By now you no doubt have heard of Apple’s launch of the iPad, it’s entry into the ultraportable computer market. Given the company’s track record in groundbreaking products I’m optimistic of it’s chances for success. There are several reasons for this, but even more important than the iPad’s success, is its potential to change how we imagine personal computing and how it might affect the industry. But before I talk about what I think the iPad is and what it might be, let me briefly say what it isn’t.
Apple Flying w/o a Net.
Tech pundits far and wide (and not a few of my tech savvy friends and colleagues) have spent much time criticizing the iPad’s lack of ports, lack of keyboard, etc. Or they harp on the converse: that it is just a big iPod. Both imply that it isn’t a serious or capable machine because it doesn’t have the necessary computer accoutrement. What was immediately obvious to me was that they miss the point. Apple is not interested in netbooks which are shrunk down PC’s that simply add inconvenience to the PC experience: flexibility, complexity, and but in a cramped form factor. Thankfully, this is not the direction Apple decided to go.
It’s not a Big iPod touch. Yes, really.
Apple developed a strong user interface for the compact space afforded by the iPod touch and the iPhone. It’s operating system is by necessity efficient and surprisingly powerful. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I can do with my iPhone. But most importantly it is simple making the device easier to use and a more effective tool. This has come at a price: a loss of flexibility and some power. But that is relative. It’s clear that users aren’t interested in battery doors, multitasking, or SD slots. They aren’t interested in being computer geeks. They are interested in doing their work, enjoying their media and playing their games.
The iPad continues this trajectory, but with an important difference: screen real estate. On a superficial level, this quite obviously makes the iPad a big iPod touch. The problem is what would the apps be like in this different form factor? Sure an iPad will run iPod apps at 2X the size, but does anyone really believe that developers will stop there? Apple ported its iWork suite and the apps if they are not fully functional cousins to their Mac OS counterparts, seem to come very close. And that’s the real difference between in the iPad. I could work all day on an iPad because it let’s me do the work I’m trying to do. Scale is an important factor. It changes things.
There Still is No Free Lunch
For all the simplicity and the machine getting out of my way, there is a price to pay. We lose some flexibility and some power depending on the application in question. I can’t have half a dozen dongles hanging off the thing as of yet. So this is clearly not on par with the power and flexibility of a laptop or desktop PC. But sadly this is all many of the iPad’s critics seem to notice. It’s too bad this kind of myopia is neither new, nor unprecedented. The iPod and iPhone all enjoy this distinction. The rest is history.
What Lies Before Us
The real challenge is on developers to see how far they can take this platform. No doubt Apple will be the
first first-to-market manufacture but it certainly will not be the last. For all of Ballmer’s grousing, look for the tablet edition of Windows to imitate the iPad environment. We well see more focused computing in the years to come and I’m excited to be alive to witness it.