple services, is instead sold as an add-on to a small fraction of Apple’s customer base. If Apple wants to win, they need to understand the power of network effects in Internet services. They need to sacrifice revenue for reach, taking the opportunity of their early lead to tie users ever more closely to Apple services.


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