iPad isn’t a computer

When people complain that the iPad doesn’t have multitasking, a camera, a full-fledged desktop OS, or an exposed filesystem, they’re missing the point. They’re forgetting what came before: a slew of tablets from the likes of HP, Lenovo, Fujitsu, Asus, Toshiba and others. What do all of these existing tablets have?

That’s right: multitasking, cameras, desktop operating systems and exposed filesystems. Many people bought them, use them, and love them. But those people are, by and large, computer geeks. They know how to use computers and they’re very comfortable with technology. And none of these tablets have caught on in any big way with the masses. Certainly not nearly to the extent of the iPhone.

Tablet PCs are widely acknowledged to be a commercial failure thus far. Microsoft has tried, and failed, many times over the years to popularize tablet computing.

I have no idea how many Tablet PCs have been sold, but I’d be willing to bet it’s far fewer than the 75 million iPhone OS devices now in active use around the world.

Apple intends iPad to be a computing device for non-geeks. It’s simple, easy, elegant, and well-designed enough for them. But it’s not the kind of computer that geeks know. You know that kind of computer: folders, hard drives, default programs, drivers, right-clicking, multiple windows, keyboard shortcuts, viruses, malware — yeah, that stuff. Geeks eat it and love it. Normal people don’t.

How do I know Apple intends iPad to be a computing device for everyone? The two big indicators:

1. the external, full-size keyboard dock.

2. iWork for iPad.

These are truly game changers.

Rob Foster relates three conversations that reveal just how revolutionary iPad will be.

Here’s one comment that disagrees:

I had a similar experience with my dad, who is in his eighties and only really needs to browse the web.

That does not change my opinion that there are serious problems with the iPad. It’s not what it doesn’t do, it’s what it won’t ever do, and what it represents for the future of ‘easy to use’ devices.

‘Easy to use’ doesn’t have to mean:

- inflexible by design – limited by design – the hardware supplier getting to decide what software ever runs on the device – never being able to access files independently of their apps or add external storage – never being able to combine two tasks from third party suppliers.

None of these things would by necessity make it more difficult for my dad to use it.

What it needs is:

- background notifications handled natively by app developers without some service from a company not exactly known for online service uptime

- a services menu that lets apps properly interact

- some sense of a filesystem that generalises third party device and online storage

- some relaxation over the control exerted by Apple on producing software for this thing

- and for a whole bunch of pundits to stop pretending that somehow none of these points matter to the future of what used to be an open-minded company that fostered communication and creativity.

You love your iPhone. Everyone loves their iPhone. I get it. But were you really not hoping for something a little more radical than a big-screen iPod touch with a data modem?

The iPhone’s limitations are not acceptable in a mass-market device aimed at replacing actual general purpose computers. This thing could have been so much better.

comment by Michael Houghton about a day later

iPad doesn’t really need any of those things. I’m sure Apple will introduce some of those things eventually, but it’s the very fact that it doesn’t have these things that makes it radical. It’s the lack of these things that makes it a computer for the masses.

Here’s a comment on an interesting track:

Good post, mate! My mother-in-law is a total noob (never even touched a computer before) and wants to learn how to do email and facebook. I’ve been wondering how in hell I’m going to teach her all this without having to explain right-clicks and left-clicks and clicking on start menu, etc etc and then Apple announces the Tablet!

That was my eureka moment. Good to see the iPad naysayers are being answered by real people with needs that are going to be met by this device!

comment by Abisola Fatokun about a day later

Even the concept of right-clicking is absurdly foreign to many people.

And Fraser Speirs in a post called Future Shock writes:

The people whose backs have been broken under the weight of technological complexity and failure immediately understand what’s happening here. Those of us who patiently, day after day, explain to a child or colleague that the reason there’s no Print item in the File menu is because, although the Pages document is filling the screen, Finder is actually the frontmost application and it doesn’t have any windows open, understand what’s happening here.

A really good touch interface on a screen finally large enough to run iWork?

It’s nothing short of revolutionary.

I said “big-screen” iPod touch.

But are you positing that the iPad is not simply a faster, higher res iPod Touch with a data modem and a keyboard peripheral (that they could have released for the iPod Touch)?

Are you somehow surprised that a higher resolution means desktop-type apps could run on it? Is there something game-changing and magical about increasing screen resolution?

Increasing the screen size and resolution, adding a 3G card, upgrading the processor and adding a keyboard option was the minimum Apple had to do to turn the iPod touch into a netbook-equivalent.

The minimum is what they did.

I’m actually astonished at the way certain pundits and commenters are doing the heavy lifting on this one.

Which was the radical, unthinkable, gamechanging step here?

comment by Michael Houghton about a day later

Hardware-wise, iPad is merely what Michael states above. Yet it’s still so much more. A larger screen makes a far bigger difference than one might think.

Concerned about typing? The keyboard dock is a sure sign that Apple doesn’t just see this device as a big-screen iPod touch. If this is the minimum Apple had to do to turn the iPod touch into a netbook-equivalent, then the minimum is going to be enough.

So what does it mean for us?

I think it means that a whole new group of people who have never used computers, or use them very rarely, are suddenly going to be joining the computing revolution.

Soon, they’ll be playing games, communicating with friends, and so much more. They’ll be using apps, and lots of them. 75 million iPhone OS devices? I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number more than double this year.

Further reading: iPad is the iPrius

Video: Computer problems

4 thoughts on “iPad isn’t a computer”

  1. Nice commentary. I totally agree and have been evangelizing to my friends and family the last week regarding the iPad. I have 12 buyers lined up already.

    As for Michael’s lack of understanding, he’ll get it once he holds one in his hands. Most naysayers desperately want to inject complexity into the iPad, while Apple is attempting to strip away all of that and provide a simple, safe, and intuitive alternative void of those complexities most people would rather do without.

    I recall a lot of people crying about the death of the Floppy as well. :o)

  2. People don’t “get” this device yet, and the MSFT-paid tech pundits don’t want them to “get” it. This device is a big iPod Touch– the better for E-reading and on-the-fly content creation. It is PERFECT for students and travellers. It is FAST and rugged, unlike a netbook; it is inexpensive, unlike a tablet; it is VERSATILE, unlike a Kindle. And it has a grown-up OS; unlike any Windows-based device.

  3. iPhone & iPods became market leaders because they gave an existing technology an easy user experience with expanded market features. The iPad will need to do far more since there is no existing target market. Apple will need to create the market they want iPad to dominate, something its demonstrated its failed to do with AppleTV.

  4. “pple will need to create the market they want iPad to dominate, something its demonstrated its failed to do with AppleTV.”

    Excellent point. Apple TV is fine as a device, but the networks all wanted to offer their own, proprietary solutions; thus, most consumers still use TV in a very basic way– who wants to mess with a bunch of incompatible systems? I think publishers are already coming to terms with the “E-reader concept”. This could lead to a much better result.

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