Some more thoughts on the iPad from someone without one

I’m a joke maker

Did you hear the one about the guy who bought a Kindle on the day the iPad was released? Of course you didn’t, because no one is buying a Kindle today!

Well, I’m sure someone’s buying a Kindle. I’m not sure why.

Waiting for the second generation

I can understand why some people wouldn’t want an iPad. I’m not buying one today. I didn’t buy an iPhone until 9 months after it was released. I probably will own an iPad eventually. I would definitely wait until the 3G models are out; I would probably wait until a future version is available with a built-in camera, and after prices come down so at least 32 GB of storage is available for the same price as 16 GB today.

Common complaints

Most of the critics (including Walt Mossberg and David Carr on last night’s episode of Charlie Rose), while generally lavishing high praise on the device, cite a common (small) set of complaints: lack of a camera for video chat, the awkwardness of holding it for long periods, and no support for Flash tend to be at the top of the list.

I can certainly agree on the first two points: a camera (or two — one on each side) seems like such an obviously necessary feature that I can’t believe it won’t be added to the second generation model; and although I’ve yet to touch an iPad, much less hold one, I can already imagine that I would quickly tire of propping it up and that two-handed typing while balancing it on my lap would be frustrating. But it comes with a nice case with a built-in prop (as demonstrated by David Carr last night on Charlie Rose), and more accessories will certainly be coming soon from third-party manufacturers.

There was an inadvertent demonstration of the potential physical awkwardness of the device last night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon when the host and Joshua Topolsky attempted to play a game of air hockey with the iPad placed flat on Jimmy’s desk: with its curved aluminum back, the iPad was prone to skating around on the desk as the two slid their virtual paddles around on-screen.

Click here to see the video from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I’m so mad at NBC for their stupid embed code just embedding an SNL promo instead of the proper video clip that I’ve actually resorted to using the phrase “click here.” So, spare me further agony and just… click here.

Flash? We don’t need no stinkin’ Flash!

But the complaint about the iPad that is most divisive is its lack of Flash support. I’ve already made my feelings on the matter known (1, 2). I think there are a very limited number of circumstances where Flash is useful (or at least grudgingly necessary), but it has been an overused crutch for far too long, and the more the iPad/iPhone ecosystem promotes movement away from Flash and to web standards, both well-established (CSS, JavaScript) and emerging (HTML5, H.264 video), the better. I know different people use the web in different ways: I rarely never play Flash-based games online; major video sites like YouTube and Vimeo are moving to supporting H.264 alternatives to Flash video (and I can live without the ones that aren’t). But I would challenge just about any user of the Internet to make the case that their experience, overall, is improved by these positive uses of Flash more than it is hindered by obnoxious Flash-based advertisements and non-standard Flash-based website UI.

Game changer

Charlie Rose loves the iPad. He called it a “game changer” at least 3 or 4 times last night. There’s been some dispute over the iPad’s potential impact, but I think those who are criticizing it on its technical specifics — the lack of whatever they deem it to be lacking — are completely missing the point. I read something recently (which I’ll link to if I manage to track it down again) that was talking about how the upcoming Windows Phone 7 interface would have been just as revolutionary if it had come sooner; the implication being that the major factor in Apple’s success was timing. To me, this so profoundly misses the mark that it’s hard to even take seriously. As much as I hate to use the word “paradigm,” Apple changed the paradigm with the iPhone interface. There wouldn’t be a Windows Phone 7 without the iPhone, nor a Droid, nor any of the other major advancements we’ve seen in “smartphones” since the iPhone was released in the summer of 2007. Yes, there were smartphones before the iPhone and they did a lot of the same things. Yes, Android was being developed for a number of years before the iPhone was released. But the iPhone changed both the perception and the reality of what a smartphone can do.

This is what the iPad will do, for a market — netbooks, or whatever fills the void between phones and laptops — that is even more anemic than the cellphone market was a few years ago. The hardware physically fills that niche perfectly, but the UI is what’s really revolutionary, creating a whole new, far more intuitive, natural, and fun way for people to interact with a technology device, with an underlying system that is more stable and worry-free — it just works — than any computer before it. And just think about the amazing things the 150,000-plus iPhone apps can do today: not even Apple envisioned all of the ways the iPhone would so quickly come to be used by people of all ages, for just about everything. This is what the iPad will do.

I didn’t want one, until I did

Most people see the iPad primarily as a device for consuming media, and to a large extent that’s true. The most strident complaints about its limitations seem to be coming from those who create media, and I can understand where they’re coming from… to an extent. But the iPhone has become a powerful tool for creating media, with its camera and photo manipulation apps; with creative drawing tools (good enough to have produced several New Yorker covers to date); and with a vast array of music creation apps, turning the pocket device… the freaking cell phone into both a musical instrument and a recording studio. Just imagine what the same kinds of innovative thinking can do with a more powerful processor and a much larger screen. You might never find Adobe Creative Suite or Pro Tools on the iPad, but that’s old world thinking. If you let go of the familiar (and far less intuitive to non-techies) trappings of mice and windows, of plugging in peripherals and navigating hierarchical file systems, and embrace the potential of a new way of interacting with a computer, a new world will open up to you.

Over the past several years, I’ve read numerous articles lamenting the fact that for all of the advances in computer hardware technology we’ve witnessed in the last quarter century, the basic GUI concepts have not evolved one bit from the first Macintosh Apple unleashed on the world in 1984 — and its concepts were largely the same as those developed experimentally at Xerox PARC in the late 1960s. When will we finally have a new way of interacting with computers? And where will it come from? It’s not much of a surprise that it came from Apple, and it’s here today.

11 thoughts on “Some more thoughts on the iPad from someone without one

  1. Why does your Flash movie have an ad for SNL instead of the Jimmy Fallon clip?

  2. I tried fixing the embed and it still just embeds that SNL promo. NBC is apparently trying to prove they can suck just as much ass with new media as they do with old.

  3. “This is what the iPad will do, for a market — netbooks, or whatever fills the void between phones and laptops — that is even more anemic than the cellphone market was a few years ago.”

    That’s all fine and good, but if Apple doesn’t make a netbook or tablet/slate that actually runs OSX, the only people who will suffer from this market change are those loyal to the Mac OS. I could have a cool netbook or tablet if I was willing to run Windows or Linux or something, but I’m not. Apple is specifically denying its supporters the benefits of innovation in the market if they keep the iPad or iPad-type devices from running OSX.

    “But the iPhone has become a powerful tool for creating media, with its camera and photo manipulation apps; with creative drawing tools (good enough to have produced several New Yorker covers to date); and with a vast array of music creation apps, turning the pocket device… the freaking cell phone into both a musical instrument and a recording studio.”

    I might be in the minority in thinking those New Yorker covers look bad. Yes, you can draw with your finger and it allows you to change your brush size, but I sincerely hope you’re not comparing that sort of creative output (filters and photos and fingerpaint apps) to what you can do in Photoshop, Illustrator, and other such programs. Apples and Cucumbers.

    As for music creation, any recording where you are forced to adapt a mic down to a 1/8″ connector will not work for many many people. No Firewire? Not going to work. No ProTools or Logic? Not usable to a massive amount of musicians and recording artists.

    Yes, you can play with drawing and play with music, but none of the applications that will run on the iPhone or iPad, at this time, will ever be able to do what most creators need: The ability to do anything. I’ve downloaded several music apps for the iPhone (even paid good money for some) and have always felt frustrated by the limitations that the interface lack of connectivity with other types of technology bring about.

    At any rate, yes, I want to see some more GOOD tablets. But there’s just nothing that this device could offer me in its current form. Not as a design tool, a recording tool, a performance tool, and so on. It’s a toy, not a tool.

  4. Also:

    “If you let go of the familiar (and far less intuitive to non-techies) trappings of mice and windows, of plugging in peripherals and navigating hierarchical file systems, and embrace the potential of a new way of interacting with a computer, a new world will open up to you.”

    Let me be clear that I am eager to embrace new ways of interacting with computers. I like innovation. If I could be typing this with my thoughts or swinging my hands around like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, it’s possible I would be doing that (though why that fictional computer system still required the physical transfer of data on acrylic slabs, I’ll never understand.) But to have a NEW product that I can’t use expensive, industry standard and powerful software is just pointless to me.

    Industrial designers don’t use Cintiq interfaces just because. They use them because they are amazing, they do everything 100 physical tools that cost thousands of dollars would do, and they do them better. You don’t have to run proprietary software to use a Cintiq. You don’t have to buy a bunch of new applications to use a Cintiq.

    I guess I’m referring to the Cintiq because I want the iPad to be one. I want the iPad to be my iMac and my Cintiq put together and portable. Everything you can do on an iPad you could do with that imaginary device… and more.

    There is room in the world for an iPad that people uninterested in deep computing and creative work can buy AND one that people who want a really great, usable tablet device can use.

  5. It’s probably not a surprise that I had you in mind when I wrote some of that, and I didn’t really expect to persuade you.

    I think the bottom line for me is that the one thing that has kept the iPhone from becoming the kind of creative tool many would want is the screen size, period. The 30-pin connector is a powerful hardware interface, and it would be easy for a vendor to create the adapters necessary to plug just about anything into it.

    It’s the small screen and the limited interface real estate that is what has really kept the iPhone from being an all-purpose creative tool, and that’s not going to be an issue with the iPad.

    True, it can’t run Mac OS X, and it can’t run your Mac applications. It doesn’t really make sense to try to shoehorn an OS laden with desktop metaphors into this completely new concept, though. It’s not a Mac; it’s what comes next.

    I think the most relevant comparison would be like the leap from the Apple ][ to the Mac. Sure, there were some (apparent) limitations: the Mac wasn't in color, there wasn't built-in BASIC (you mean I can't write my own programs?), it wasn't backwards-compatible with all of your existing Apple ][ applications, etc.

    But lamenting those losses in the wake of the new world the Mac opened up would have been to completely miss the point. I firmly believe we're witnessing the dawn of a new era in computing. There truly hasn't been anything this revolutionary since the Mac. (And I suppose the iPhone is the Lisa in this analogy, but whatever.)

    Don't get me wrong. There's no way I'm replacing my Mac with an iPad anytime in the foreseeable future. But I can already see a lot of situations where I would potentially use one, in ways that hadn't even occurred to me just back in January when it was announced.

    Oh... and remember, this is just the first model. I am sure that a year from now (if not sooner), a new upgraded model will come out that will make the first iPad seem like... well, like this.

  6. I feel like I am one of the only people in this world who feels that the way Apple’s software is written is not easier to use. Just one example: you have a button in Logic. To use said button you don’t just click it you have to click and hold it. These little things are spread all over their products, I call it the “secret handshake”. Sure once you know how to do it it is easy, but for someone just starting out it is frustrating. I don’t even like many of their physical designs of their products which is supposed to be one of their strengths. The Macbook I use has the USB plug right where I put my mouse. It gets in the way often. The trackpad or whatever it is called doesn’t have a physical way to turn it off so I don’t accidentally hit it when typing. The i-phone and i-pad have curved backs and slide around if used on a flat surface (this one is from a friend of mine’s experience not mine, sounds crappy though). Don’t get me wrong I do appreciate the shift the i-phone has caused to the smartphone market, and all these things generally get better with time.

    I would seriously have an interest in an i-pad if there was a Logic app for it that was as close to as powerful as the full app is. That is about the only thing that would spark such interest though, and that is only because that is what my band uses right now. I think Audition is easier to use then Logic, cheaper, and far more powerful in many respects (not midi).

    I have seen graphs that the Android platform may take over the i-phone in market share this year. The Android is on more devices, more form factors, more carriers, is cheaper in many cases, a well more open to do with as you will. I hope there will always be a closed environment if only for competition’s sake, but it is not for me.

  7. The graph thing I am trying to find. I am not sure what it was, market share, usage share, or whatever other limitations the chart had. I’ll try to find. It was interesting though. Take my word for it. He he.

  8. Great comments, Scott. I should have read your great response to the critics (in terms of flash and iPad-as-for-consumption) before talking with you this morning! I can’t wait to get mine–is it in stock yet?

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