With the impending US launch of Apple’s iPad, analysis and chatter has reached – well, fevered picth doesn’t even begin to cover it. Every technology-focused outlet I know of is talking about the device, and even the mainstream media is obsessed with it too. It was on Letterman for crying out loud. It is everywhere and tomorrow across America, people will be standing in line for one.
Still it seems that, like with any major product launch, opinion is sharply divided between those who are clamoring for one and those who just don’t get it. And those who just don’t want one are making a pretty strong point. Everyone from Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow to Techi’s own James Mowery have provided compelling reasons not to buy the Jesus tablet, whether the closed nature of the device and ecosystem or the fact that it just might be too early to tell if it’s worth it.
But you can count me among the people who want one and, if I were able, I would be there in line tomorrow, dollars in hand to pick one up. Why? Simple. The iPad represents the new, in two important ways: it’s opens new ways of accessing media; and it opens that media up to a whole new class of people.
Most of the criticism of the iPad has come in the form of saying it simple replicates the functions of other devices – the ole’ ‘it’s just a big iPod Touch argument’. And in many ways that’s quite true – you can surf the web on a computer; reading is probably easier on a Kindle or Sony device; music works just as well on an iPod and, well, don’t even get us started on trying to do actual work on the thing. Have you ever tried typing out a long email on an iPhone? It’s a nightmare. On the surface at least, the iPad doesn’t actually seem to do anything new.
But by focusing on a feature checklist, people may be making the same mistake as those who dismissed the iPhone: it’s not what it does, but how it does it.
Part of what made and makes the iPhone such a unique product was the seamlessness of the experience, the way in which it just seemed to work intuitively in a manner that nothing else before it had.
In a similar sense, the iPad’s strength will not be whether it can replace a laptop or an eReader, but how it creates an entirely new method of accessing and using media. Because the touch-screen interface is infinitely adaptable, it can be anything: a TV, a magazine, a games console – whatever. Just as importantly, unlike a laptop, because that adaptable screen is also the device’s interface, it can be any kind of interface: a keyboard, a joystick, a canvas for painting, a musical intstrument – anything.
By placing all that potential functionality in a device that is easily portable and doesn’t have the same physical constraints as a laptop (the need for a flat surface etc.) the iPad and its media can become a part of your daily life, on the couch or in bed etc., in a way traditional computers can’t. Sometimes, what’s important about a device is how we physically use it rather than what is actually does. I could have watched movies on a laptop on the subway if I wanted to; doesn’t mean I ever did.
What’s more, that screen opens up new types of media to think about, whether the magazine that includes video or the video that includes a game. In the same way we can now do things on the iPhone we didn’t dream of 3 years ago, the iPad will continue to offer new experiences, and I can’t wait to see what they are.
But most importantly, despite when people like Doctorow claim that the iPad is ruined because it’s so closed, what that means to me is simple: here, finally, is a computer that my Dad (who’s in his seventies) can use. There’s no visible file structure, no mouse, no physical keyboard. You just look at photos, watch YouTube or open Safari and read the things you want to read. It’s accessible, it’s neat and, to trot out a cliche, ‘it just works’.
There are many good reasons to not want or even dislike the iPad. But opening up computing to those who have up until now been intimidated by it is not one of them.
So, when I collect my pennies, I will be buying an iPad. I will, in a way that I just can’t comfortably do with my laptop, chill on a couch and watch movies, read the latest interactive magazine, check my email and surf the net, all on a device that will do a thousand other things thanks to its touch screen. Most importantly though, I will hand it off to my father, and watch a man who has never before felt comfortable with computers now surf the web, read the news, check his email and actually engage with the contemporary moment.
Now that, regardless of what you might personally feel about Apple or the iPad, would be something worth standing in line for.