Thirteen Ways of Looking at an iPad

During the iPad Keynote last week, I was watching about 5 different windows (a live webcast plus refreshing a few liveblogs) and Twittering away my snarky reactions to the garbled, half-heard things that were coming in over the wire, and looking back on it all, I realize now that most of what had seemed monumental or outrageous at the time were just simply my misunderstandings in the heat of the moment. Twitter will do that. And record it for posterity.

Now that I’ve had a week to digest and think about all of the excellent commentary coming from @gruber and others (@VenessaMiemis has an amazing roundup of the hubbub) I’m finally coming to a few conclusions (yes, I know, about a thing I haven’t even used with my own bare hands). There must be a word for “extensive speculation about a device that has not yet hit the market.”

Laptop + peripherals
When I said “portable” what I really meant was…

  1. Design problem: Imagine a portable computing device. No, really, that’s it. Okay, let me put it another way: imagine a portable computing device that doesn’t require you to carry around all the other junk that comes standard with computers these days: ie, a power supply, a mouse, a keyboard, etc. What do you have left?
  2. Assumption: All computers have keyboards. False. Don’t get me wrong. I loves me some command line once in awhile. I, like most of my generation and younger, grew up learning the contortions of the QWERTY keyboard and can now type approximately as fast as I can think. Which is to say, I hit the backspace key alot. But, if you stop and think about it (which is what Apple is very good at doing) how often are you really using the keyboard to its fullest? I suspect you’re not always typing all 26 letters of the alphabet at all times. Maybe you’re using the spacebar frequently, or the arrow keys (if you’re playing games), or the numeric keypad when you have to type numbers into a spreadsheet. Okay, if you’re a writer, you use the alphabet a good majority of the time. But if you’re just browsing the web, you’re just clicking on links, looking at the screen, and clicking on some more links.
  3. Which brings us to the mouse. The mouse is another super elegant engineering solution to the problem of computing. It brings us just a little closer to the machine. We’ve invented clever ways of orienting ourselves and creative control mechanisms that combine the mouse and the keyboard (I’m thinking first person shooters) but, again, if you step back and look at it, the mouse and the keyboard are very advanced kludges.
    The original mouse
  4. Humans are very good at adapting to their surroundings, from the arid deserts in Africa to the frozen tundra of the Arctic to the strange and awkward desktop metaphor (do people still use pencils?). We even lull ourselves into a feeling of comfort in these inhospitable environments — I think I read somewhere that upon smelling a foul stench, it only takes a person 7-8 minutes of constant exposure before s/he becomes acclimated to it and becomes unaware of the smell. No matter how terrible the interface is, it just has to be good enough. (See Windows95). I guess what I’m trying to say is: we’ve gotten complacent and comfortable with the keyboard and mouse as “the way we interact with computers.” I have to admire how Jobs and Apple are quietly picking us up and dropping us ever so gently to a new paradigm for computing: touch.

    point to circle

  5. I don’t have any data to back this up, but I’d be willing to bet somewhere in the research archives of Apple there are analyses of how much time an average user touches the keyboard, touches the mouse, uses the chrome, as well as which applications are most often used. My speculation is that the iPad finds its justification in many decisions in this research, which probably shows that we use about 20% of the available functionalities of most programs. For Power Users Only
  6. Nowhere in the iPad presentation does it say “People won’t own desktop computers anymore.” The iPhone does not replace the MacBook. The MacBook does not replace the iMac. And the iPad does not replace anything. It fills the gap. So don’t jump to the conclusion, like many are doing, that multitouch will take over our desktop computing interfaces and we will mourn the passing of the keyboard and mouse. We’ll still have them where we need them (ie, on our desks).
  7. The iPad seems to be a better solution for a different context of computing: let’s call it constructive leisure. You’re traveling, on a plane. What do you see most people with computers doing? Reading, watching movies, catching up on email. Occasionally you’ll see somebody squinting over a spreadsheet or a Word doc. When I walk by those people in the aisle I usually think to myself, are they really being productive, or are they spending most of their time just twiddling the interface, trying to get at something? It looks like what Apple’s done with the iPad (and the native apps built for it) is gotten rid of most of the interface and mapped the most common functions to basic touch gestures.
  8. $499 is damn cheap. And I’d certainly pay more for a model with a camera. I’m sure, looking at how the iPod evolved over the years, there will certainly be fancier and more expensive models with videocameras and roomier hard drives. They just have to get people sold on the basic idea first.
  9. When I showed the nook to my wife, the first thing she did was paw at the screen with her fingers. That is to say, her first impression of the thing was disappointment that the screen wasn’t responsive to touch. And kids, that ever-brutal focus group, to paraphrase Clay Shirky, kids won’t be “looking for the mouse“, they’re going to be smudging the screen — every screen — with their grubby fingers. Apple has, like it or not, begun a shift in our expectations of user interfaces. Jobs & Co. kept repeating “It just works” in their presentation. That’s the highest bar of UI design and not many hardware or software companies can go around repeating that with a straight face to their customers.
  10. Interesting how a large tributary of discussion about Flash has begun to flow from the introduction of the iPad. (If you missed it, read this visual lament and Nick Bilton’s Why the iPad Web Demo Was Full of Holes.) It put (on a bigger screen) the growing movement that argues Flash is not “web-native” — ie, it’s proprietary and closed, which is an ironic argument for Apple to be making.
  11. Speaking of which, is this thing Open (with a capital O and no scare quotes)? How do I make cool stuff for the iPad without paying for a $99 license? Answer: HTML5 + CSS3 + Javascript.
  12. I thought it was very telling that the last slide Steve Jobs showed in his presentation was this slide:

    IntersectionAt the intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts

    I think it makes a great point, especially to all the techie naysayers who think “it’s just an over-sized iPhone” or “I went to the Apple special event and all I got was this lousy picture frame.” It’s hard enough to make a chip scream or do multi-threading or cram a camera into a thin chassis. What’s really really hard is to make the product usable, for the masses. And you can’t solve the problem of usability with engineers and math PhDs. You still need, for lack of a better word, “artists”, right-brained people to imagine and think about the intangible aspects, the experience, the “magic”.

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