Can you hear it? Can you feel it? The winds of change are upon us. Again. Apple’s iPad, the overgrown iPod touch on performance enhancing digital drugs, promises to be the divider of souls, a watershed product of futuristic proportions, and perhaps the cure for carpal tunnel syndrome.
And more. Love it, hate it, or just indifferent about it all, Apple may have finally created a device worthy of the monicker, “the computer for the rest of us.”
Remember The Original Mac?
The noise you’re hearing and reading about the iPad seems to fall into a few basic camps. First, the question: “What will I use it for?”
That’s a good question, because we know why we use our Macs and PCs, and we know why we use the iPhone. But what’s so special about a ‘tweener device?
After all, the iPad is missing so much. No Flash. No built-in keyboard. No video camera. No multi-tasking. No HDMI video port. No USB. The iPad can’t and won’t replace our iPhones (or any decent smart phone). It’s too big.
Yes, it might be fast and pretty and fun to hold, but it still cannot do all that a lowly MacBook can do, right? So, what’s the iPad good for?
Think of the millions of hours of human effort spent on preventing and recovering from the problems caused by completely open computer systems. Think of the lengths that people have gone to in order to acquire skills that are orthogonal to their core interests and their job, just so they can get their job done.
If the iPad and its successor devices free these people to focus on what they do best, it will dramatically change people’s perceptions of computing from something to fear to something to engage enthusiastically with. I find it hard to believe that the loss of background processing isn’t a price worth paying to have a computer that isn’t frightening anymore.
In the meantime, Adobe and Microsoft will continue to stamp their feet and whine.
Understanding The Future
This is the hard part. There was a time when automobiles were all the rage. To own and use an automobile gave promised freedom—but that freedom came with a price. Automobiles required mechanic skills to keep it running (sounds like owning a Windows PC). Shifting and driving was difficult to learn for all except the adventurous.
Automobile owners needed to get under the hood and tinker, change oil, lube this or that, adjust that or this. Over time, just like anti-virus software publishers, stations and garages popped up to handle the maintenance needs of the growing automobile population.
Then, automatic transmissions and air conditioners came along to make driving easy and comfortable for the masses. Many people today have no idea how to use a standard stick shift automobile.
By creating a device that uses touch for navigation instead of a keyboard, mouse, or stylus, Apple has disrupted the smart phone market. Smart phones of just three years ago were not so smart. Today, in less than three years, any smart phone that doesn’t mimic Apple’s iPhone interface isn’t so smart.
The iPad is the future of computing for the masses. Why? Understand what’s happening already. The iPhone is missing the keyboard and mouse, missing Flash, missing USB, multi-tasking, and more. Just like the iPad. Yet, the iPhone was definitely a game-changer, and embarrassed technology pundits who thought otherwise.
The future isn’t always easy to understand when viewed from the past or the present.
The Secret Is The Sauce
At first glance, the iPad seems very limited. Remember, the iPhone was doomed because it was limited, too. No video camera. No MMS. No USB. No Flash. No 3G. Obviously, those who bought the iPhone didn’t care much about such PowerPoint bullet items. They wanted a cell phone that was smart, easy to use, fun to use, and did the basics very well.
How is the iPad not the same? Software provides functionality as sauce provides enhanced taste to a meal. For now, iPad software is iPhone software, but that won’t be the case in one year. The bigger screen means more functionality wrapped up in an easy, instantly understandable package.
In the past and present, Mac and PC users were handcuffed to complexity. Both had to be learned to be used. Most users didn’t bother to learn the intricacies of either, limiting tasks and usage to email, browsing, reading, writing, and only occasionally dipping the toe into deeper digital waters.
The iPhone’s sauce showed us that functionality could also be easy and fun, and somewhat liberating. How many of us, as Mac or Windows PC users, have ventured into mobility mode armed only with an iPhone? More and more, my MacBook Pro has been relegated to a lonely life on the desktop, rather than encased in a bag and weighing down my shoulder as I trudge from here to there with briefcase, purse, and Bag ‘o Mac™.
The iPad means there will be fewer and fewer times when the MacBook Pro makes a journey with me. An iPad will fit in a decent sized purse or handbag, negating the need for a traveling Mac.
What Does iPad Do That My iPhone (or Mac) Doesn’t?
Not much. Yet. Remember, the iPhone was a big hit for a whole year before there were 3rd party applications available for purchase. The iTunes App Store is barely 18 months old.
Sometimes the future isn’t easy to see because we fixate so much on the present, and we’re too often guided by the past. Just as the iPhone 3GS is a remarkably improved device when compared to the original iPhone of 2007, does it not stand to reason that the same will be of the iPad in 2012?
What the iPhone did to disrupt the smart phone market is obvious. Similarly, the iPad will disrupt the low cost, casual computing market segment—older adults, students in school, mobile adults, non-technical computer users—those who want basics without complexity.
Most people who buy a netbook PC don’t buy it for all the things it can do. The price is acceptable for lightweight mobile computing which all too often is email, browsing, reading, writing, instant messaging, calendar, and a few other general tasks.
The netbook doesn’t address the market of Photoshop or Microsoft Office users. Neither will the iPad. Like an automatic transmission, the iPad will open computer functionality to masses of people who feel threatened and are inhibited by the complexity and maintenance requirements of the Macs and PCs.
When was the last time you opened the hood of your car and looked inside? My father used to change the car’s oil, give it tune-ups, and was constantly tinkering inside. These days, he just drives the car, washes it from time to time, but seldom looks under the hood, and definitely doesn’t worry about it.
The iPad may be a sealed hood device with an automatic transmission, but people will line up to buy it because the experience will be more pleasurable, productive, and efficient. It will not be long before the iPad replaces your Mac and PC.