Along with some 300,000 other people, I bought an Apple iPad on Saturday. But before I say anything else, let me make one thing clear: I am no MacHead. I have not purchased an Apple product since my Mac Quadra 605 in 1994. I did buy a Power Computing Mac clone in ’96 and was thoroughly annoyed when Steve Jobs stuck a knife in the clone business upon his return as “interim” (!) CEO in 1997. So annoyed in fact that I went completely PC with my next purchase and never looked back (if you don’t count my iPod and I don’t).
Well, let’s just say that I am looking now. Believe the hype. The iPad is an incredible device.
Some Important Background
Before I start to gush, I want to give you some background. I think it is important for you to know where this “review” (rave?) is coming from.
My wife’s Dell laptop is Precambrian and has been problematic for over a year now. I flattened it and reinstalled every 3 or 4 months just so we could limp by. But when the HD went the other day, we decided not to bother with a repair but a total replacement.
Most of her online time is spent surfing and doing email. Lots of couch computing. Reading in bed. That kind of thing. We immediately thought “netbook” for the replacement and she scoped out a few machines. However, upon hearing about the iPad, I thought it’d suit her better. At first, she disagreed. “Version 1.0 devices from Apple are for status-conscious hipsters and/or Apple zealots and I am neither,” she said.
I sent her a few links. She read a bit, including Apple’s site. Interestingly, the fact that it wouldn’t get hot, that it was small, that she could easily read in bed and that the battery was rated to last 10 hours (“Yeah, right. We’ll see about that.”) were the things that sold her, though she was skeptical. We reserved a unit and picked it up Saturday afternoon. By then, we reasoned, the crowds would have thinned. Sure enough, we didn’t have to wait at all.
When we got it home, we tried to connect it to our home WiFi network. It stubbornly refused. Unhelpfully, all it would say was “Unable to join the network”.
And all my wife would say was “Forget it. I knew we shouldn’t have done this. Let’s return it.” Suffice it to say that our initial experience with the iPad was anything but positive. Thank goodness I eventually worked out the connection issue but for a while there I was decidedly underwhelmed.
OK, enough background. Now you know that this review comes from a non-MacHead and that we just happened to be in the market for a replacement for aging hardware when the iPad came out. Our initial experience with the device was anything but positive. We came this close to returning it. So please believe me when I tell you that the iPad is not just a good computer but a great one. Please pass the kool-aid, Steve. I am a convert.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the iPad
Weiner, Edrich and Brown, a self-described futurist consulting group, have came up with a dreadful pseudoword they call “effreshency”. Though the neologism is both ghastly and unnecessary, the freshness implied in the concept — in the sense of “refreshing, not fatigued” — kept making me think of my experience with the iPad.
“Effreshent = Efficient + Effective + Innovative + Adaptable…“
Since the concept is meant to be applied to organizations and how we navigate change in a fast-moving marketplace, I am probably pushing a point here; yet as I read about “effreshency”, the iPad kept springing to mind. There is nothing new about tablet computing but this implementation is so fresh, so innovative, so simple, that a few improvements added up to an entirely new whole. You’ll wonder why no one ever thought to do it before.
OK, so what exactly do I mean by all this?
Well, since the popularization of the mouse in the early 80’s, computers have grown easier to use but also needlessly complex. Yes, even Macs. The mouse may obviate the need for a command line, or at least make it less necessary, but as new features are constantly added, users are forced to make sense of cobbled-together fixes and confusing metaphors (“I eject the disk by dragging it to the trash?”). We’ve all gotten used to these things since we’ve used computers for over two decades. Yet the Windows and Mac GUIs are complex and inelegant.
Do one thing and do it well
Enter the iPad. Although far from perfect, after a few minutes you just stop noticing the interface. I wish I could say why. On a Mac or PC when you want to do something, you are constantly, if unconsciously, aware of the interface. If you want to watch, say, a movie, the experience is horrible.
I watched Star Trek — the 2009 one — on my iPad for testing and before I knew it I wasn’t testing anything; I was just watching the flick. The interface had disappeared, literally and figuratively.
I can’t articulate exactly what happened but with each task, the same thing happened. I stopped thinking about what I needed to do and just did it. Maybe because we are tactile creatures — touching things to make them happen is so nice — or maybe because you hold the device itself so close or maybe because the screen is brighter and crisper than any display has a right to be, but the whole experience was so fresh. So elegant.
Much criticism has been heaped on the iPad saying that it is doesn’t multitask or that it is just a big iPhone. Well, I routinely listen to songs while surfing the web, so it seems that the device can, in fact, multitask. So it seems to me that a series of conscious design decisions were made when to implement it and when not to.
In fact, the entire interface is littered with such very intentional design decisions. Rather than burden the thing with the aforementioned bloat, the overarching principle seemed to be “Do one thing and do it well”.
I imagine the design team sat down and said “Start from first principles. Only include what is desirable. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Reject as redundant those design elements that are not relevant to tablet computing. Anything else will engender user confusion, and turn this device into just another generic handheld.”
In fact, the interface is so elegant (there’s that word again) and demands so little of itself that it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that the iPad could quite well revolutionize the human/computer interface as dramatically as the introduction of the mouse. It is sophisticated, streamlined and truly intuitive (or as intuitive as possible anyway). My children (2 and 4) understood how to use it right away. They don’t care about how a computer works any more than you probably care about how an internal combustion engine works. You just want to get from Point A to Point B. The average user just wants to check their email, update their Wall on Facebook, read a few articles and maybe watch a video. The iPad will make all of those things much easier and enjoyable to do.
If you remain unconvinced, I suggest you find a friend who bought one and play with it for 30 minutes. You’ll soon see what I am talking about.
Now would I write on it? Or troubleshoot a SQL statement? Or create just about anything apart from a quick email or a short blog post? No. And I wouldn’t try to serve a website from my laptop or hang a picture with a wrench either. Pick the right tool for the right job.
The iPad is a fresh, innovative, intuitive, amazingly fast, instantly compelling and fun device that you will look forward to using. My only regret is that I’ll have to beg and grovel to get my wife to let me use it.