The iPad is, yes quite probably, a great product.
Steve Jobs I salute you and all who sail with you at 1, Infinite Loop. I might even buy one when you give it a USB port.
Let’s restate what I like about this object with more qualification. Conventionally speaking, it makes no sense. It has a single-tasking architecture that runs counter to everything we’ve been told about chips and operating systems for a generation. It has no easy way of attaching peripherals like hard disks, and it doesn’t seem to be well adjusted to some of the things it is supposed to be used for (reading eBooks, watching movies).
Ok, what’s good about it. Apart from tearing a small rip in the false consciousness of the Apple faithful (come on, Apple laptops are just fancy computers at nearly twice the price of a marginally inferior PC), it seems to me to forge a new direction for what computers are, and what they are for. It’s a primitive knowledge device, not a computer.
It’s a roughly-hewn vision I grant you, and most of what’s in the iPad is not original. But just as a human and a chimp share vast amounts of underlying DNA, despite only one being able to paint an Edward Hopper, so the iPad is a vital re-ordering of stock bits and pieces that have been around for years that seems vitally, surprisingly new.
You can create and store hand-written knowledge on it as you could with the super-expensive pen computers nobody could afford. You can store, organise and consume, however eye-strainingly, books, something laptops and PCs have barely even tried to do. You can use it with or without a keyboard. You can store images and videos on it and view them at a reasonable size. Try doing that on a PC if you don’t have the correct filter of unzip utility.
Best of all, it runs the mini-apps we all suspect will prove more satisfying than the monolithic software we’ve been saddled with for years. So instead of buying one massive app that costs you $150 and frustrates the hell out of you, you buy ten smaller apps that actually do what you want at $10 a go. Many of them are very good which is why the iPhone has done so well.
The grey truth is that computers seem to me to have become stuck in a model of computing that’s barely moved on in a quarter of a century, and which exists to flog over-powered microprocessors to people to run needlessly complex operating systems running over-priced applications most ordinary mortals find opaque. What people need is simplicity but what they get is far from that.
Many companies have tried to move the model and failed to change much, see the network computer, the Linux netbook, the PDA, and even perhaps the iPhone. In trying to take computers back to basics, to tame their numbing complexity, we’ve ended up with something dumb, compromised or just plain expensive.
To me, the iPad’s genius is that it is part computer, part display device where previous challenges have tended to be one or the other. Media players are just media players but cost the same as an iPad. Netbooks run boring applications and Windows and have become steadily more expensive over time. The iPad, meanwhile, has a simple interface and doesn’t demand much of the user.
Some people want it to multi-task, others to include an HDMI socket. I’d be happy with a USB, but by the time that turns up on version 2.0 we’ll have a better idea whether my enthusiasm for this over-sized iPhone box of tricks is shared by the rest of the world.
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