July 28, 2010

On the Proclaimed iPad Revolution

The iPad commercial says the device is a revolution.  Quite a bold claim, but one that I think is true.  The iPad has changed how I interact with a computer and what I expect from one, and I think it will continue to change our perceptions of what a computer can be.

First off, the iPad has the perfect form factor for everyday use.  It's what a laptop computer really should be.  It's easy to handle, isn't heavy, and doesn't get hot on my lap.  I can hold it vertically or horizontally as need or comfort dictates.  And it's not too small, which smartphones can sometimes be.  In fact, I think the display size is perfect, particularly since I am closer to it than I would be a monitor.  The touch screen is also ideal.  My two thumbs essentially give me two mouses, allowing me to navigate through things faster.  And swiping to scroll is much easier and faster than it ever will be with a mouse.  I don't always need a keyboard, so why take up space and have one always around when it can just pop up when needed?  Altogether this form factor is much more natural to use than the traditional keyboard/mouse/monitor setup.

There are also some great applications that really play to the device's strengths.  Many of these good apps don't have the typical browser interaction.  There's still some browser-like behavior (like pressing on links), but for the most part, it's a different experience.  These apps have a layout and flow that lead to new ways of interacting.  For instance, instead of reading the New York Times in the browser on my laptop computer, I'm holding my iPad and turning pages, similar to how I would an actual newspaper. Instead of having my mom look over my shoulder while I click to open photos, I hand her the iPad, and she flips over photos, much like when she would sit and flip through a stack of physical photos.  The Epicurious app is amazing, plus my wife could prop it on a stand and refer to a recipe while she cooks, just like a recipe book.  There's sketching apps that allow me to interact with the iPad just as I would a pad of legal paper.  The list goes on.  But what these apps have in common is that instead of trying to conform their content to a browser, they instead offer a richer experience that's better tailored to the content they're providing. 

And by and large, it just works.  The operating system is very non-invasive, and this is an aspect of the iPad that I don't think is emphasized enough.  Think about it.  Turning it on is a push of a button, and it's on immediately - no booting.  Apps open with one touch - no shortcut keys or navigating to Start button -> Program Files -> etc.  And closing apps is a push of a button, and they usually close immediately.  There's no need to save or move files; in fact, there's no file system to worry about.  There's no memory to defrag, tasks to kill, anti-virus application to maintain, firewalls to configure, missing drivers to find and install.  Apps are easy to install and remove. Updates are pushed to you; you merely decide whether you want to install them.  The only thing you really need to worry about is disk space, and that might not be a concern down the road, as you know future generations will only continue to get more memory.

So, the iPad's form factor removes our traditional physical interaction with a computer, its apps replace the traditional application and web browsing experience, and it almost makes the operating system a complete afterthought.  The iPad essentially abstracts out the computer altogether, leaving us with just the content - which is by and large data from the Internet.  My boss said the iPad is more appliance than computer, and he's right.  It's an Internet appliance.  Appliances are easy to use, low maintenance, and reliable.  They also serve one purpose really well.  My fridge keeps food cold.  My microwave heats food.  My iPad provides easy access to the Internet and the information it provides.  It's perfect for consuming information, and let's face it, much of our computer usage, particularly personal use, is consuming information.  We tweet, visit Facebook, read blogs, watch videos on YouTube.  We also do content-producing activities like write blogs and upload photos, but at a far lower rate than we consume information.  The iPad makes it almost effortless to consume information, much easier than a typical computer does.

And that's the kind of device that works for most of us.  Most people don't need full-blown computers.  They need Internet appliances that deliver the content they specifically want and need.  They don't want to push a series of buttons and type a URL into a browser, let alone actively maintain the underlying platform the browser runs on.  They want to tap a button to open an app, work with it, and then close it and not have to worry about saving, shutdown, etc.  They want information at their fingertips as quickly and easily as possible.  The iPad does this better than traditional computers because it removes so many of the obstacles we've introduced in computing.  And for that, it is revolutionary.

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