Note: Sorry if this old article shows up in your newsreader. I needed to change a few filenames, and my site’s RSS generator might pick up the changes and republish the articles.
It’s a gap-filler. A few niches have been created where the current offering of gadgets is inadequate for whatever reason, and the iPad can cater to many of them.
In the future, every student at Acme University will carry a single item for all their classes. As class begins, the professor instructs them to refer to their textbooks. Every student touches the item’s screen, and their textbook appears. As class continues, the students navigate from page to page, typing notes as they go, calling a calculator to the screen for some quick math magic, adding an exam date to their calendar without reaching for their datebook, confirming some facts on the Internet, sharing notes with a tardy classmate (without having to hand over their notebook), and eventually taking a quiz and getting their scores… All from a single, slim, usable screen.
This is possible right now - no second-generation features are needed to achieve this future. Just adoption by a school. If I was a student at such a school, you bet your overstuffed backpack I’d spend $499 on an iPad to participate.
Today’s elderly don’t have a good computing option. I know this is terribly unoriginal, but my grandparents need only a handful of features on their computer. Everything else is either a distraction or an obstacle in the labyrinth that is a typical operating system (Yes, even Mac OS X).
Tablets of the past basically replaced the mouse with a stylus, so using them wasn’t much easier than using a laptop. But having to touch an icon to look at photo albums, play a movie, have a video call, write an email1… That’s easy.
This is simultaneously both the most awesome evolution and devolution of digital interaction ever: We’re a huge step closer to Minority Report, but all we’re basically doing is grabbing, poking, and groping the areas of a screen that look like they’ll accomplish our goals. (“Unhh. Must watch movie. Must press movie picture. Funny movi-Must make bigger. Must stretch movie to make bigger. Stretch with hands. Gooood.”)
Everyone knows doctors like tablets. Nothing new here. Google if you’re curious.
What It Isn’t - and Some Closing Thoughts
The iTab isn’t a replacement for anything Apple is selling right now. I’m not buying one, and I’d be surprised if many of my friends do. I simply don’t buy Steve’s claim that the iPad does things the iPhone and Macbook do - but better. Designers, programmers, CAD engineers, gamers, and people who just like to tinker with their computers won’t want an iPad - at least not in lieu of a Macbook. And I doubt lots of people are going to double up on their mobile devices.
But I do think Apple has the opportunity to take hold of new and developing markets. This is a checkpoint (milestone?) in the computing revolution: Hardware innovation is plateauing as integration with public services, ubiquity of data networks, and efficiency and grace of software mature. To all the people underwhelmed by the iTab, I empathize. But to the people who are trashing the iTab for being a huge disappointment, I have to ask: In what massive way has the iTab failed you?
I think the truth is that it got reasonably close to our mental image of a mythical digital gadget. Yea, it needs a camera, AT&T needs to start not sucking, multi-tasking, and a couple other things which we’ll get soon enough. But what the heck else were you expecting? Hardware is done innovating for a little while.
Apple is wise to spread its user experience magic to as many niches as it can. Get those credit cards into the iTunes Store, impregnate educational institutions with Apple’s sensibility and usability, rejuvenate relationships between grandparents and their grandkids, replace hospital clipboards with iPads.
Every major technology company should be focused on merging itself with people’s lives. Steps toward this goal are the only achievements that sound impressive anymore! (“Solar panels on your company’s roof? Cute trick, kid. Your company’s solar panels power my house? Holy shit!”) Google is making itself the omniscient brain of the world, Amazon is a seemingly omnipotent consumer universe sitting on a single mouse-click, and Apple could be the company that makes all of this omnipresent… and elegant.
Yes, I know there’s no camera on the iPad. Just be patient. ↩