No, this post is not about guns, gun control or the right to bear arms. This post is about the iPad (you knew it was coming). There’s been a lot of talk of the iPad and like all such things, there’s a lot for and a lot against. I used one for a few minutes yesterday and it was an interesting experience. The iPad I was on didn’t have a lot of apps and I can’t say I gave it a very thorough run down, but from how much I did use it, there are some things that become obvious (and not all of those things are about the iPad itself). Here’s what I learned:
It’s a great e-reader
I loved reading on it. I used both the iBooks app as well as miscellaneous stuff online. I wanted to try out Instapaper on it too, but didn’t get a chance to. But it’s very clear from the get-go that it’s a great reading tool. The text display is beautiful in the same way that text display on Macs are. And the fact is that you can hold it at book distance instead of monitor display which makes it a pleasure to read. It’s not hard to think that you are reading a book.
It’s all about the interface
Make no mistake about it: the whole point of the iPad is the interface. As Jef and Aza Raskin tells us, the interface is the application to most people. The iPad takes this to heart and so do the apps on it. The iPhone apps run on it, either at normal iPhone size or at double-pixel size. Either way, they’re suboptimal (if not absolutely terrible). The apps that become successful will be the ones that use the large screen area and the touch interface best. It’s not about raw functionality, it’s about how well it’s exposed. And this understanding leads to my next understanding:
The interface could live outside the iPad
I have an Eee Netbook which I use fairly regularly. The screen size is about the same size as the iPad’s. After using the iPad coming back to the netbook was a bit of a pain. It was annoying because I was using standard desktop apps on a tiny screen. However, if the iPad interface (or just some of the apps) were ported to netbooks, then things would be much better. Apps like Instapaper and the WordPress would do really well on a netbook because they maximize screen usage. In fact, some of them might even be better since you don’t lose screen space to the keyboard when you need to type. I really really hope that some people take ideas from iPad apps and port them to the netbooks. In particular, I hope webapps start using the same interface for the iPad as well as netbooks. More on this in a later post.
It’s not going to kill computing
There has been a lot of talk on how the iPad is a threat to real computing. But here’s my take on the matter: the iPad is a different medium entirely and it’s not going to replace the general purpose computer any time soon. I agree with Dave Winer: At the moment, the iPad is a toy. I also agree with Alex Payne’s suggestions on how Apple could make the iPad experience better for both users and developers. There this going to take a lot of work (and a lot of apps and web services) to make the iPad a standard computing platform in any sense. Right now, I’m going to hold off judgment on the matter until the next generation or two come around.
About the post title
I chose the post title to emphasize the point that the iPad itself is not revolutionary, or good or bad or dangerous. There are a lot of factors that will come into play over the next few years to see how the iPad works out. But many of the ideas that the iPad is bringing to light (such as carefully building interfaces tailored to the task at hand) are applicable outside the device itself and it would be nice to see them popup elsewhere (including other mobile computers). Where the iPad story ends is up to us: the users, the programmers and Apple Inc. We live in exciting times and the iPad is a sign of those times. The way we interact with our machines is changing and the good thing is that we can drive the changes in the way we want to. Let’s embrace that opportunity.