The iPad

Apple launched their iPad today. I work at a design studio that is primarily focused on website and web technologies, so it was a big topic of discussion today. Plus we're all geeks. Everyone else is giving their thoughts, so I thought I would also add my thoughts. Thought. Thoughts.

So, it does look like a big iPod Touch, doesn't it?

The name. Sounds like a female sanitary product. Call me childish, but it does. Jonathan Ive's little spiel in the introductory video even makes it sound like one. "I don't have to change myself to fit the product, it fits me." Look out for the new Mac Pros in the next couple of months, with 27 cores and wings to prevent leakage.

No camera. Seems silly. This device seems like it would be brilliant for Skype or iChat video conferencing. I've had times where our whole family is talking to a relative overseas on Skype, and you either crowd around the screen, or you pass the laptop from one person to another, usually almost dropping it in the process. Handing someone the iPad would be so much easier.

The demo for the iWork apps was the thing that caught my attention. Everyone is focused on the specs, the actual machine itself. But it's the applications that are going to make this an incredible device, that begins to bridge the gap between the multitouch iPhone and the desktop environment. The standard apps like Address Book and email etc. were nice, but nothing mind-blowing. Keynote, Pages and Numbers, however, show what it's capable of in skillful developers' hands.

It's the first genuine step away from the mouse as an input device. It's taking a layer of abstraction away from the UI. Tapping a link on a website is much more intuitive than clicking on a piece of soap-shaped plastic on a desk that makes a cursor move on the screen. It might not seem that way, since everyone is so used to the mouse control system. We're conditioned to use computers that way. But on a base level, it is so much more intuitive. I bet that some developers will come up with a few applications that will blow everyone away by really taking advantage of the unique input method combined with the screen real estate. Obviously that interface won't work for everything, and this device certainly isn't supposed to be all things to all people. It's the iPad native apps that leverage its featuure-set that will make this a worthwhile device.

Ultimately, I see this device as a first step towards new ways of users interacting with content and information that will be built upon in the future. So the device itself might struggle for a while and fall short, but it's setting the gears in motion.

Interestingly, while it has taken a level of abstraction away from the interface, it has added a layer of abstraction in terms of how the file system works, in that it is entirely hidden away from the user. You don't put files in folders. You don't access files by knowing their location and opening them. You open the application, and there are your documents required for working, within the app. Where within the file-system are they stored when you save them? Who knows. The applications do all the work. The user doesn't need to know where their photos are stored, or their text files or anything like that. I think this is the future of casual computing, removing the file-system from the equation for the user and simplifying it all. One less thing for people to deal with.

People are complaining about the bezel, the lack of Flash and the lack of USB ports and multitasking.

The complaints about the bezel are silly, you need a bezel to be able to hold the thing without touching or covering the screen. You can't palm it like an iPhone, you have to wrap your fingers around it. So the bezel is a necessary design decision.

The lack of Flash is a political move, I think. Apple doesn't like Flash because it is a proprietary technology it can't control. It's at the mercy of Adobe as to how Flash performs on its products, and that's bad in Apple's eyes. I think they're really pushing for HTML5 and h.265 (or whatever the number is) to be the new standard for video on the web (and when you're talking Flash, most of the time that means video), because those are open standards that aren't owned by anyone. This is a fair stance, I believe. Open standards and technologies allow anyone to tinker with it and build upon it and be on a level playing field. The catch is that there's a hell of a lot of Flash content out there. I see this as growing pains towards a better web environment. Flash will fall, open standards will become the norm. In the meantime we'll have a lot of annoyances like this. Hopefully.

The lack of USB ports? I'm with you on that one. It would be great to be able to transfer images from my camera straight to the device without having a buy an adapter, or go through the unnecessary step of adding them to iPhoto, then sycing them through iTunes. Or allowing me to print my photos by simply plugging in a printer. At least give me a second dock connector so I can sit it in to charge in landscape format. One the upside, support for Bluetooth keyboard is very welcome.

Lack of multitasking? I'm with you on that one too. For most apps it's no problem, but it would be great to be able to run Spotify in the background or listen to your playlists whilst working on a Keynote presentation. Stuck with iTunes, I guess. My guess is that finding a way to handle it elegantly is the biggest problem. Hopefully this is something they may add in with a software update down the line.

So that's my 2c. Nothing new or groundbreaking, just felt like getting it all down. I'll be interested to read this again in 5 years time and see if I was on target with anything at all. And if you got this far, congratulations. I promise I'll have a less wordy post next time.
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