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What The iPad Might Have Done For Me

Needless to say, you’ve all heard about Apple’s iPad by now.  I’m certain Steve Jobs’s unveiling speech yesterday was more popular than Obama’s State of the Union address, judging simply from the crazy high TPM (tweets per minute) related to the new gadget’s drop.  (Disclosure: I contributed to said traffic with 9 tweets and around 10-12 replies and retweets.  Glad to have done my part.)

As a technologist and tech blogger who attends conferences regularly, I am in the market for a new portable computer that is a little lighter and faster than the existing Dell Inspiron. Size, shape, bezel and “form factor” are meaningless to me.  Following is what my portable computer has to DO, along with what the iPad does (green) and doesn’t (red) offer as a solution:

* Word-processing program for rapid note-taking, with machine on lap or standing at booths with very little counter space. $70 keyboard dock.  The awkward iPad-keyboard size ratio and keyboard’s tilt make it seem unlikely the setup will stay put on a lap.
* WordPress post creation and editing in full visual editor.  The WordPress 2.1 app or WordPress in Safari should work pretty well for this (images may have to be resized and repositioned later, especially on photojournalism blogs).
* Occasional code testing in Python or from a terminal window An impenetrable Terminal app exists, but other than that, I haven’t tried any such thing on my iPhone.  Anyone?
* Upload photos to Flickr directly from device OR quickly connect camera/device to computer, crop/adjust/saturate and upload to Flickr or to blog post.  No built-in camera. $29 Camera Connection Kit with two dongles that plug into the keyboard dock connector; one for USB and one for SD cards.
* TweetDeck. Check.
* eReader sans DRM. iBooks is right out because it cannot read Project Gutenberg plain texts or anything other than the EPUB format. Not supporting that crap. The Stanza App will continue to read all formats, but will lack “form factor” of iBooks.
* Standalone GoogleChat. IM+ App or m.google.com
* All of these programs running simultaneously.  NOPE!

Secondary requirements:
* Ability to view videos and HTML5 content.  YouTube app for video. No Flash (no Hulu for you!) or HTML5.
*  iTunes which accesses my 8GB iPod or my 20+GB iTunes music library.  HAHAHAAAA!  Dream on!
* Not having to deal with AT&T. What are my options here?

When I mentioned some of these points to a colleague who is seriously considering buying an iPad, he said, “I really don’t think it is meant to be a note taking device or for other uses you mentioned. Those are called laptops.”  This person is also going to get the $500 base model (16GB; WiFi only, no 3G) for “casual use at home, looking at the internets, watching videos, reading books, pictures, etc.”  Another friend is going to buy it as a second home computer, while yet another will purchase it as an eBook reader with internet access.

In no way will the iPad replace your phone, MP3 player, camera and a laptop/desktop, which you will still need to make calls, listen to much of your music, capture photos and video and do any substantial work.  Moreover, as the HotHardware review says, “If we’re going to carry around something that requires a separate bag, we want it to have a real desktop and real multitasking capabilities.”  It is, however, a cool toy with which to block the television while seated on the couch, read at the cafe or restaurant during those oh-so-frequent breaks or fall asleep with.  A large-font eReader that surfs the internet and runs apps without having to run a giant OS.

Therefore, let’s not kid ourselves about the iPad as Disrupting Gamechanger That Forever Changes The Face Of Computing.  That day is not yet here.


In my 2009 VizWorld tech wrap-up, I wrote, “There are many more people out there who simply want access to maps, books, music, data and that is the real imperative upon revolutionary, disruptive technologies.  We cannot swallow the eReader marketing pill because it’s handed to us and, in our obsolescence-inducing plenty, unwittingly set data standards for the rest of the world. Consumers going into the second decade of the 21st century must focus on content and delivery – useful content in an accessible and understandable format on a relatively fast and ubiquitous machine – as their technology drivers. Open data, better communication and scrutinizing intent in this day and age of Twitter and other social media will make this happen.  But, so will awareness, responsibility and active participation.  In 2010, I ask us to be mindless consumers less and nurturing communities more.”

So, think critically about the social context of the iPad and read some more before you make this purchase.

3 comments… add one
  • John January 29, 2010, 6:50 AM

    Your friend who said “Those are called laptops” is right; the iPad is not a computer.

    My reaction to it was “Oh… that’s all… a giant iPod Touch?” and I can’t imagine running out and buying one. But, as I’ve heard more about it, I’ve started to appreciate the process that Apple’s product designers seem to take – which is to identify a set of needs/desires and build a device for them, and be pretty ruthless about not messing with those things in order to add on yet another feature. The “productivity” stuff seems slightly tacked on to me, probably more to answer a potential objection to spending $500 on it (“well… I could take write things and do spreadsheets on it!” But you probably never will).

    I don’t know anyone who works in that part of Apple, but I would bet real money that they use a pretty rigorous product management process that includes developing user personas and mapping product requirements to them. It plays out in a lot of their marketing materials, which – when you cut past the high aesthetic and production values – really impress me because they reveal a stunning focus on user requirements, something which very few tech companies really achieve. As a peer of the people creating them, I am consistently impressed, and not because they’re pretty. (And generally when people object to them, it becomes clear that they are not the user persona that Apple had in mind.) These may sound like obvious things to do, but in 20 years of tech marketing, I have learned that they require incredible discipline that usually isn’t there. So kudos to them, even though I may never buy an iPad.

    (It’s for this same reason that I found the ebook aspects of it the most underwhelming; forgetting DRM issues for a moment, Amazon got this very, very right with the Kindle – they designed it for people who love books. Apple seems to have designed the ebook functions of iPad for people who are much more casual in their relationship to words and reading. Which is, I admit, probably a much larger group.)

    It’s a media consumption device, not a computer, and therefore won’t replace your computer. That said, it looks like a nice way to consume content on a couch or an easy chair.

    So it doesn’t really pass my test I was joking about (“will it do more than let you update Facebook from the toilet?”) but it certainly looks like a really nice way to update Facebook from the toilet. I suspect that in a few years many people will be using devices like this. When they are not using their computers.

    When tech journalists start talking about “changing the face of computing,” I roll my eyes. Most people are not interest in computing, any more than their car ownership means they are interested in internal combustion. It’s a means to an end. The only change is the increasing penetration of networked devices into every aspect of life, and that’s a long process, not a day, and it is well underway.

  • Patrix January 29, 2010, 10:26 AM

    Except for the multi-tasking, it has everything that we were looking for in a second computer for casual browsing around the house.

    Also, I suspect the Kindle app will still work and you can have Kindle books without the Kindle (single-use device really). More than books, I think the iPad would be better than the Kindle for magazines. Wish Nat.Geo, Wired, and Dwell make iPad-friendly versions. I would readily subscribe to them in lieu of their paper versions.

    John is right, it is a media consumption device more than a computer but then that was always the intention, I suppose. You can never have a device that has changed the face of anything on the day of its launch. Heck, even the Internet didn’t do that. It has to evolve and be developed by the crowds. If not the iPad then something else will be.

  • John January 29, 2010, 2:53 PM

    I agree on the magazine comment. The Kindle is a really awesome reading experience for books, and really mediocre for magazines; I still get my Atlantic delivered on paper rather than reading it on a Kindle.

    What I would have loved was DRM-free ebooks from the iPad. The Kindle is a great device but the Amazon sales model is problematic; there’s no technical reason someone can’t sell you content in mobipocket format for your Kindle (just as I download such things from various ebook sites) and I long for the day this happens.

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