I’m not going to front: when I saw the iPad introduction today, I was initially disappointed. I was really hoping for revolutionary way to interact with a device — a whole new multi-touch interface. I was expecting this, and the fact that the iPad is, really, just a big iPod touch was a bit, well, underwhelming. Then I remembered something: the way we interact with the iPhone and iPod touch is fucking awesome. Like, best-UI-ever-created awesome. Why fuck with it?
It’s totally cliche and douchey to say so, but the fact is, the iPad is just a big iPod touch. Seriously. That’s all it is.
But is that so bad?
Let’s get this out of the way. I don’t really like the name. I think it’s confusing when your product line also includes something called the “iPod.” The cottony-thing-ladies-wear-over-their-hoohaa jokes will get old fast, but people are going to be mistakenly typing and saying “iPad” when they mean “iPod” (and vice-versa) for years to come.
But seriously: who cares?
(Also, I was shut down hard tonight when I said something about a “tampon,” reminded by my ladies that a tampon is a very different device than a feminine pad. Thus, “cottony-thing-ladies-wear-over-their-hoohaa.”)
This is not the device for you — yet
If you’re reading this blog, this is almost certainly not the device for you. At least not today. But stop for a minute to consider a regular person. What do they need? They need to browse the web. They need e-mail. They want to interact with the photos from their digital camera. They want maps and e-books and music and movies. But really, that’s about it. They’re consumers of media, not creators. What do they really want that the iPad can’t do out of the box?
Nothing, that’s what.
But let’s be clear: the iPad is, pretty much, a sheet of glass. It’s a playing field and a ball. It’s up to app developers to invent a sport for it. We get to make the rules of what this thing is. So while, out of the box, it may not let you write code, edit comps in Photoshop, compose music in Logic, or edit video in Final Cut, I won’t be surprised if it eventually does. If they can build a world-class version of iWork and that sweet-looking Brushes app for this thing, I’m damned sure someone can build Photoshop for it. So while it may not be the device for you today, it very well may be, in the future.
So who’s it for, then?
My wonderful girlfriend is about to go back to school. She’s got a ThinkPad from about six years ago that barely works anymore. She saw this thing and said, “maybe that’s what I need for school.” And I agree. It’s perfect for taking notes, reading texts, and doing simple assignments. It may not be great for writing a 50-page thesis, but for most students, it’s more than enough — and that’s with only the software Apple is providing. I fully expect third parties to make it even more awesome with their apps.
But the fact that she’s a student isn’t what makes her the ideal customer for this thing — it’s the fact that she has an aging laptop. The question isn’t, “Do you need an iPad today?,” because most of us don’t. Our MacBook Pros or Dell lappies are humming along just fine. The question is, “Would an iPad serve your needs when it’s time to replace your current laptop?” And the answer, for the vast majority of people, is a resounding “yes.”
Geeks are going to buy this thing. You’re going to see it in the wild. It’ll pop up in boardrooms, on planes, and in coffee shops. You’ll see it. You’ll admire it. And you’ll wonder, “Do I really need a laptop? Maybe that’s all I need.” And a year or two from now, you’re going to buy one. Resistance is futile.
This is the new PC. Sure, there are some things missing, and it’s not as capable as your HP netbook, but it really doesn’t matter: it does everything you need it to do, and it’s sexy as hell. Don’t pretend you didn’t ever buy a Britney record for exactly those reasons.
The really significant announcement today
To me, today’s biggest announcement wasn’t the tablet, or the iBookstore, or the fact that Steve Jobs wasn’t as skinny as last time we saw him. The really big announcement today is that Apple is making its own chips — and from all reports, fucking fast chips, to boot. If Apple is able to migrate it’s product line to their own silicon, it’s a huge win for their bottom line. Huge.
I’m an Apple fan. I’ve never made any bones about that. But I’m also a skeptic and a critic, and I’ve never been one to adore a product just because it has a fruit with a bite out of it on the back. With that in mind, I’ll be straight: this thing ain’t perfect. There are some missing bits that I wish were there.
First and foremost, I think it ought to be sold as a computing device, not as a peripheral to your computer. Why does it sync with iTunes? Why can’t it just be your computer, instead of something that connects to your computer?
Second, I wish there were a front-facing camera. A back-facing camera, like the iPhone, is silly and pointless. While it’s handy to be able to take a quick snapshot with your pocket device while out and about, no one is going to do that with a 10” device. They’re just not, so stop bitching about it. But, I could totally see myself sitting on the couch with this thing, having a video call with my Mom or daughter. A front-facing camera would have been nice. To be fair, I suspect including it was a tricker technical problem than you might expect — how do you get it to work well at all the various angles this this is intended to be used at (i.e. held out in front of you, sitting on a desk, propped up for video-watching, etc.)? It’s not as simple as it sounds. Still, it would have been a sweet feature.
Third, I think the storage is too small — for now. I fully expect personal computing to move into the cloud just as enterprise computing has, but for the moment, I need more than 64GB of storage to work with my files. My “Projects” directory, which holds all my work, is about 15GB. My iTunes library is 600GB. My iPhoto library is 107GB. Sorry, but 64GB doesn’t cut it. And 16GB is laughable. Here’s hoping Apple upgrades it’s cloud-based services before the iPad launches.
But even with these missing features, the thing is still more than capable for the average user — especially at the $499 price point they’re selling it at.
In comparison to other devices
The Amazon Kindle DX (the current model with a 9.7” screen) is $480. FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY BUCKS. In other words, it’s a hopeless pile of shit that looks like joke next to an iPad.
Honestly, do I really need to go any further with comparisons? Love it or hate it, the iPad just made everything else that is even remotely similar look like an overpriced toy. Period.
But it’s not all roses
This thing was hailed in the media as a “savior for the periodical industry.” I’m not seeing that. In fact, I see absolutely nothing new this device provides to the newspaper and magazine publishing industry.
The New York Times showed off a new app that takes advantage of the bigger screen with a prettier design? Pssh. Who gives a shit? They could have built that same app for the iPhone 18 months ago. It’s not new, or interesting. In fact, my impression of the NYT app is that isn’t nothing more than a prettier layout. There’s no innovative new way to interact with the news, to communicate with others, to work with my local journalists, or to mash-up the data journalists are collecting for your own purposes. It’s visual design masturbation, with no consideration for interaction design whatsoever. It’s shit. And what’s more, it’s shit that could have been made for the iPhone. Don’t let them pretend it’s anything new, because it’s not.
I really, really, expected Apple to unveil a new service for periodical publishers to sell and distribute their wares to the masses with ease. I expected the equivalent of iBooks for magazines and newspapers. Instead, the plan for journalism appears to be “make an app for your publication.” In other words, exactly the same plan Apple had for newspaper publishers on the iPhone. There is nothing new to see here. Move along, folks.
Let’s talk about multitasking. For those of you who are bitching that there’s no multitasking, I have one thing to say: get over yourselves. You’re a fucking geek and regular people aren’t. Regular people don’t need multitasking. Shit, 95% of Windows user maximize every window, anyway. So quit your bitching about multitasking, and let’s talk about something that really matters: multi-user support.
There is no excuse for this thing not to have multi-user support. This could have been the world’s greatest coffee table device, if it only had support for multiple users. Think about it: the thing sits on the coffee table. Daddy logs in. He checks his e-mail and his sports scores. He logs out and puts it down. Little Timmy logs in. He IMs a friend and plays a game. He logs out and sets it down. Mom logs in. She get a recipe from her bookmarked Martha Stewart page and forwards some totally-not-funny cat video to her best friend. And so forth. This is the new PC. But it requires multi user support. If I can’t log in and have my own bookmarks, my own email accounts, my own IM lists, and my own Twitter feed, it’s useless as a family PC. And Apple, if you think a family is going to buy five of these things, you can dream the fuck on.
Multi-tasking is vastly overrated. But multi-user support is a killer app no one is talking about.
The bottom line
This thing is going to sell. It’s going to sell well this year, but it’s going to sell like fucking hotcakes next year. Multi-touch, tablet-form-factor devices are the future of personal computing. I’m convinced of it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a darn good device for the price point, and it’s the start of something big.
In some ways, today’s announcement was disappointing. It didn’t really live up to the hype — but what could have? The fact remains, this is a sweet device that does everything regular people need it to do, and with what is still the best UI on any device: the iPhone’s.
It’s not revolutionary, that’s true. Sure, it’s really nothing more than a big iPhone. But the iPhone is the greatest consumer electronics device ever made — so maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.