iPad ShmiPad?

Is the iPad worth all the fuss? I think probably it is. It won’t be perfect out of the gate, but from my perspective, there is a need for a such a device… something to stand between SmartPhone and Power Computing. Especially if it can simultaneously provide two things particularly well with which those other two computing categories have difficulty: immersive experience and tactile usability.

And, of course, Apple has done it twice before.

The iPod

Granted, the iPod did not change my life. It did, however, put a large swath of my beloved music collection on my hip. That, in turn, frequently brightened my day, my car ride, my yardwork, etc. It can be argued that any mp3 player would have done the same. But, being a Mac user, the choice was mainly convenience and brand trust. And as I became a fan of podcasts, the iTunes store subscriptions became a further convenience. iPod designs have come a long way in a short time, and Apple has quickly learned from their mistakes. And all that led to a real revolution.

The iPhone

I resisted the iPhone until the 3G model appeared. Before that, I had a Blackberry, which I was loathed to use. I checked email only when stuck without a better option. The usability was horrendous. The support (particularly on Mac) was even worse. I finally relented — paying both the high iPhone price tag and the significant monthly plan upgrade. And, to my surprise, it actually did change the way I work and live. Significantly.

Now, so much of my life is tied to the iPhone. It’s my alarm clock throughout the day. It’s replaced my iPod as default mobile music player except on the longest of trips. I capture song ideas, ramble voice memos to myself or record on-the-spot audio for use in podcasts… all with 4Tracks Lite. I plan my tasks with Things; track my mileage with MileBug Lite; and I even spec website implementations and software development with MobiTracker as ideas strike me on the go.  And of course, I can check my email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and all that other social and networking stuff. The iPhone is even a decent stand-in for an eBook and PDF reader with the Stanza and Kindle apps.

The iPhone can pull a surprising amount of weight. But there are times when it begins to push its limits. I currently much prefer to deal with social networking and email correspondence on the laptop/desktop. The keyboard and screen real estate is just so much more efficient and practical. And while I hate (and I mean hate) reading eBooks on the laptop, the iPhone’s screen real estate is somewhat limiting here as well — as is its battery life.

The obvious limitations of the iPhone, because of its size, has lead Apple to the next stage.

The iPad

There is a ceiling of usability that the iPhone hits. And that’s where I see the iPad making a big difference in my life. Not just for reading electronic publications, but for reading blogs, interacting with communities and simply enjoying the web and multimedia. As a web developer, internet activity can be a big distraction to productivity. So I’d love nothing more than for my laptop/desktop time to be productive work time; my iPad time to be networking, social and leisure time; and my iPhone to fill in the gaps with the utilitarian, on-the-go applications it preforms so well. For me, I think it may be a contextual trifecta of computing… the best tool for each job.

I originally underestimated the power of the iPhone because I didn’t immediately recognize the power of the Apple App Store and 3rd party development. The variety and prevalence of the App Store is what ultimately sets that device apart from all other SmartPhones (time will tell if Android can do something similar). But, iPad detractors should be careful not to miss this point: allowing immediate access for the iPad to most of the iPhone applications — and then making the SDK easily modifiable for developers to take full advantage of the iPad interface with their existing apps — is, frankly, a masterstroke by Apple. And by doing so, they bolster not only iPad adoption, but continued development for the iPhone as well. Complain all you want about the iPad’s lack of e-ink technology… few will care. Apple aren’t trying to simply be a Kindle/Sony/B&N eReader competitor. They are trying to introduce an evolution in interface. While I don’t think it will change everything, I think time will show that there is a place for such a tablet.

There is a point between serious power-computing needs (programming, audio and video production, graphic processing, word processing, configurability, serious gaming, etc.) and the swiss army knife of simple mobile device applications. There are untapped benefits provided by a large, intimate, tactile application interface. Demos like the iWork preview for iPad gave us an indication of where this might go, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Imagine being able to comfortably sit anywhere and manage any number of interface-intensive applications by simply running multiple fingers across a touch screen. A good half of the applications I currently use on the iPhone and laptop will, I imagine, be far more convenient and usable on the iPad equivalents — especially when developers begin designing those applications specifically for the interface. Things, iCal, MobiTracker, etc. all can be made far more productive; movies, TV shows and screencasts can be much more intimate; social conversation can be much more engaging and fluid; interaction with music, photographs and art can be more immersive.

I’m excited to see what happens. And if I find the time, I may try my hand at an app or two myself. :)

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  • J Ryan Williams

    I am principal of Websuasion LLC, based out of Fayetteville, GA. We Develop Web and Mobile Applications, Produce Video and provide tools and methodologies for Responsible Brand Marketing.

    This blog tends to focus on the technical and conceptional aspects of our work with Ruby on Rails, iOS, DSLR video, the business process and a little branding discussion at times. I welcome your relevant comments, and if you have questions, feel free to speak up. For info on rates and service packages for Websuasion, please visit our Service Packages page.

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