To iPad Or Not To iPad,That Is The Question

February 1, 2010

OK, first off, apologies to William Shakespeare for my paraphrasing the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet.

Next, let me say that I am neither an Apple fanboy nor a hater – I am largely agnostic where it comes to the Mac vs PC debate/war, since I can usually see both the good points and the warts afflicting each platform.

But Apple has become much more than a computer company, and while it has competition in each of the markets it’s in, I don’t think there is a single homogeneous, integrated alternative source for the range of products and services they have introduced – let me know if you can name one that I may not have considered.

And with the recent introduction of the iPad, and the attendant media frenzy (in both professional and community generated content), I’ve been thinking about the good points and the warts of the iPad (and similar products, like the recently announced exoPCa Canadian product, BTW) and whether it’s a game-changer or not.

There seem to be pretty much two camps on either side of a wide divide:

  • Those who seemingly have “drunk the Kool-Aid” and feel it is the most brilliant thing ever introduced, which will fill a gaping void in their lives that they hadn’t realized existed until Steve Jobs showed it to them; and
  • The “Emperor’s New Clothes” crowd, who are fuming over what the iPad is not but should have been, in their opinion – excoriating Jobs and Apple for what they feel are unforgivable omissions in hardware (e.g. no webcam, no USB ports) or software capabilities (e.g. no support for Adobe Flash, no multitasking of applications).

Now I haven’t had the benefit of actually trying out an iPad (note to Steve, if you’d like me to evaluate one and give you some well reasoned feedback, let me know and I’ll tell you where to ship one 🙂 ) so I don’t feel qualified to comment on how well it does the things it was designed to do, like using multi-touch gestures – I will say that in the videos I’ve seen, it appears quite responsive and, let’s face it, they’ve had some time to get that part of it right since that was introduced with the iPod Touch and further refined with the iPhone and the multi-touch trackpads on recent Apple laptops.

But one post I read, by Hugh McGuire in The Huffington Post, was titled “Why the iPad Matters” and it struck a chord with me.  And here’s the epiphany: the iPad is a computer for people who do not want a computer.

In Hugh’s article, he writes about how the iPad will be the tool that gets computers into the hands of people like his mother – people who are not interested in computers or technology per se but who could benefit from the things computers and technology can be used for, if only the tools weren’t so, you know, technical and difficult to use (the “flashing 12” syndrome).

So here’s what I think: the iPad will not replace mainstream personal computers, either on the desktop or for mobile computing.  It’s too limited for that, and I don’t see that as a bad thing, really.

If you need to produce content (using that term in the broadest possible way – text documents, spreadsheets, multi-media presentations/slideshows, audio, video, vector or bitmap graphics, etc), you won’t be doing it (at least not in any major way) on an iPad.  There are too many existing tools – hardware and software, on all flavours of platform – that do these things really well for the iPad to supplant them.

What it, and the inevitable follow on iPad versions and imitators from other companies, will do is open up the online world to the group of people who, figuratively speaking, don’t want to know how to set the clock on their VCR.

As long as it lets them access content (as well as the web, music and video, I think that “content” will include things like e-mail, Twitter and IM in this context) and interact with that content in a simple, intuitive and predictable fashion (giving a “flashing 12” user a plethora of ways to accomplish a given task is a UX recipe for disaster, IMHO, particularly if they’re not consistent across all of the apps), then it will be all the computer they need – and none of the computer they don’t want (er, sorry for the double-negative there – honestly, I do know how to write… it’s just that it really fits there 🙂 ).