On the iPad

This was originally posted on my old, defunct Tumblr

Here’s an email reply I just sent to a good friend concerning the iPad. I haven’t bought one yet — I plan on getting the 3G version — but given the argument below, I think my personal experience (or lack thereof) is irrelevant.

Did you get an ipad or go to the store to play with one yet? I went yesterday and was underwhelmed. It’s a beautiful device, but it’s a little heavy. The typing is much better than the iPhone, but still not as good as a traditional keyboard.

I did go in and play with one. I think it’s a bit heavy too, but it’s faster than I expected, so for me personally it’s a wash – I definitely still plan on getting one and think I will use it heavily.

However, I have seen nothing to dissuade me that this is a very big deal – in fact, the vast majority of reviews have only further convinced me this was the case.

The iPad is an amazing thing for me, and you guys, to use. We appreciate the technical triumph that it is, even as we lament its shortcomings. Each of us will decide whether or not it fits in our workflow, and proceed from there (and while I agree those who spent money are motivated to like it, those who were critical of it previously are also motivated to dislike it).

But what I think I’ve consistently argued is that what is truly amazing about the iPad, and the other touch tablets that will follow, is that it means for people who are not technically inclined. One of the best reviews I’ve seen so far said this:

Simply put, there is a certain magic to using the iPad that’s nearly impossible to convey in words – you have to touch it to believe it. And that’s key to why the iPad will be the future of computing, though even those words don’t do justice to what I’m going to describe, now that “computing” is as much about games and socializing and hobbies as it is about using spreadsheets and databases and word processors…

So what’s the difference between a Mac and an iPad? It’s that blank slate thing. No matter what you do on a Mac, the keyboard and mouse and window-based operating system make it impossible to ignore the fact that you’re using a Mac, and it’s often equally impossible to ignore the fact that you’re using a particular program.

In contrast, the iPad becomes the app you’re using. That’s part of the magic. The hardware is so understated – it’s just a screen, really – and because you manipulate objects and interface elements so smoothly and directly on the screen, the fact that you’re using an iPad falls away. You’re using the app, whatever it may be, and while you’re doing so, the iPad is that app. Switch to another app and the iPad becomes that app. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

For example, when you’re using James Thomson’s PCalc, the iPad becomes a super calculator. When you’re using we-Envision’s Art Authority, the iPad becomes a virtual art browser. When you’re using theNetflix app, the iPad becomes a TV showing every movie and TV show Netflix can stream (at least when it works; one of three shows we tried failed for unexplained reasons). When you’re using OmniGraffle, the iPad becomes a dedicated diagramming tool. Heck, Twitterrific on the iPad is more the embodiment of Twitter than Twitter’s own Web site, and, amusingly, when you use Amazon’s Kindle app, the iPad becomes a Kindle, or, to put it another way, a fancy piece of paper.”

That sounds really cool to me, but in more of a nifty sort of way. But for people who see the computer as an obstacle, it’s truly revolutionary. The computer has gone away, leaving simply the functionality they want, with an interface that requires no learning curve.

I think it’s really relevant that we started this conversation with the video of the 2.5 year old. It’s so easy being the kinds of people we are, know the people we know, doing the kind of work we do, to lose sight of how very different we are than most people, especially when it comes to understanding and dealing with computers. The iPad levels the playing field, and I remain convinced that’s a really big deal.

And, of course, it’s only v1.0.