so excited was i (weren’t we all?) to hear about a new category of product yesterday when apple was due to unveil their game changer. too long, computer-based products have relied on a learning curve, whether light or steep, in order to be used at all. new language always needs to be learned whatever your age, sophistication or operating system allegiances. as opposed to the appliances we use everyday, from the phone to the dishwasher to the car, they just work and are usually operated, even on the first try, with minimal instructions. i was hoping that what el jobso would reveal was such an appliance which would signal the beginning of the end for computers as we now know and hate them.
as the kidz say, FAIL.
in the interest of fairness, and to one’s surprise who regularly visits these pages, it is hard to find a more hysterical, one-sided apple apologist than me. this fruit company, whatever their missteps in the past or present, always has, in my nut-sized mind, had its priorities straight in that it does not consider design a marketing tool but a foundational one, in that human interface guidelines are based on behavior that is, as much as possible, existing, in that they understood early, perhaps the first multinational to do so, that design is not how something looks but how something works. from product to product they have astounded us with refined merchandise that, for better or worse, enhanced what we were already doing. from productivity to communication, apple products have provided solutions not simply to technological problems but living problems, leading us to the closest pizzeria when we feel hungry rather than include features because they can. and that is where, in my opinion, the iPad is a surprising and out of character lost opportunity.
the biggest piece of information we were waiting for from our elected mass futurologists, even before any device was unveiled, was “why do i need it?” or, as a close second, “what is it for?” again, uncharacteristically, steve did not deliver on a crucial point that he never fails to make clear at every keynote: function, the avowed core value of the company, the one that differentiates it from all others. without a clear function, we are left with thousands of people rightfully wondering “i have a laptop, i have an iPhone, why do i need an iPad?” if it were a new product in an existing category, we would then have been told, in the strongest language available, that what had come before could not possibly get the job done. if they are creating a category, as steve claimed to do, we were owed a definition at the very least. if the plan was to let us decided for ourselves, the plan backfired. indeed, the fact that there is no visible file structure, nowhere to put files where they can be retrieved, no possibility of attaching peripherals and no real working apps, makes it impossible for it to be considered a productivity machine. also, the fact that there is very little communication connectivity such as phone capability, sms or video conference seriously scales back its mobile ambitions. so where does it belong?
as i see it, this is a living room product, one that you leave on the coffee table, to share between members of a family that already has heavily invested in media of all kinds and would profit tremendously from a lightweight product to simply play it, not centralize it since the hard drive capacity is too poor. in this light, apple’s investment in lala as an alleged digital locker from which you would stream content that apple knows you own would make perfect sense. in a way, playing the hand that netbooks never correctly dealt. think of it simply as a player, for lack of a better device term, that awaits your content to come alive. but if that is so, why then spend time and money developing iWork for iPad? as a heavy keynote user myself, i do not see being able to program the complex presentations i craft through touch, something that is hard and time-consuming enough with all the handy shortcuts afforded the desktop version. the self-appointed, and badly in need of a new moniker, road-warrior will need to look elsewhere. especially since, from what i can see, no apps currently available allows full-featured work to take place. i guess that could change.
in fact, per this post’s title, the iPad is on par with all the half-baked devices out there that claim to be Personal Digital Assistants, a category invented long ago by, isn’t that interesting, apple while john sculley was in charge… even though it does so with exponentially more elegance and hopefully more speed, the iPad is a newton. oh shit… the iPad is a newton! and as a newton, i do not see why it should now be easier to find a place for it in our lives where it once couldn’t. as a great straddler of categories, one of which did not exist in newton’s time, the iPad has an enviable form factor to be sure, beautifully polished applications that would make tibor tear up which i hope will eventually find their way to the desktop but without the ability to do something as basic as having two of them open at the same time, how can i ever consider this product essential to my admittedly digital lifestyle? i can’t, this is a luxury product deceptively priced as a bargain, which it happens to be. whereas the iPhone was an important product, first priced as a luxury. and as sure as i am that the good people at apple know what they are doing, i stand here confused. ok, not really, i’m actually sitting.
more questions pop up the more i think about it… why god why will i have to buy and carry multiple adapters to be able to input stuff in this thing? i understand the need for design purity but then why not include wireless transfer if you will not allow peripherals? you did for the macbook air, didn’t you? also, this was in my mind the perfect opportunity to be a friendship maintainer, as in having the ability to ichat video anyone, from anywhere. why doesn’t it have a front-facing camera? photosensors still too expensive? really?! no, i’m asking because my coffee machine has a camera. no, really. will i be able to send a document to a wireless printer? why, of all things, is handwriting recognition not supported on this device which could usher in a new era of note-taking, of idea-sketching, of sharing hastily written drafts between devices? why is the hd display of my dreams dwarfed by an amateurish-at-best 1024 x 768? why is the standby screen not filled with critical information such as weather, latest email and sms previews as well as iCal events without my having to go through login and multiple clicks to find?! and, finally, why is this just a giant iPhone?!
that is perhaps my biggest gripe, which is a conceptual one. this needed to be a “bridge” device, something that didn’t simply replicate features and behaviors from other devices but invented new ones the way the iPhone suddenly let us navigate our world in ways we didn’t know we wanted to. this needed to be able to receive, transmit, allow us not to work but to organize all that we already possess. especially if you live, as i do, in an apple ecosystem, from desktops to laptops to apple tv, i am astounded how little these effectively communicate with each other so that i may watch in hd on my giant tv something i just downloaded on my iPhone. now, instead of a facilitator, we have a fourth device with its own resolution, own problems and own quirky operating system. this needed to be an always-on appliance, as i said in the beginning, that just lets you unite, not further divide, you digital life. is it possible, perhaps too simplistically, that this should have been an os x machine and not and iPhone os? is it probable that the hard and quick working pwners of the world will soon make it possible peek at what might have been?
that said, i cannot wait to hold one in my hands and for the oft-mentioned magic to take hold. it will, i’m sure of it, compensate for all that it is not. reading magazine looks perfect, email looks perfect, calendars look perfect. maybe this really is the filofax replacement i’ve always wanted… and the fact that this device will come alive with developer involvement fills me with hope. but i sure wish it were different, not necessarily more, just different.