I am not a tech journalist. So the three people who actually might be reading this far probably won’t even care what I have to say, but I have been watching Apple keynotes for a long time and I want to say a few things about the iPad that his Steveness introduced yesterday.
Living up to the hype…
Whenever there is keynote-type event where Steve Jobs gets up and announces a new product, there is a huge amount of hype in the weeks and months leading up to it. Everyone in tech journalism writes about what they think is going to be announced and all the great things that the new device is going to do. There is always a boat-load of speculation about what the device will be, what it will look like, and how humans will interact with it.
Without fail, after the keynote, there is a collective groan/sign. It is never what people are expecting or hoping for; it doesn’t have all the expected features. You will invariably see a feature comparison list that will show that the new device from Apple doesn’t have anything more than what may already be on the market, or coming to the market soon.
So everyone, including Apple fan boys, comes away a little disappointed. It might be super cool, and they might still want one, badly, but it isn’t all emotional bliss. They’re not as excited about the product as they were expecting to be.
The thing about Apple is that they have a knack and a passion for getting the fundamentals right. They make products that go beyond being a list of features, to having what my freshman design instructor called the “it factor.” It is the idea that the product becomes more than the sum of all its parts. That when you look at a work of art (or in this case a product) you don’t think about what it took to make it, or any of the pieces that make the whole. Everything just works and you engage with it whole-heartedly.
Apple products may not always wow us right out of the starting gate, but they are fundamentally something different. Over time they change how we do what we do and become a part of our lives. A year or two from now, if the iPad is a success, we won’t be thinking about all the things the tech journalists are thinking about right now. We’ll just be using it and living it.
But will it be another cube?
In 2000 Apple introduced the G4 Cube which was kind of a cool design for a computer. All the nerds were talking about it, but it never took off and was killed in 2001. The main problem with it was probably the cost, as it was more expensive than similar models that Apple sold.
Any product can end up dead if it doesn’t sell, and the money-carrying public can go in unexpected directions.
So will the iPad end up in the same place? Only time can to say for sure.
The iPhone was the watershed moment
The interaction paradigm that was established by the iPhone three years ago was the big change in the fundamental way we interact with computing devices. Before the iPhone we interacted with the data that computers display using secondary devices (keyboards, mice, styli). After the iPhone, we all understand that it is more natural to interact with it directly using our fingers. It feels right. We don’t use a mechanism to turn the page of a book; we just pick up the book and use it. The iPhone established this as a way to use a computer, and the computer industry will never be the same.
The iPad is the beginning of taking this paradigm into mainstream computing. What could be more natural than taking a thin device like the iPad and holding it in your hands and viewing the web, viewing video, or writing email? It takes the new way that the world consumes information (and by that I mean the web and all that entails from newspapers to video entertainment) and moves it to a much more comfortable, old-school way of consuming information in the palm of your hand. You no longer have to go to the household computer desk or grab the big laptop out of the laptop bag to do all this stuff. It has all the convenience of grabbing a book.
You also are no longer confined to the small screen of the iPhone. For all its greatness, the iPhone is a pocket device that is meant to go with you anywhere. You can sit and watch a movie on it if you have to, but I would much rather see it on a larger screen. We are willing to trade off the size of the screen for the fact that it is always in our pocket and available.
It’s finally here
Ever since Apple introduced handwriting recognition into OSX, I have been waiting for a tablet. Getting rid of everything and leaving only the data that the device displays has always seemed to me like the direction computing should go.
Now that the iPad is here, it certainly isn’t what I always dreamed of. It’s probably more than that.