Thursday, January 28, 2010

Concerning the iPad

Concerning the iPad, Mr. G writes:

If you have $500 to burn, feel free, but realize that you are a beta tester. That hasn't been talked about enough in the 24 hours since the announcement. This is Apple's MO. I know. I have a $400 first-gen iPhone in my pocket. It only took Apple two more generations of the iPhone to come out with what should have been the first product. I'm typing this on a 1,1 MacBook. Within months of buying this MacBook they threw the dual core processor's in that should have been there in the first place.

When iPad 2.0 comes out with it's video camera and multitasking, I'll have my tongue wagging to grab one. Until then I will be staying far, far away. I've learned my lesson with Apple's first-generation products.
As a long-time Apple user, (though one who's also got a soft-spot for Linux), I totally concur. Buying a first generation Apple product is always a dicey investment.

But once their products set into the stride of second and third generations? Well... that's just a whole other kettle of fish. Which is why I think the big subtext to the Apple story from yesterday is next-gen iTunes going cloud-based and the coming 2010 iPhone.

My greatest interest in the iPad itself is what it means in terms of leading to a race to replace paper media with legitimately easy-to-read digital alternatives. That and the rather concerning notion of a single corporation (via iBooks) owning both the media and the device to read and buy the media. In a sense, the iPad experiment, like the iPod, is focused on the realignment of channels of distribution. If iPad wins, it will alter not just the few mom-and-pop bookstores left (they might actually become specialty shops for non-digitally-available media), but could shake up (or shake down) the Amazons, Borders, and B&Ns of the world.

As I said in yesterday's post (as well as in the comments), I see the potential of the iPad (or some similar device) as instigating a movement towards communal computing. That is, a device sitting on the coffee table at the dentist's office or a device I find lying on my pillow when I check into my hotel room. I don't own the device, but rather can use it to access the web and all my stuff.

From the looks of it, the iPad's absolute best use is reading text on the Web. That's been the bane of so many folks who insist on paper, so by combining touchscreens with a larger portable device, Apple can only up the ante for other companies to produce better alternatives to paper books. On this front, a part of me wonders if the first iPhones were just a test to see if folks would go for that sort of interface. Because familiarity with the iPhone has totally set up a swath of the culture now to be perfectly attuned to use the iPad.

Furthermore, I understand the frustrations folks are expressing: no Flash, no phone (barring Skype... maybe?), no multi-tasking, no camera, no audio/video production suite. But again, this is just the beginning. I'm not saying that Apple will (or deserves to) rule the media landscape, but I see this as one of several steps -- throughout culture and across media and consumer outlets -- in taking the act of reading to a paperless place.

As for all of those folks on the tech blogs, (and especially in the comments, jeez... I'm so glad we have 'mature' readers commenting on this blog -- kudos to you), there's been a lot of complaint that this thing is just gonna sell on sex appeal. Well, guess what?

Design matters.

It matters to adults and kids alike. And I think where Apple is getting this right -- no matter what you think of the price (which I personally actually think is pretty reasonable despite the fact that I can't currently afford one... ehem!) and no matter what limitations the device provides for content creation in opposition to content consumption (though we are ultimately the producers of the Internet and we really don't have to rely on Apple's apps and way of doing things with their device just because they want us to) and despite all of the various problems and threats this device holds, it has one advantage over every device I've ever seen meant to provide for reading on the web: it makes you want to use it.

And if we can figure out a way to get these things into the hands of kids who don't like books (boring) and who don't like reading online (headache) we might be able to make the reading experience attractive. I understand that that may seem totally counter-intuitive to any of us who grew up curled around books. But I've got three kids of my own: two of them love books. The other? Not so much. But put him on a computer and he'll read anything. To us, counter-intuitive; to him, not so much.

You should have seen his eyes light up when he caught a glimpse of the web promo of this thing.

Now, what's it all mean?

First of all, the iPad is not -- nor do I think is it meant to be -- a do-everything device. At least in it's initial form, it's a really rad e-reader. And I mean that sincerely. I've read on the Kindle. The Kindle sucks. I feel like I'm stepping back in time when I read on the Kindle. And not in a good way. More like in a creepy way like when you see a movie you thought was funny as a kid and now, seeing it again by chance, you don't find any humor in it.

Second, I love the idea of everything going on the cloud. But I think right now is the time to demand an inclusive method of distribution so that small publishers, independent authors, and alt media outlets aren't excluded. I'll be impressed when I see Apple open up its system to authors regardless of saleability. And yes, I realize that's total idealism.

Third, any business with a waiting room should do us all a favor and buy a couple of these things. Cancel your magazine subscriptions and let us access our own stuff while sitting around waiting for the root canal.

Fourth, obviously Apple wants to make this thing as ubiquitous as possible. That's the reason for the $499 entry tag. That's also why this thing doesn't have the camera or the multi-tasking or the...

It's about creating a market. And I think it's an interesting experiment. That market is not schools (at least not yet), it's folks who can drop a few Franklins, like great design, and like to read. I know quite a few people like that.

Fifth, this thing ain't (as I've read so much over the last 24 hours) a big iPod Touch. This thing is an experiment in whether Apple can get people either to change the way they read or make the reading experience more pleasurable. And of course capitalize on that in big dollars.

Sixth, I think this whole thing represents something a lot bigger than Apple. I have no stake in the company, but as a teacher and a human-being I do have a stake in the future of the written/printed/digitized word. I recognize that the iPad can't do half the things I use a 'real' computer for (recording and mixing heavy-duty audio, playing video-heavy MMOGs), but I also recognize that that's not the purpose of the device. I'm interested in the outcome, despite whatever the product is; after all, the Google tablet is on the horizon (which may or may not be better for production) and who knows what personal projection and advances in augmented reality hold down the line.

So, I agree with Mr. G that this is basically a consumer device. Will the iPad and the iMac someday merge into a teacher-approved wonder device? Not today.

But will the iPad up the ante in e-readers and force any potential competitors to create devices that don't feel like they were built (and meant to work) in 1990? We'll see.

Hype or no hype, what we're considering here is whether we are going to let technology alter the way we relate to text. Hopefully in round two it'll be in a more interactive way. Can't wait.


  1. The more I think about it, the more questions I have.

    The size is interesting, but whether I'm riding the subway in NYC, the EL in Chicago, the Tube in London, the Luas in Dublin, or just walking around my campus or my town, I see most people under 40 doing all the things the iPad promises on a device that they carry in their pocket. That is, they are reading, writing, communicating, watching, listening. Yes, the bigger screen is nice, but the pocket seems critical, if it doesn't fit in your pocket you need two different devices for different times of day.

    The iPhone was the revolution because it caused the re-think of what a phone could do. But lets remember, despite all of the iPhone cool BlackBerry's various models alone outsell the iPhone 4:1. They multitask, search the web, play streaming music while you search the web, etc, etc. In other words, design matters, to a point. Apple sets a certain tech hipster standard, others rebel against that.

    Anyway, I've felt for a couple of years, mostly at the urging of my kid, that the future would see two sizes of devices. The go-everywhere pocket device predicted in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (which is pretty much here - PlasticLogic's roll-out screen might be cool), and the powerful, entertainment operating home desktop. I'm not sure there's much room left for the laptop, much less this tablet.

    So what does the iPad do? First, like the Kindle, it is a bridge technology for the wealthy older folks of society. It makes them "cool and digital" without really changing media for them. As much as the Kindle is "the printed book," the iPad is the slick magazine, the portable slide viewer, the portable television. It well sell very well for five years (think 20% of iPod sales), in constantly improving forms.

    But second, it may perpetuate the fight against open. The iPad, like the iPod and iPhone, is a marketing device, a store portal. Whether it contributes to open formats or creates a battle with exclusive author and creator deals is the question. Apple makes me nervous in this regard. "Open" is not a word in their vocabulary. Compared to Apple, Microsoft is open source.

    Either way though, as I tweeted this morning, if you think the iPad is really a culture change, I think you should look about a bit more. Change happens long before the mainstream sees it, and, looking around, everything Jobs predicts is already happening everywhere you look. It just hasn't been fully profitized and trademarked yet.

    -Ira Socol

  2. As Ira alluded, careful what you wish for with the iPad. It's a closed system. Anything you do on it has to have been ok'd by Apple.

    That's what makes me the most nervous. It's also why my first iPhone will be my last.

  3. @Ira and Mr. G

    I totally agree with you in terms of the 'openness' issue in general. After all, Apple's spent a decade making a mint off the iTunesStore, so there's no initial reason they'd want to do anything to let folks get around that.

    But, then again, as we saw with jailbreaks for the iPhone, users don't have to limit their imaginations to using the device the way Apple intended.

    I mean, the Flash issue notwithstanding (though for the time being a biggie), this thing does get on the Internet and does get me to my blogs and Google Apps and Tweets. And how long before version 2 comes out -- w/ camera (and + $200 for base model) -- and it gets it's own jailbrake and we're iPadding on Ustream? (Just checked some of the hacker blogs and they're already prepared).

    The thing I'm looking at is what the thing actually does and what it's supposed to do well: namely be an e-reader. And it appears that as an e-reader at least, this device blows away the competition; and -- and this can't be overlooked -- it opens up digital reading to folks who otherwise wouldn't do it. And thus it influences culture -- and maybe we'll see a change of heart about electronic devices by the policy makers (in schools) not because they understand the difference between content creation and content consumption, not because they understand Web 2.0, not because they themselves are actively involved in the creation of interactive content, but because the whole concept of using an e-reader to read text is now accessible to them. It sounds simple, but that alone could influence decisions on school policies -- not just for iPads (which in all honesty we'd be more likely to see on the desk of the admins' secretaries than in the hands of students) -- but for ALL technology.

    In otherwords, despite our misgivings, this device could prove to be a bridge -- a transformational device -- for those in decision-making positions who are to date quite wary and unconvinced by e-texts and blogs let alone full-bore social tech. This -- or a competitor's better version -- could be the type of device that breaks the ice for full implementaton of tech (even though, ironically, the device itself fails to do that).

    Also Ira, as for where you put the thing: I thought you and I were going to break into the iPad-carrying mini-bike-messenger-bag industry with the iMarsupial ;P


  4. Shelly,

    I like your thought that the "bridge" function I described has this transformational impact on the frozen minds we typically encounter. I sure hope so.

    And yes, I'm designing the $199 iMarsupial Classic right now. Complete with keyboard pocket and a spot for your Steve Jobs photo...


  5. Very insightful post, and great comments. My first reaction to the announcement was little surprise and little interest in buying one myself. In addition to teaching, I do some iPhone dev, mostly stuff I want to use as a teacher that no one has made yet. I heard that "Hot Seat App for Teachers" will run on the iPad out of the box, and thought that was cool. Soon, though, I started thinking of other things I wanted to do in the classroom that would be mindblowingly awesome with an iPad, and that got me thinking about all the cool stuff others would develop for the iPad. It's not a computer, but I don't see it as an eReader, either. It has a reader app from Apple. It will have the Kindle app, too. It will have indie reader apps. I think it will be great to read on, but that's why it will be good; the apps we haven't seen yet are why it will be awesome. Personally, I'm walking around seeing all kinds of things that pique a reaction that, "There should be an iPad app for that."

    I'm also excited about an education tablet for students. Netbooks are cheap, but try showing your work for a math problem or drawing something with it. There are apps for that, and better ones will come. Bottom line: it costs half as much as a laptop, and I can see having one per group in my classroom with some diligent grant-writing, and one-to-one is not an impossible dream. You can't do everything with these, but you can do a heck of a lot of exploring and creating.

    As for it being early, it sure is. Google will make one and the race will be on. The price will come down. I look forward to it, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to wait. It's just good that Apple products have such a good resale value.

    In the meantime, I need to find a justification for getting one of my own. Development model?

  6. Hmm, one iPad vs two netbooks. I'll take one netbook and see what happens next year.

  7. It is not about the ease of reading of is about wanting to use a digital device. Text is not hard to read on a is just an excuse not to use the text. I am weary of the complaint........

  8. I've been interviewing students about it for a couple of days, and reaction has been mixed. Most of the students at my school aren't really readers, so the idea of having a book-reader is iffy at best. One kid really wants to take notes on it, but I dont know that we have a sense yet of how easy books on the iPad will be.

    The closed system nature of the iPad is also an issue. I've been thinking about developing an iPhone app or two, but now I wonder if I should get the developers' kit and work on an iPad version of the program instead. Even if I do succeed, though, I'm in the awkward position of having only one relatively limited market, and having to go through a single merchant who decides whether or not I can sell it, and for how much.


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