Or, why all the bad things you heard don’t really matter
Apple’s new iPad doesn’t have a front-facing camera. It won’t run multiple apps at the same time. It can’t play Flash movies. It’s just a big iPod touch. Other tablets run a full-fledged operating system. Most of all, the iPad lacks – the horror! – a physical keyboard.
Such is the litany of shortcomings being strewn about the web in the wake of Apple’s big iPad reveal. No doubt with all the mixed reviews, you may be wondering, “Do I really want an iPad?” You already have an iPhone. You already have a laptop. What’s the use of one more web-surfing, email-checking gadget to lug around?
The use of such a device, while perhaps not immediately apparent, is profound, and the iPad may very well change the way we all think of computing. Yes, I mean that.
So why do you want an iPad? Here are five reasons (you can thank me later):
- It’s the screen, stupid. Yes, the iPad does pretty much the same stuff as the iPhone or iPod touch. The difference, and it’s a big one, is the size of the screen. Let’s face it, the iPhone browsing experience is phenomenal — for a smart phone. It’s mostly useful for resolving arguments about that movie with Jessica Biel or the genetic origin of broccoli. It’s not good for in-depth research or serious browsing. Sure, I check email a lot on my iPhone, but I don’t send much email from it — at least not anything longer than a sentence or two.
A larger screen changes all that. Suddenly web browsing, email, video, even games, become more than something I do while trying to kill time in an airport. They become things I sit down to do in my free time. Sure, I could already do these things with my laptop, but if we’re really honest, what we need is…
- The feel of a (text)book. Laptops are clunky. They require elaborate cases with lots of pockets, tiny little mice, power cords, and computer skills. For some people, all these things are positive. For most, they are not (though many may not realize it). The iPad promises to bring the feel of a book (or notepad) to your computing experience. Hold it in one hand, however you like, wherever you are. Rest it on your lap. Set in on a table. Control everything with your hands. Ever thought about curling up under a blanket (or Snuggie) with your computer? That’s the kind of experience we’re talking about.
Educational uses for the iPad deserve an article of their own. Forget about one computer per classroom. Forget about computer labs where students can barely see the teacher because of bulky hardware. Most of all, forget about kids with chronic back problems. Every textbook, in one place (hard to forget the math book now, huh, Jimmy?), weighing 1.5 pounds. Texts can be enhanced with video, sound, and interactive demonstrations — the possibilities are inspiring.
- The complete digital living room. I contend that most people will use the iPad, most of the time, in their primary living spaces. To me this is positive. The digital living room is not a new idea, and we have been moving in that direction for years. The iPad may complete the transition. I play games and watch movies on my Xbox 360. Apple’s own Apple TV lets you bring entertainment from your desktop to your TV. Some game consoles provide a web browser for surfing on your TV, but the experience feels forced.
Each of these pieces is good at something, but none is good at everything. While I am playing a game, my wife works a crossword puzzle in the newspaper. The iPad can bring her endless crossword puzzles without changing where she is or how she is positioned (feet up, wrapped in Snuggie). This is a big deal. The combination of large screen across the room and small(er) screen at your fingertips is going to work because it’s familiar. Which brings me to…
- Browsing without working. Americans (particularly young ones) spend more time each week surfing the web than watching TV. The reason older folks (like, over 40 or something) don’t do as much surfing is that web browsing is too much like work, bro. When you already spend 12 hours a day at a desk, it’s not particularly appealing to forgo the morning paper to sit in your home office and browse CNN.com. For many adults, the iPad may finally break the painful connection between computing and working.
- Pay-as-you-go mobile internet. Though I believe most people will use their iPads at home, on-the-go types will have the ability to plug into the internet from anywhere, with no strings attached. Cancel anytime. In the U.S. especially, the data plans being offered with the iPad are groundbreaking. Turn on a data plan when you go on your vacation or work trip. Turn it off when you get home. No hassles, no money lost for unused service. Not only do these data plans open the door for more mainstream pay-as-you-go services, they acknowledge the idea that different business models may be appropriate for different settings. I may want unlimited internet in my house (or on my phone, which I have with me all the time), but when I’m on the road for a couple weeks, I may want to pay only for what I use on this additional device.
When all the dust settles and the pundits have had their say, the iPad’s perceived shortcomings are largely irrelevant (Besides, aren’t these the same gripes we hear about the iPhone?). Ultimately the criticisms are quibbles about one feature or another, and the technorati will always have them.
No, the iPad will succeed because it provides one thing: comfort. The last reasons why people avoid computers in their day-to-day lives may finally be dissolving. And when using a computer becomes as natural as picking up a book and turning the page, we will have crossed the threshold into a truly digitized world.