The clue is in the i of iPad

…and it’s I as in interaction, not information…

On January 27th, the rumour mill surrounding Apple’s tablet plans was finally put to rest with the announcement of the iPad. Whilst some have raved about Apple’s latest creation, others have been quick to voice their disappointment and reasons to not like it.

Why the marmite-like reaction – with some thinking the iPad looks great whilst so many of the normal Apple fan club disappointed? A few bloggers have already hit the nail on the head

“Most people who attended the iPad unveiling and are now writing about the iPad are misunderstanding its intended audience because they’re not in it”

– Mike Rundle ‘The iPad Is For Everyone But Us’

The iPad is the first PC-like device that puts technology and expertise in the background. It’s not about tinkering with the operating system or doing niche heavy duty graphics design work. It’s about quick and easy digital access to content, whether you’re reading, creating or sharing with others.

The mistake Microsoft made with its mobile phone software was making a mini version of Windows for mobile devices, assuming everyone would use a stylus to cope with the tiny weeny buttons for accessing apps.

Apple came along and treated mobile phone apps as different to the PC. Goodbye stylus.

The netbook market has been about a device that is an under-powered replica of a laptop, with all the same portable issues that laptops have. Using laptops whilst standing, walking or sitting anywhere without a flat table at a comfortable height to your body is difficult. Given you can get full powered laptops for the same size and battery life as a netbook, the only real advantage for the netbook in its current form is the price.

Apple has just come along and treated netbook apps as different to the PC. Goodbye physical keyboard.

I don’t use an iPhone and am not a huge Apple fan, I use Apple products when they’re the best fit for purpose which is why I have a 13″ MacBook Pro. And it has one feature that makes me think the iPad will be a success. The touchpad on the MacBook Pro (MBP) has similar capabilities to the screen of an iPhone – you can swipe to scroll and pinch to zoom in and out. It seems such a little feature. Yet it is so comfortable, easy and quick to navigate content that I’ve started doing the same action on my other laptop and get frustrated when I realise it only works on the MBP. It’s made me rethink the value of the touch interface for interacting with information.

From initial hands-on comments from others, the iPad isn’t perfect but how bad are the flaws?

  • If it can’t do multi-tasking, that’s an issue if you can’t quickly switch between apps (the comments about speed suggest you can). I’d miss not having a small window of one type of app (chat, video) overlapping another app (note taking, reading docs) but how hard will it be to create apps that integrate multi-tasking a single view?
  • Lack of Flash support depends on what the future looks like without Flash…
  • Lack of ports for plugging in cameras or memory cards depends on if people continue to download pics and videos to their computer first instead of uploading straight to YouTube, Flickr, Facebook etc. Either cloud computing is the future or it isn’t.
  • Can’t plug in a printer – something makes me think the iPad is about anything but printing. It won’t replace the PC or TV. I’ll still need that MacBook Pro (required a lightweight 64-bit computer)

Scenarios where the iPad would work for me – everywhere you want to take a netbook/small laptop or wish your phone had a bigger display:

  • On the sofa watching TV and tweeting at the same time (I balanced my laptop to chatter about the BBC program ‘The Virtual Revolution’ last Saturday – the iPad would have been easier)
  • At a conference taking notes on a bum-numbing chair trying to balance the laptop on my legs, the iPad would be easier.
  • On a plane or train reading or preparing a presentation (if I need to demo, the laptop still wins).
  • Social environments for people who want to stay connected when not working. My laptop comes with me on holiday, albeit for light use. Sure I can do email on the phone but it’s not as easy and impossible to properly read through attachments or create anything. I would definitely take the iPad instead and leave the more expensive work kit behind.
  • In meetings of any kind. The laptop is still too invasive in a physical meeting environment. I always ask clients first if they mind me using a laptop to take notes. For certain industries – healthcare, witness interviews for starters – a device like the iPad could be a massive breakthrough. In education, teachers might get to see faces again.

About 7 years ago, Microsoft came out with a Tablet edition of Windows. Given I was working at Microsoft at the time, I was one of the many given a tablet to use and show to people. In many ways, I loved the tablet – it made reading stuff a lot lot easier on the plane and I was travelling around Europe on business at the time. Drawing diagrams for note taking was great but text input was a disaster. You had to use a stylus and the handwriting recognition was terrible (because my handwriting is terrible – I am a true left-hander). Tapping an on-screen keyboard with the stylus was ridiculously slow when I can touch-type on a keyboard. (My mantra to so many organisations – to improve productivity, teach people how to type!). The only kind of data input that really worked on-screen was filling in electronic forms. And if you lost the stylus, you were done for. The tablet screen was not touch-sensitive, it worked through a transmitter in the stylus communicating with the computer. Then there was the weight issue and short battery life, both making it unsuitable for carrying around all day. And finally, the start-up time, even from sleep mode, was too slow. A tablet should switch on in the same time it takes to open a physical notebook. Any longer creates awkward social situations.

It’s early days but the iPad looks like it will do the very things the Microsoft Tablet PC fell short on 7 years ago. That makes it interesting because the tablet as a device has potential in so many areas where netbooks and laptops have failed – where technology needs to get out of the way of interaction.


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