A number of people—commenting on the blog and in email, IM and physical conversations—have asked your humble Devil for my thoughts on the Apple iPad. Having had a few hours to digest the announcement, and glide around the web to see the opinions of others (most notably this superb rundown from Daring Fireball), I am now ready to unburden myself (with the usual disclaimer*).
First, I would like to say that it is quite obviously a thing of beauty. When Steve Jobs first held it out, between his two hands, I was unconvinced; once he sat down to use it, however, holding it in one hand, I realised that the proportions were exactly right.
Second, there are some features that are sorely lacking (although I expect them to be in the next release). The first is that there is no camera; no, not in the back, but in the front—surely being able to make video-calls via Skype or iChat is an obvious use for the iPad? I cannot understand why this would have been left out, as it would have been superb to demo too. As such, I shall have to put it down to a desire to keep something back for the next edition.
The next gripe here is the lack of multi-tasking—and I have two specific problems (which may or may not transfer to the final product). The first is with music: on the iPhone, some of Apple's applications do run in the background—I am thinking of the Mail programme and of the iPod element. As such, I can listen to music whilst doing other things, e.g. answering an email, etc. I have heard that one cannot do this on the iPad at present and it seems counterintuitive since one can perform these tasks on its smaller sibling.
Further, I have heard that one cannot have more than one Safari browser window open at a time: this, too, is a problem since one of my main activities—blogging—requires me to shuttle back and forth between windows, copying and pasting sections of text and URLs.
As I have pointed out, however, both of these features are present in the iPhone, so it may simply be that the software was not ready for the demo and that Apple intend to replace these features in the two or three months before the iPads actually go on sale. Or, of course, they may be provided in a software update shortly afterwards.
One of the other main criticisms is, of course, that the iPad ecosystem is, like the iPhone, entirely closed—even to the extent that you cannot see the file system. For many, this is, of course, a deal breaker but I am not sure that it entirely matters.
Why? Well, the iPad is clearly not intended, for most people, to be their main computer but an adjunct to it. As long as one can transfer files between the iPad and one's main machine (a Mac Pro in my case—this has relevance later) then this is not really a problem.
In fact, for many people, it might actually be a virtue—as Frasier Speirs notes in his excellent Future Shock article.
For years we've all held to the belief that computing had to be made simpler for the 'average person'. I find it difficult to come to any conclusion other than that we have totally failed in this effort.
I'm often saddened by the infantilising effect of high technology on adults. From being in control of their world, they're thrust back to a childish, mediaeval world in which gremlins appear to torment them and disappear at will and against which magic, spells, and the local witch doctor are their only refuges.
With the iPhone OS as incarnated in the iPad, Apple proposes to do something about this, and I mean really do something about it instead of just talking about doing something about it, and the world is going mental.
Fraser makes the point that many techies are up in arms about this because "secretly, I suspect, we technologists quite liked the idea that Normals would be dependent on us for our technological shamanism" but for many normal people, a computer can be a massive hassle.
The tech industry will be in paroxysms of future shock for some time to come. Many will cling to their January-26th notions of what it takes to get "real work" done; cling to the idea that the computer-based part of it is the "real work".
It's not. The Real Work is not formatting the margins, installing the printer driver, uploading the document, finishing the PowerPoint slides, running the software update or reinstalling the OS.
The Real Work is teaching the child, healing the patient, selling the house, logging the road defects, fixing the car at the roadside, capturing the table's order, designing the house and organising the party.
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.
I couldn't agree more, and I think that the iPad is aimed at precisely this market.
It is also worth noting that a consensus is forming, amongst those who have actually used the iPad, that there really is no substitute for getting the machine in your hot little hands—here's Cruftbox on its power.
Well, I am lucky enough to have been at the Apple Event today. Deep within the Reality Distortion Field. I saw the demo live, not snap shots on a web site. I got to use the iPad and see how it worked in person. I talked with other people that had tried it.
And you know what, just like Steve Jobs said, you need to hold it for yourself. It’s a different computing experience. It’s intuitive and simple. The device is blazingly fast and obvious how to use. It is a third kind of computing between a smartphone and a laptop.
For those that have iPhones, you know the experience of showing someone the iPhone for the first time. The look in their face, when they first flick the screen or squeeze the image to zoom. The realization that this is something different, very different, than what they have experienced before.
I am a technology professional. For almost 20 years I’ve tested, used, broke, fixed, and played with all kinds of technology from broadcasting to air conditioning to software. I am not easily swayed in these things. But even with all my skepticism, I think the iPad is something different. A new way of computing that will become commonplace.
Oh Internets, I know you won’t believe till you hold one in your hands. You’ll bang on about features, data plans, DRM, open source, and a multitude of issues. You’ll storm the message boards, wring your hands, and promise you won’t buy one till ‘Gen 2’. The din will grow and grow as time passes.
And then one day, in a few months, you will actually hold one and use it. And you will say, “I want one. Iwant one right now.”
This lack of multi-tasking is massively offset by just how fast the damn thing is—applications launch instantly. John Gruber points out that a very significant development—not simply that the iPad is fast but that one of the reasons for this is that it's driven by an Apple-manufactured chip. This is extremely significant: Apple have never manufactured their own chips before—yes, they had financial input into the AIM chip group (before the switch to Intel) but they didn't actually design or manufacture the chips. Apple really do want to control the whole eco-system—because the company believe that this allows it to make better products (and thus more money).
Now, I know that very many people object to this—after all, they have popped up on this blog to criticise Apple's control of the far less closed Mac platform. And that's just fine—you don't have to buy an iPad (or a Mac).
But, your humble Devil simply isn't worried about such things: I am a designer, a graphic artist, a website coder, a writer, whatever—I don't want to get down and dirty with my computer. As Fraser Speirs points out (above), fucking around with my computer is not my Real Work—my computer is a tool that allows me to do my real work more efficiently. As soon as I spend even an hour fixing, hacking or otherwise configuring my tool then I am able to do an hour's less of my Real Work.
Do I really need to start mucking about in the guts of my machine? After all, as Jeff Lamarche succinctly puts it...
I'm a techie, but I don't need to be able to program on every electronic device I own. I don't hate my dishwasher because I can't get to the command line. I don't hate my DVD player because it runs a proprietary operating system. Sheesh.
And how much more exciting would websites be if the only browser that anyone used was WebKit? As it is, we will have to wait many years before we can use the amazing CSS advancements—such as CSS-driven animation—that the WebKit group have built in.
Unless, of course, you are designing websites purely for the iPhone or iPad—because they run WebKit as the rendering engine for Safari. In the same way that I currently design websites for standards-based browsers and then hack for those that aren't (yes, IE, I'm looking at you) can see myself starting to design websites for WebKit browsers, and then hacking for less-advanced browsers such as Firefox and IE. It's incredibly exciting.
Anyway, that is slightly off-topic and yet also relevant because, ironically, the iPad is also desirable to techies like me (and yes, this is where I answer the question, "will you get one, dear Devil?")—and, yes, I will get an iPad when they are available. Why?
It is because I am a power-user that I will get an iPad. Let me explain...
I have had Apple laptops but I never really used them very much. The screens were too small for me to do graphics work on them and, besides, the trackpad is not much good for that. So, I used to find myself carrying not only the laptop and its heavy power block, but also a mouse so that I could use it half-way effectively.
But still I didn't really use it—I had no real need to. With a bigger, more powerful machine at home and a reasonable one at work, I had no need to use the laptop in any meaningful way—it felt underpowered and, as such, rather frustrating (although this is partly because Adobe's software is increasingly bloatware). As such, I always felt that I was wasting its potential. And, of course, once it was nicked, I felt no need to get a new one.
In short, because I am a power-user a laptop does not have enough power for me—and yet it is too expensive and too powerful for me not to try using it for the power work.
Nevertheless, I do travel more and more these days—both for work events and for speaking engagements on behalf of the Libertarian Party—and, given the volume of it, I want to be able to get work done whilst I am travelling.
What I mainly need to get done is presentations or speech-writing: these are two activities which the iPad—equipped with the new iWork Suite—is admirably suited for. In fact, it gets even better...
One of the problems that I have is that I am constantly translating my Keynote slides into Powerpoint so that we can present them on the work's demo laptop—and, of course, a lot of things just don't translate tremendously well. Sure, there are other options, but at present I still need to spend the time to check and make corrections to my slides. But with the addition of a VGA-out dock, I can simply connect my iPad to the projector, thus avoiding all of the translation problems that I currently have—plus I can use a remote control to move my presentation along without breaking my rapport with the audience.
In addition, the iPad will do all of those other things that I want to do whilst on the move—although an iPad edition of Coda would make my day (hear that, Panic?)—and in a package that is smaller and, crucially, cheaper than one of Apple's (admittedly superb) laptops**.
In other words, the iPad does enough for me to use it as a mobile device, whilst being cheap enough for me to justify buying one.
Plus, of course, it is a thing of beauty—and, yes, I just want one.
* DISCLAIMER: I own an insignificant number of Apple shares, which have provided a pretty good return, i.e. 200%+ over the last few years. They have, as usual, fallen after the news of this announcement (they feel pretty heavily after the iPhone announcement too—and I picked up some more on the cheap) to a current price of $192.06. It's a good price since they were up at around $217 a few weeks ago. Not, of course, that I am giving anyone investment advice.
** This is not to say that I think that Apple's laptops are overpriced—I don't think that they are. It is just that they are too expensive for me to justify buying another one given the very limited use that I would get out of it.