How iPad Will Forever Change Computing
Yesterday’s post offered a crash course of the features in Apple’s new iPad tablet computer. Many Apple enthusiasts have long speculated that this would be the company’s most important product to date. Yet, many are asking: How does the iPad fit alongside smartphones and notebooks? Isn’t this just a big iPod touch? No, not at all.
Where it Fits
Apple describes iPad as a third-category of devices that falls between an iPhone and a MacBook. Like most pundits and those on Twitter, I also initially assumed this was just a big iPod touch that doesn’t have a place in the market. But I think we’re all missing something.
Wednesday’s announcement was most eagerly watched by technology geeks like myself. While most of this crowd will probably buy an iPad, I think iPad’s biggest market is for individuals who would hardly describe themselves as computer experts. I’m talking about those who frequently require the help of a neighbor or nephew whenever something goes wrong with their computer. The iPad makes a perfect “Mom PC.”
Serving the Majority
The large majority of computer users just want something simple and easy-to-use for browsing the web, writing email, using Facebook or Twitter, editing & organizing photos, and perhaps for writing a document or working on a spreadsheet. Still, most people spend hundreds of dollars on unnatural, complex computers that are difficult to use and maintain. Apple’s iPad cost about the same as a low-end computer you’ll find at Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Despite the iPad being far more advanced, it’s so much easier to use than a traditional computer.
As an interaction designer, it frustrates me to no end when I see someone struggling with a user interface, whether it be at a computer or a self-checkout machine at the grocery store. Too many people blame themselves for not being “smart enough.” Yet the flaw is not in the user, but rather the result of a design failure. While the computer industry has made great strides in making products easy-to-use, spending just a few minutes watching a not-so-tech-savvy individual at a computer reveals that we haven’t gotten far enough.
I feel that the iPad is the first computer that’s truly easy to use. There’s no operating system overhead to manage. You don’t have to worry about a file system. The size and touch-based interface is so natural that you’ll forget you’re even using a computer. For once, the computer gets out of the way.
Manual vs. Automatic
Overtime, I think fewer people will require a full-blown Mac or Windows PC and instead will find that the iPad does everything they need. Industry expert John Gruber made a great analogy. In the old days, all cars had manual transmissions. To drive a car, you needed to operate a clutch pedal and gear shifter and manually change gears as you accelerated and decelerated. Today, with automatic cars, the transmission is entirely abstracted away. While cars with manual transmissions still exist, they’ve been relegated to the realm of true enthusiasts and experts. The same is about to happen with computers. I envision two tiers of computing where it’s only enthusiasts and developers who opt to purchase computers with traditional desktop operating systems. Most people will only require devices like the iPad.
Amazing App Possibilities
Another major area of excitement for me regarding the iPad is the opportunities for app developers. Even the best third-party apps on the iPhone only scratch the surface of what will be possible on the iPad. It’s large, nearly 10-inch multitouch display is going to allow for some amazing apps that are far more powerful and intuitive than anything we’ve ever seen before.
iPhone Was Just the Beginning
The consensus of the lucky few who had the opportunity to try the iPad at Apple’s event is that you don’t realize how amazing this device is until you actually use it. I can’t wait to try it out and I’m looking forward to seeing where this all goes. We’re witnessing the beginning of a new round of innovation in personal computing. What we’ve seen on the iPhone was just the beginning.