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Why the iPad Is a Blank Slate, and Why That's Important

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Sure, Tonya and I were waiting impatiently for the UPS guy to deliver our iPad on Saturday, and as soon as we got it inside, we opened it up, connected it to a Mac, synced some apps and media to it, and started playing. We even took turns and didn't squabble about who got to do what. That's how you can tell we're adults.

(As an aside, I want to take a brief moment to thank long-time TidBITS reader Eolake Stobblehouse, who sponsored iPads for the entire TidBITS staff as a way of encouraging us to cover this new platform. Eolake's generosity is unprecedented, and we are all tremendously appreciative of his direct support of TidBITS in this fashion.)

But I don't want to tell you about our first few hours with the iPad. If you're following the iPad news, you've undoubtedly read the pre-release reviews from the likes of Walt Mossberg and David Pogue (upon whom Apple bestowed iPads before most other writers), watched an unboxing video (boring, since there isn't much in the box other than an iPad, its charging cable, and a power adapter), and followed the excited tweets of new iPad owners. Apple even announced that 300,000 iPads were sold on the first day, and iPad users downloaded over 1 million apps and over 250,000 books from the iBookstore during the first day. I can't add much to that at the moment.

No, what I want to tell you about is why the iPad is truly astonishing now, and why it's going to become all the more important in the future. With hindsight, I could perhaps have come up with these ideas before touching an iPad, but when Steve Jobs described it as "magical," he wasn't hyperbolizing (and if that's not a word, it should be).

Tonya and I weren't able to attend the iPad introduction event in January, so this was our first hands-on time with the iPad. Simply put, there is a certain magic to using the iPad that's nearly impossible to convey in words - you have to touch it to believe it. And that's key to why the iPad will be the future of computing, though even those words don't do justice to what I'm going to describe, now that "computing" is as much about games and socializing and hobbies as it is about using spreadsheets and databases and word processors.

Here's the thing that I've realized after using the iPad - it's a blank slate, a tabula rasa. With a computer, we talk about what it can do, what programs it can run, what peripherals can be connected to it. That's apt, since computers are general purpose devices - unlike ovens and vacuum cleaners - and can be programmed to do many different things. But no matter what application you run or peripheral you connect, you're still using a computer. To a certain extent that's because we've lived with computers for 30-plus years now - we know what they look like and what they can do.

The iPad is different in a subtle and special way. It's still a general purpose computer in a way that superficially similar devices like the Kindle are not. It can perform thousands of actions - nearly anything that has occurred to any competent programmer with a Mac and $99 for the iPhone Developer Program - while the Kindle can only display text and grayscale still images. The Kindle is a fancy piece of paper (and one that lacks many of the good aspects of paper), while the iPad is a computer, with all that implies. (For thoughts on the iPad from a developer, read Matt Neuburg's "The iPad: A Developer's Anti-Contrarian View," 5 April 2010.)

So what's the difference between a Mac and an iPad? It's that blank slate thing. No matter what you do on a Mac, the keyboard and mouse and window-based operating system make it impossible to ignore the fact that you're using a Mac, and it's often equally impossible to ignore the fact that you're using a particular program.

In contrast, the iPad becomes the app you're using. That's part of the magic. The hardware is so understated - it's just a screen, really - and because you manipulate objects and interface elements so smoothly and directly on the screen, the fact that you're using an iPad falls away. You're using the app, whatever it may be, and while you're doing so, the iPad is that app. Switch to another app and the iPad becomes that app. If that's not magic, I don't know what is.

For example, when you're using James Thomson's PCalc, the iPad becomes a super calculator. When you're using we-Envision's Art Authority, the iPad becomes a virtual art browser. When you're using the Netflix app, the iPad becomes a TV showing every movie and TV show Netflix can stream (at least when it works; one of three shows we tried failed for unexplained reasons). When you're using OmniGraffle, the iPad becomes a dedicated diagramming tool. Heck, Twitterrific on the iPad is more the embodiment of Twitter than Twitter's own Web site, and, amusingly, when you use Amazon's Kindle app, the iPad becomes a Kindle, or, to put it another way, a fancy piece of paper.

You might ask how this is different from the iPhone and iPod touch, and that's a good question, because the answers are different. The iPod touch is of course much more like the iPad than the iPhone is because, Stephen Colbert jokes notwithstanding, only the iPhone can make phone calls. But the iPod touch, cool as it is, doesn't become the current app in the same way because of its small size. The apps are so small and so many user interface compromises must be made that it's hard to forget you're using the iPod touch as a device. As our friend Ken Case of The Omni Group has said, size matters, which is why a swimming pool is not just a big bathtub.

And the iPhone? It is, first and foremost, a phone, and everyone knows it. No one can unlearn that fact, and thus, it's difficult to see the iPhone as anything else. It will always be a phone that can do other things. Couple that with the same size problem as the iPod touch faces and you can see that while the iPhone is indeed an amazing device that would have been science fiction a few years ago, it's one that we could have predicted based on knowing about computers and mobile phones.

So we're back to iPad as chameleon, morphing into whatever you want it to be. That's astonishing, but it also requires more imagination from customers. Switchers can justify buying a Mac because they can imagine how it works in comparison with a PC. iPhone buyers can justify the expense of an iPhone because they can imagine how it will be better than a normal mobile phone. And iPod touch buyers can, I believe, justify a purchase because they can imagine how it's like an iPhone, but without the phone, camera, and GPS. (Some iPod touch buyers see it more as a better PlayStation Portable handheld game device, I suspect.) In each case, there's an easy comparison.

The iPad faces a more difficult path. For the moment, it's not as good at email and Web browsing as a Mac. And Skype and other VoIP apps notwithstanding, it's not a phone like the iPhone. The type of people to whom it will most appeal, right now, are those who bought only the iPod touch, and while there are many millions of those people, will they feel the need to buy the iPad too?

Ironically, the feature that I initially thought would be a huge leg up for the iPad - its compatibility with most existing apps - is the most disappointing. That's because old apps that haven't been updated for the iPad can be viewed in 1x mode, where they show at the exact size of the iPod touch screen, or in 2x mode, where everything is scaled up to the iPad's screen size. In either case, the iPad's spell is broken with nearly every old app I tried - it was either awkwardly small or awkwardly bitmapped. Yes, the functionality was there, but at the moment, I'll bet that most people are not using an iPad instead of an iPhone or iPod touch, they're using it along with one, so replicating functionality isn't that important.

Luckily, I believe the physical existence of the iPad and the upcoming flood of iPad-savvy apps - remember, very few developers have been able to write iPad apps using anything but the iPad simulator - will help our imaginations learn to cope with its possibilities, and as more people grow accustomed to the idea, it will be easy to justify the purchase. Until then, there are a few situations where the iPad is utterly easy to justify.

In the near term, I cannot see anyone spending a few hundred dollars on a digital picture frame when a $499 iPad is shockingly better. (I'm sure we'll soon see a bunch of stands and wall hangers that help display the iPad in its full glory.) Why buy a Kindle DX for $489 when $10 more gets you an iPad that's far better in every way other than weight and reading in direct sunlight? The sales of portable DVD players will no doubt suffer, since the combination of an iPad and the iTunes Store is such an elegant solution to watching movies on the road. I'll even bet that the iPad starts to cannibalize iPod touch sales from those for whom the iPod touch's small size is not a benefit.

In the longer term, while few will replace a modern MacBook with an iPad, I believe families with desktop computers at home will seriously start to consider buying an iPad and keyboard for a child instead of a more-expensive MacBook. There will be a time and a place for a computer, and just as the laptops have become more popular than desktops (despite their compromises) because they fit our mobile lifestyles better, so too will the iPad (or its successors) start to replace the laptop in situations where a full-fledged laptop is overkill.

I also believe that families will buy one iPad at first, but fairly quickly add others, as contention for the device grows. It's not so much that one can't be shared physically, but that so many apps are personal, either in terms of storing your data (whether a document, a book, or even a location in a book) or connecting with a particular online account. With our iPad, Tonya and I have already butted heads briefly over Twitterrific; whose account should be logged in? It will only get worse, and we fully anticipate all of us having our own iPads within a few years.

So it's possible that the iPad won't change the world instantly, but as more people realize that it can be whatever they want, doing a better job than most single-purpose devices in the process, I think we'll see sales rise and Apple refine the iPad's hardware and software to create the ultimate blank slate that can meet ever more of our needs and desires.

 

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Comments about Why the iPad Is a Blank Slate, and Why That's Important

Michael Cohen  2010-04-05 09:55
"Hyperbolizing" actually IS a word! But there's nothing wrong with neologizing (also a word).
Adam Khan  2010-04-05 11:34
Without having iPad here yet in the UK, I'm making do with reading all about it instead. And finally, an explanation for Jobs's use of "magical".
Bertrand Morin  2010-04-05 12:15
Neologism and neologized are both correct, but both need a certain consensus before being eligible. Usually, neologism are accepted rapidly... if no existing word or expression are available. All too often, we neologized for no good reason.
Doug Lerner  2010-04-05 18:31
I had been thinking of getting an iPad as an easier-to-use email, photo album and something to read news on for my elderly mother.

But.. I am surprised that it is designed to require an entirely separate computer to set up, upgrade and sync to.

Why can't it set up itself? Why can't it upgrade itself? Why are there no "cloud" options or devices like Time Machine to offer alternative backups? Why does it require USB 2.0 (locking out my mother's older iBook and sister's older eMac?)

Basically, I'm disappointed that rather than offering an all-in-one-device alternative, the iPad is an expensive extra device, in addition to your computer and iPhone, that requires another computer to survive.

Can you imagine if they sold Macs that required a 2nd Mac just to set up and upgrade?

It seems very strange, and short-sighted to me.

doug
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 06:32
I think the reason is that it's an interim step - Apple is quite careful about mixing big steps (an entirely new device) and small ones (keeping it connecting to a familiar iTunes environment).

Apple is building a huge data center in North Carolina, and it seems entirely likely that we'll see more cloud-based support for devices like the iPad in the future, but we're just not there yet.

In the meantime, having a computer mediate certain activities ensures a better user experience, ranging from guaranteed backup to fast transcoding of video formats and even including things like playlist building that would be harder on a smaller screen.

So yes, it's coming, but not yet. Apple has to solve a variety of tricky problems first.
@doug - good points...i want one for my mother or father, as a replacement for the computer they dont have and are considering. i suppose i could set up an iPad and then hand it over, but...still, its weird.
Roger Brisson  2010-04-08 03:38
I really don't believe the "it will be a good computer for my grandmother" reasoning is accurate, I think grandma would be disappointed. The iPad is way too sophisticated a computer to serve this purpose, it is not a simpler version of one. Also, as the review and comments imply, it is fully intended to be a "satellite", or an appendage, to you primary computer, or "mothership" if you will. Once you recognize this you will see that Apple followed the logical consequences throughout the iPad's user experience. It has been designed as the ultimate extension to my iMac, it has been optimized for this purpose. For this reason it is decidedly not a standalone computer, or was intended to be one.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-08 06:36
I'm reserving judgment on this for now, because some of the aspects of using the iPhone OS are utterly non-intuitive and could prove difficult to learn for an elderly person.

But I do think the direct manipulation and single app at a time approach would make it much more feasible for someone to set up for an elderly relative to use for a few very specific tasks.

I did this for my grandparents with colored iMacs way back when, and it was tough, but I did things like having their email and Web programs launch at start up and be switchable via function keys. Anything to make it more "just push this button." The iPad embodies a lot of that, which could be good.

But pinching and zooming? Searching? Syncing specifics? All that will still be tough.
Tom Gewecke  2010-04-05 20:19
I agree with your contrast between the iPad and the iPod Touch -- the screen size does make a huge difference. But I am finding the weight of the iPad hard to get used to and quite distracting after the incredible lightness of the Touch. Making the iPad truly holdable with one hand would in my view make it even more magical.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 06:35
I've been thinking about that, and I'm not sure I agree. I don't hold anything heavier than a few sheets of paper - including magazines and paperbacks - without propping them up on something, either on my lap or on a table.

Don't get me wrong, lighter is always better and I'd love to see the iPad lose some weight. But I don't know how possible it is with that big glass screen.

I also believe that a case of some sort, to make the somewhat slippery case easier to grip, will be more important with the iPad than with the iPhone or iPod touch.
Michael Gibbs  2010-04-05 23:06
Adam sez: "And the iPhone? It is, first and foremost, a phone, and everyone knows it."

I don't agree. My iPhone replaced my Palm Tungsten and allows me to operate without having my MacBook Pro with me. I never gave up my Verizon RAZR because, well, everyone I know is on Verizon and they can talk to me without burning their minutes. When people wonder why I carry two phones I tell them I don't--I have a cell phone and a mobile internet device.

To me, the iPhone has always been my pocket computer. The phone function is just another app.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 06:42
Fascinating - you've avoided thinking about the iPhone as a phone by using it like a 3G-enabled iPad.
Clay Andres  2010-04-06 08:25
I agree with Michael Gibbs on this point, especially since we get spotty cell phone reception on our hillside. I use apps much more than the phone, though the telephony options make for a much more interesting a powerful set of apps.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 13:21
I agree with Michael. Maybe it's because Adam isn't very mobile in his computing, so (I'm assuming) when he's outside the office he really just needs the iPhone to be a phone, and when he's in his office he has his Mac.

For me, the question of the iPad is: "Where does it go?" I carry my iPhone everywhere, even when moving to different rooms in the house, precisely because I want to be able to check email or Twitter or whatever. The iPad is too big for that, but it's great for being outside the house and want to settle into a space (like a coffeeshop) without dragging out the laptop.

I think this physical-ness of the iPad is going to be fascinating to discover, in my use and others'.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 13:32
No, that's not quite it. I had an iPod touch before the iPhone, and it wasn't compelling to me exactly because it wasn't a phone. There was no reason to keep it in my pocket all the time, as I do with the iPhone, because it did nothing that made it essential to have with me. The iPhone gets carried because it's a phone, and if I don't have it with me, I'll miss phone calls.

I'm not saying there's anything bad about the iPhone here, just that its identity is largely wrapped up in the fact that it's a phone, and the iPad doesn't have that built-in identity.
I agree. Basically, in the home at least, the iPad has reverted my iPhone back into a....well, a phone.
That's what different. I carried my iPod Touch, then iPhone everywhere in the house. Now, I carry my iPad. I think it is the exact opposite: Great in the house, not something I carry to the supermarket, on errands, etc.

IMO, there is no competition between the two. At home, why squint, when I can sit back with a 9.7 inch screen. When running around, why carry the iPad.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 15:13
What's quite interesting about this thread is that I think of the iPhone as a phone even though I seldom use it as one. I currently have 4,829 rollover minutes.

Maybe I can convert them to frequent flyer miles? :-)
Damien  2010-04-06 22:45
That's how I use my "phone" mostly too. iPhone/Nexus One... well it can be used as a phone as well, but it's more of a mobile Internet device indeed...
Roger Brisson  2010-04-08 03:45
I agree that the iPad will not replace my iPhone. The latter is my all-purpose pocket computer that serves all my communication and information needs. It also has several apps that I use throughout the day. The iPad will replace my MacBook Pro for most of my mobile computing needs, however. With it being a third the weight and having three times the battery life, it will be with me in my bag wherever I go.
Ole Begemann  2010-04-06 02:15
Very good points, Adam. I believe Apple sees it in much the same way. And hence, if and when they will allow multiple apps to run at the same time in the future, I believe they will not steer away from the paradigm that the active app always takes up the whole screen. App switching will probably work in much the same way as it does now, via the home button (or perhaps a small button in the status bar).
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 06:43
Indeed - I can't see multitasking additions doing anything that will hurt the conceit that the iPad is the app while it's running.
A love letter to Apple that's not balanced with any criticism loses credibility in it's adoration. It becomes the apps? In other words they take over the screen. When I switch channels on the TV, the channel becomes the TV too.
At least note the dongles required or where do docs go that are created? You're willing suspension of disbelief, get interupted when you try to type with both hands or plug it into a monitor. More likely when your Keynote preso just had all it's fonts replaced cause the iPad is limited to 6 machine fonts.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 06:48
You might reread what I actually wrote, where I talk about how it's not as good at email and the Web as a laptop, how it can't make calls like an iPhone, how the vaunted compatibility with old apps is actually quite disappointing.

Your point about the keyboard interrupting the willing suspension of disbelief is apt, though, since even the virtual keyboard is a reminder that the iPad has not morphed into the app that's running. Suddenly you're reminded that you're on an iPad and need to type.

But I don't see any real alternative to getting a fair amount of text into an app for the foreseeable future; speech recognition is amazing technology, but it's hard even for people to understand other people sometimes, and computers will never be fabulous at it.
Spent an hour or so with it ourselves here

http://www.flickr.com/photos/huggerindustries/4489916151/

and here

http://bikehugger.com/2010/04/malarkey-and-pam.html

then it was present at the An Event Apart greenroom and the reception was, nice, huh, but definetly not being seen as extension of one's body like the iPhone is.

I'm excited too, but I also thought the Cube was it and though the iPod Boom Box was awesome too. What I'm saying is all this prognosticating needs to play out; My fav computer of all time is the Macbook Air and I just adore it for every reason that I'd expectedly adore the iPad, 'cept I can type on it really fast and plug in my DSLR and suck photos up into Aperture 3, and edit movies in iMovie, and I don't miss the DVD drive at all.

If we're expected a new category to emerge that we need to see what that is. Hey I can plug an iPad into Samsung's new line of refrigerators and play CNN while I make coffee. As it is, I think geeks sooo want the interfaces they'
Well damn it, my snappy retort loses some of it's MoJo when I don't see the character countdown and it gets truncated! What I was saying was, I think the UI is overwhelming practical senses from stopping and saying, "wait, it's an IMAP email reader, but doesn't have folders." Or where do docs go that I just created? It's a compromised device for the sake of of touchiness and that's entirely OK, but just recently we thought Segways we're going to change how cities were built.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-06 08:25
Oh, I understand, and I agree, which is why I said "it's possible that the iPad won't change the world instantly."

But it's also too easy to be cynical about everything - to move forward we have to allow ourselves that childish sense of wonder when seeing a device like the iPad, and allow for the fact that even Apple doesn't want you to think of it as a replacement for a MacBook right now.

Let's just live with it on its own terms, and see if it finds a role in our lives, rather than trying to force it to meet preconceived notions of what it should do.
Exactly let's see what this device category becomes. I mean, I certainly am doing that with Apple TV and I'll tell you it's not Boxee.
Mike Kirby  2010-04-06 09:43
"And the iPhone? It is, first and foremost, a phone, and everyone knows it. No one can unlearn that fact, and thus, it's difficult to see the iPhone as anything else. It will always be a phone that can do other things. " Disagree, and agree with previous poster somewhere above: The iPhone has always been a palmtop, fits-in-your-pocket computer that happens, among many other things, to make phone calls. That's why it was such a roaring success. That's the very problem I see with the iPad... it's similar to an iPhone, but won't make calls, and certainly doesn't fit in a pocket.

"In contrast, the iPad becomes the app you're using. That's part of the magic" Oh, you mean the same magic that was found in the original 1984 Mac, which was advanced past as soon as the technology allowed? Interesting way of reframing a drawback as an advantage, but to me, you're really reaching. I've never heard of multitasking being described as a drawback before.

Travis Butler  2010-04-06 19:45
I take nothing away from the iPhone, which was and is a wonderful device. But have you never been frustrated with the small screen size? Never? Pan and zoom is done better than on any mobile device I've ever used, but it's still pan and zoom. It gets frustrating over extended periods, in certain circumstances, on many websites - and that's not counting the areas where it really doesn't work at all, like looking at a large image where you really need to see both the overview and the fine details at the same time. Or trying to VNC into a home computer that's set up for even minimal working resolution these days.

And sorry, but I think trying to use the original Mac as an analogy is what's really reaching; the Mac may have been trying to be an 'appliance,' but it was still very much a computer, with a small but still bulky case, a keyboard, a mouse. Not a little device you carry around in your hand, where the screen is the entire device.
Never heard of multitasking as a drawback? Wow, it's decades old knowledge.

Multitasking: doing several things at one time horribly instead of one thing at a time wonderfully. Multitasking is a major lack of focus. No matter how many apps you have running at one time on a computer, you are personally interacting with only one at a time.

Your duely-pickup truck has the hitch and power for pulling that fifth-wheel. Your go-around-town automobile is great for trips to the grocery store and library, but it shouldn't need to pull the fifth-wheel. Get with the program already and quit trying to mix large amounts of cookie batter in your micro-blender instead of the macro-Kitchen-Aid-blender.

The Home button _is_ the App Switcher, and each screen is a Dock. Consolidate the apps you're likely to switch between onto each screen, as sparse or collected as needed for ease of switching without need for swiping.

It's not the iPad who has the problem with multitasking, it's people.
Clay Andres  2010-04-06 14:10
Like me, I'm sure you're often asked by friends to explain the latest technology. It usually starts with "should I buy one?" I like being asked and I like giving answers in a helpful way, but it has been hard for me to explain the iPad to my curious friends. In fact, I've been unable to express it as elegantly as you have in this article. At the same time, your deeply personal, thoughtful, and far-thinking insights make this one of the most interesting "first impressions" articles I've read. So often, it takes a transparently personal view to bring meaning a discussion, and I think most writers, especially journalists, avoid it because it makes one so vulnerable. In fact, not only did you manage to express what I've been feeling and thinking, but you did it with such articulateness and grace, that I actually found it rather moving.

Thanks and now I'm going to forward this article to all sorts of people so that I don't have try to write what you've already said with such clarity.
I agree, just not with the takes the device over analogy. I don't think it's immersive, since you're touching it and all. When I pedal my bike the wheels take over. When I plunge toast into a toaster, the elements take over. Here's the deal, Marvel Comics fascinating does not outweigh "where the #$%^ are the docs" I just created and Apple doesn't get a pass because the UI is so magnificent.
laurence  2010-04-06 18:24
well, yes, because a slice of bread and a bike are both physical objects that you can interact with in the physical world.

when you can start to physically interact directly with a web page, or your photos, and physically hand them to someone else to show them something, it changes the way that you think about them.

up until now, that sort of interaction is removed by a layer of abstraction. you move around a mouse, which is physically in a different location to the data with which you are interacting with. data which, by the way, doesn't really exist in any physical sense except in little lights on a screen in front of you.

it exists no more on the ipad than on a computer, but it feels like it exists because you're touching it and moving it and stretching it and flicking it directly, and it behaves like a physical object should when treated in the same manner.

it's like the difference between watching a video of someone riding a bike and you actually riding one yourself.
Chris UK  2010-04-06 14:51
I have to say that a lighter Macbook Pro with a touch, and possibly flip-over, screen would include the wider range of features mentioned above and at the same time bring some of the new tactile benefits of the iPad. I'm not even in the ballpark of beginning to get excited like I would normally about an Apple product.
Travis Butler  2010-04-06 19:50
Not in the slightest. This is going down the same route that's been a failure for Microsoft and its various stabs at Tablet PCs, for a decade. A desktop UI on a touchscreen tablet just *doesn't work* for all but a small group of enthusiasts, as I think the total lack of presence outside a few niches amply demonstrates. To be successful on a touchscreen tablet, you have to design for a touchscreen tablet, from a clean slate. Existing apps designed for a desktop work like crap on a tablet, and I say this as someone who had to design Filemaker layouts for use on Tablet PCs.
Chris UK  2010-04-07 12:44
I wouldn't suggest that a comparison with Microsoft is a like for like one. In any case, the downfalls of other operating systems are an opportunity for competitor's learning. One reason why I made the suggestion was based on how many times I have read in recent weeks that a physical keyboard was essential for more than casual entry. I also think that Apple have the capability to innovate beyond your paradigm "...you have to design a tablet from a clean slate." I do think that ultimately we will see a successful hybrid solution.
Travis Butler  2010-04-07 18:08
I'm not sure if you're talking about hardware or software here. Your original description of a touch-screen MacBook Pro sounds like you want the full OS X on this hybrid tablet, and if so my opinion is unchanged; if you're going to make a touchscreen the primary interface, you need to throw out your GUI and start from scratch, because traditional desktop apps simply *suck* on a tablet, no matter how many 'touch features' you try to layer on top. To get the benefits of a touchscreen interface, you need to design for it from the ground up.

If you're talking about just adding a hardware keyboard to something like the iPad... eh. I imagine there's some who'd find it useful, but I suspect it'll be just like the various 'iPhone killers'; after experimenting with slide-out keyboards in the beginning, the 'standard' Android config seems to be settling down to all-touchscreen, with the exception of the Droid and the Backflip. The extra bulk/weight/complexity isn't worth it for most people.
Chris UK  2010-04-08 14:01
I appreciate you have a different opinion to mine, and it's interesting reading your view, but I have not read anything here to persuade me to change mine.

It's fair to say that I haven't expressed or considered the detailed challenges of such an innovation. I'm speaking purely an "end user" and as such I would very much appreciate an Apple product that was designed with the flexibility and freedom to enable me to choose how I interacted with it. If you are asking me whether such a device would require a redesign of hardware and software, then my answer is, to some degree, yes, it probably would. Would I see this as being insurmountable in the way you appear to describe it? No. The iPhone was / is the exemplar of such market changing and innovative thinking.

Clearly, the design of such a device would need to be very well considered. I believe with continuing technological advancement, effort and vision, most of the constraints you list as prohibitive could be overcome.
David Stone  2010-04-06 17:27
I would like to get one for my daughter instead of a Mac as Adam suggests, but the software she uses at her school (mathletics and intrepica) is built almost completely in flash, so the iPad would be useless. Flash is very big in educational software unfortunately. The same problem is going to face schools (at least the early years) considering these for a student rollout.
laurence  2010-04-06 18:18
i think we'll see a huge progression away from flash based software towards objective-c based software for these sorts of things in the coming years. i know this isn't a huge help for you right now, though.

it's already happened in the medical industry, in which the ipad has been hotly anticipated.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-07 04:26
I think Laurence's point is well made. Most of the uses of Flash that I know of are because they were expedient, not because the developers have any religious need to use Flash. If the iPad becomes popular (and probably even if it doesn't, given the reach of the iPhone and iPod touch), those uses of Flash will be recreated as apps.
Maarten Hazewinkel  2010-04-07 05:51
Adobe also recognizes the desire to move Flash apps to the iPhone.
The supply a packager that exports a Flash project as an iPhone app.
laurence  2010-04-06 18:16
on the whole requiring-another-computer-to-set-up-the-ipad issue, i actually like this about it. quite a bit, actually.

i currently have an imac and a macbook, and the ipad can do everything that i currently use my macbook for, except the abilities to weight twice as much and run through power three times as fast.

i'm a student, and use my macbook to do assignments and whatnot when i'm out and about, which i use my imac for when i'm at home. trying to keep documents, images, and galaxies of other information synced between the two isn't a lot of fun.

when the ipad is released in australia, i'll be buying one immediately, because it will solve this problem, along with quite a few others.

i agree that the ipad is the direction that apple is trying to take Modern Computing(tm), but this only adds to the ipad's usefulness as a peripheral for the current computing allegory right now
MCWitt  2010-04-06 18:18
A decade ago, I religiously used my Newton much as you're describing the iPad. It was a new device each time the program changed - an infinitely deep notepad, a word processor with spreadsheets and database, a richly connected calendar and project manager. What allowed it to multitask, in a sense, was the shared data soup. I could manipulate information across programs - all sorts of ways of linking address book information to notes and more. Yes, of course, it couldn't keep up with the 'net, but they tried - o did they succeed, too. Wow.

My point is that a small-ish device with a dedicated one-window interface can successfully morph in the way Adam describes. It does work. And once the hardware is defined by its software, it liberates your thinking away from tweaking with the hardware and allows you to worry about working with your own ideas - not the computer.
Orenge  2010-04-06 19:22
Great discussion. My only point of disagreement:

I do think the iPad offers a better Web-browser than the Mac (or Windows).

Not for every person in every situation, of course, but for most people in most situations, the speed, comfort, ease and flexibility of iPad browsing just cannot be beat. The browser IS the killer app for me.

After using Safari on iPad for even a short time, mousing around a cluttered, top-heavy desktop browser, scrolling with a wheel and aiming with an arrow, suddenly seems primitive and even frustrating.

(Of course if what you want is your favorite Flash game, then no. The browser is not better. So find that game on the App Store and when the iPad "becomes" that favorite game, it will again prove better than the desktop! Because many popular Flash games are in the App Store--and cheap, to boot.)
Gerald Oh  2010-04-06 19:32
When I played with it at BestBuy on the AM of Day 1, my first thought was that "it's not as big as I thought." My second thought was that BestBuy needed to get more cool apps on it, esp. Marvel Comics :-)

But, I digress -- I got a chance to play a car racing game, and -- I suck at car games on small screens normally -- it was remarkably immersive to 'steer' using the whole iPad. There is a fine-ness of control that is not possible using the much smaller iPhone.

One reservation with getting one -- waiting on 3G -- is that the whole 'ITunes as mothership' concept needs more refinement for the iPad. For e.g., getting video on the iPhone today -- converting to the right size / format when it already plays fine on an albeit much larger PC / Mac screen -- is very time-consuming (i.e. Handbrake). The SD card adapter for the iPad is a small step in the right direction for photos.

For extended travel, there needs to be a better answer than having to sync with iTunes.
Jack Hayes  2010-04-07 12:00
Not really intended as a reply to Gerald's post but rather his comment about trying it at Best Buy... Yesterday I finally happened to get to play with the iPad at my local Best Buy. After that experience, I clearly understand why Apple stores exist. They (BB) had 4 iPads available to play with but for the most part they were loaded with iPhone apps, not iPad apps. No iBooks, no movies, no cool iPad apps other than those provided by Apple. Also, no sample accounts set up in mail or iTunes.

The iPads were heavily finger printed (no one wiping them off), they were monopolized by kids playing games, and the only gentleman attending the Apple section never once even acknowledged my presence although (I believe...) it was far more likely I'd be buying an iPad (mature casually but conservatively dressed adult male...) than the kids playing games. Bottom line -- a less than stellar intro to the iPad. Thank goodness I have places like the Apple store or Tidbits for accurate info and help!
Glenn Fleishman  2010-04-06 20:07
Heretic, here: part of the immersive feel of the iPad is that it has a large screen, but you can only do one primary foreground activity at a time, having to create a full interrupt to context shift (literally and mentally) to change tasks.

That might be good. That's the heretic part.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-07 04:28
There are times when I'm flipping back and forth among several different programs and feel highly productive because of it, but it also happens that the ability to multitask on a Mac means that I have trouble buckling down and doing one thing that needs to be finished. So heretical, perhaps, but also perhaps more aware of our meatspace limitations.
good balanced article.

having a desktop, laptop and an iphone, i should really be one of those who say 'this does not fit into my life' and, 'what can it do that my other devices cannot' (as many other reviews say i should justify it). my use case is for helping present ideas unobtrusively to clients (using omnigraffle), and for kicking back on the sofa for browsing while watching tv - it doesnt have to do the same as my other devices, just augment them in a good way.

in the uk, we have to wait a few weeks for this, so decent reviews are my current fodder...oh, and for a 'different' unboxing, see http://vimeo.com/10657964
When I first saw the iPad and iWork on it I thought it would be perfect for my 11 year old son. Then my wife saw the Oscar night commercial for the iPad and she was looking forward to the machine as well. We have an order in for the 3G but when we walked into Best Buy over the weekend just to see the thing in person my wife was so taken by the thing that we walked out with a 16 Gb WiFi version for her. So far she's been very possessive of the thing and has now been cured of her allergy to technology.
Jack Hayes  2010-04-07 11:42
Adam, your excellent thought piece brings two questions to my mind:

1. Your thoughts on multiple user accounts? I'm interested in getting an iPad 3G for the family. We all have iPhones and I can clearly see the utility of a separate phone for each person. For the iPad, I think the ability to have multiple separate and distinct accounts on the same shared device would be helpful, much as you and Tanya have discovered while engaged in Twitter warfare.

2. Your thoughts on using the iPad while docked? Clearly, the keyboard makes typing easier, but how about moving and selecting objects. Without having actually tried it, it seems that trying to select on-screen interface elements while the iPad is in the keyboard dock would be awkward. Perhaps a coupled Bluetooth mouse (so you could select things horizontally) while using the keyboard dock would be helpful. That could make it more into the traditional workhorse desktop device while docked and mobile media device while undocked...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-07 13:13
Good questions, Jack.

Although I agree entirely that user accounts would be useful on the iPad for families, I'll be a little surprised if we see them, simply because it's a slight pain point that would probably result in families buying multiple iPads. Apple likes that. :-)

As far as using the iPad while docked, I have only a few minutes experience so far, since our iPad Keyboard Dock and iPad Dock just arrived today. But my initial impression is that it's still easy to use the multitouch interface with one finger (less so with multiple fingers, I suspect). The iPad's orientation while docked works well for viewing and interaction (and I'll bet Apple put a lot of research into that angle).

One thing I noted while typing on the iPad Keyboard Dock is that it (or at least the Notes app) does a good job at supporting all the keyboard selection and editing commands we're used to, so Option-Delete deletes a word left, Command-Delete deletes a line, and so on. It worked really well.
Scott Rose  2010-04-07 11:46
Thanks, Adam, for this great piece. I talk about similar "magical" iPad features in my video here:
The 5 Major Breakthroughs of the iPad
Roger Brisson  2010-04-08 03:58
Virtually all the negative comments here are a result of the false expectations on the part of sophisticated computer users. IMAP folders, multiple user accounts, folder or file management, multitasking, numerous ports for every need, these are all the expected features of a full-blown computer, which the iPad was never intended to be. If you want these things in a mobile computer then you want a Tablet PC of the Windows variety. I for one don't need any of these things for my mobile computing needs, if I wanted them I would be satisfied with my MacBook Pro. But I'm not--the MBP is too heavy to have with me all the time, the battery life is so so, it syncs very poorly with my iMac (I'm constantly comparing and copying over files, etc.), and I almost never use the DVD drive. For me the iPad is the ideal mobile computing device, it's a virtual extension of my iMac.
A blank slate? Finally, a real-sized electronic scratch pad!
With that screen real estate and the capacitive screen, soon somebody's gonna write a good handwriting (recognition) app.
Tereza  2010-04-08 07:34
"... we fully anticipate all of us having our own iPads within a few years."

In a few years -- when I can afford it -- I anticipate having several (of the successors of) iPads: at the dining table, at my bedside, at my desk, in the car. I will expect them to sync with the cloud and to know me by my fingerprint or voice.
"In contrast, the iPad becomes the app you're using ... You're using the app, whatever it may be, and while you're doing so, the iPad is that app. Switch to another app and the iPad becomes that app. If that's not magic, I don't know what is."

Fascinating that this is magical. I wonder if this is a big revelation to Mac users, who are accustomed to working in its window environment with its dozens and dozens of cluttered windows. I recently switched from a PC to Mac at work and find the windowing cluttered by comparison. On a PC, I'm used to working with fully-maximized windows (not in the + green button Mac sense, but in the PC sense of 100% of your screen real estate, with task bar/dock hiding). When using my web browser (Chrome), I nearly always use full screen view (F11). So I'm used to 100% of my screen being the app. Always.

So when I played with a friend's iPad I didn't get the same sense of magic. It's a great device. But it's only magical if you've not seen the trick before.