At the outset I counted myself among the underwhelmed by the iPad. But after letting the idea stew for some time and reading the copious analysis of the upcoming device, I've gradually warmed to the idea of it and start to find myself wandering into that camp that believes it may just represent a new future for computing.
Today, for completeness' sake, I'm publishing my initial reaction (which I sat on for a long time but which I think still has some merit), and the more considered article you're now reading.
The Computer Haters
I'll admit that I don't get the iPad. I don't yet fully grok it. But I'm getting there.
But then, the iPad isn't made for someone like me. I love computers, in all their complexity and creative potential. They're like a never-ending puzzle for me to tinker with. Or a creative impetus. A springboard. I love computing for computing's sake. I'm a SysAdmin. I'm a geek. I'm a nerd.
But there is an untapped segment of users out there. People for whom the existing computing paradigm is needlessly complex and frustratingly obscure. They don't know what a browser is; they don't know the difference between closing a window and quitting an application; they don't give a rat's ass about folder hierarchies. They are the computer haters, and finally someone has made a computer for them.
I've long felt that computers were too complex for most people. Why, just the other day, in fact, I actually punched my CentOS-running Dell as it finally rankled my last frayed nerve, a crash in a never-ending series of frustrations. If there are parts of computing that even I, as a SysAdmin, find deeply annoying — and believe me, there are plenty — imagine what someone who doesn't even particularly like computers goes through. It must be awful.
The iPad is an attempt to reverse that experience, to take what was once a source of pain and frustration and make it a joy. It's pure lemons-from-lemonade stuff. From everything I've read, the iPad is simply delightful to use. What other computer can that be said of?
The Future of Computing
Matt Gemell has a wonderful entreaty aimed at computer hardware and software makers:
In it he implores these companies to realize that in order to compete with the iPad they'll have to take a similar approach. They'll have to truly meld both great hardware and great software. The thing is, I'm not sure what company is in a position to do this right now.
Reading his article, I realized something: not only is Apple positioning themselves as leaders of the next computing revolution with the iPad by staking their claim in an as-yet-unclaimed segment of the computing market — i.e., the aforementioned computer users who hate computers — but, more significantly, they're doing so in a way that Apple itself is uniquely suited to serving.
One of the things that's defined Apple as a company has been the fact that it produces both hardware and software. In particular, Apple makes its own devices — computers, media players, phones — and also makes the operating systems that run them. No other computer company currently does this. But, as Gemell argues, to make something like an iPad, to make the next generation of computers for computer haters, requires a perfect synthesis of hardware and software. And right now Apple is the only game in town. The only companies I can think of offhand who do anything similar are not computer companies, they're phone companies. Palm comes to mind.
I've always favored the Apple production model. I think it's a big part of why they make superior products. And I agree that, if the iPad truly represents the next big thing in computing, this approach will be essential to creating competitive devices. Right now I don't see a company that's got the considerable resources needed to take this on. But I think it's high time someone give it a shot.
It's Not a Computer... Yet...
My original take on the iPad was that it's not a creative device. It's more for consuming media rather than making stuff, and for that reason it more closely resembles an iPod than it does a computer. In fact, I can do more with my iPhone than I can with the iPad. At least in its current incarnation.
I have little doubt, however, that a camera will be added to the iPad in short measure. And I have little doubt that the iPad will grow more capable and more computer-like over time. What will be most interesting to see will be the degree to which the iPad can function as a standalone device. If it requires a computer to sync to — the way iPhones and iPods do, a fact I've always found irritating — I fear it will be relegated to some strange media-playing niche. But if the iPad — or some more computer-esque spin-off, perhaps — eventually manages to function unfettered, as a standalone device, I do think that, for the legion of computer haters out there, the iPad really could be the only computer they ever need, that it could in fact be the computer of the future.
All of this, of course, remains to be seen. But it will be interesting to watch it all play out. Whether I buy one or not, I'll be very interested to try the iPad, and even more interested in what happens next with this curious and potentially revolutionary product.
Finally, here are some of my favorite takes on the iPad announcement.
Agrees With Me:
On Aspect Ratio:
This is also so brilliant: