February 3, 2010
Ever since Apple announced the iPad on Jan 27, the media and social networks have been buzzing with speculation and opinions about whether or not this new device will be a hit or a miss. But why are people giving it so much attention? What’s the big deal?
This idea isn’t new, tablet computers have been around for years and serve their purpose in niche markets. But the problem with them is that until now they’ve been clunky and awkward to use.
In terms of hardware, they’ve been heavy, bulky and their screens aren’t great. For software, unless the applications running on them are designed to handle the simple and coarse input from a finger on the screen, the user is relegated to using a stylus and fighting with a clunky operating system (usually Windows) that is intended to be used with a mouse and keyboard. For most people a laptop computer is just easier to use because it has these devices and is pretty much the same size and weight of existing tablet PCs.
Apple’s innovation with the iPad is not only that they’ve made the tablet small and light enough to be actually enjoyable to hold and use, but also that it uses an operating system designed from the ground up to be touch-based. This means no tiny x’s to close windows, or no windows at all for that matter. Simplicity is the key factor. Anyone with an iPhone or iPod Touch will understand this concept.
Because it’s so simple, some might argue that the iPad is simply a larger iPod Touch. They’re right, it pretty much is. But it is due to its larger size that makes the iPad so much more useful. The iPod Touch is an incredibly useful device, but what it gains in portability, it loses in usability. The browser on an iPod Touch or iPhone is pretty small and requires constant pinching and panning to view even the simplest web sites. A larger screen allows the full page to be displayed and much easier input. Applications built for the iPod Touch or iPhone are limited in screen real estate which prevents them from being truly useful. Most apps on these devices are more for viewing information remotely than they are for actually creating content. A larger screen opens the door to a whole new frontier of applications and uses. Games will be more interactive. Utilities will have more information. Productivity tools will be more useful and productive. All because more can be displayed on the screen at the same time.
So form really plays an important part in this device. It needs to be big enough and easy enough to use that anyone can just pick it up and use it without really thinking about it. Just like reading a book, which brings me to my next point: content. The iPad will likely do for books, magazines and newspapers what the iPod did for music. That is, it will make it convenient and readily available to anyone, anywhere and for much less than a hardcopy. Periodicals like magazines and newspapers could be delivered automatically over wireless to the iPad when they’re published. They will be the full colour version, complete with the layouts and designs that make many periodicals so enjoyable to read. All of this becomes readily available in digital form, instantly. This is pretty big.
Aside from all the hype as to whether or not the iPad will be the next big thing, like the iPod or iPhone, I think it’s safe to say that the high level of excitement about this new technology is justified. Apple has taken the concept of a tablet that’s been around for a while and made it more convenient, enjoyable and simpler to use. This, coupled with easy access to digital content, will be what drives their device into the hands of many. But even if the iPad itself doesn’t catch on, the bar is now set for others producing devices in this area like Amazon’s Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. Digital content in a small and useful e-reader is the future, and Apple seems to be leading the pack.