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Saturday
Jan302010

What *I'll* be using the iPad for

My last post was a bit of a teaser for the app that I am writing for the iPad. I don't apologise for that. While I did want to pique your curiosity my key point was that there are developers, like me, already out there with plans for iPad applications that simply wouldn't be feasible for any other platform. Just to clarify that: they would be possible for sure - I was planning first a desktop version, then later an iPhone version, of my app - but the experience would always feel like a compromise. I still plan on desktop, iPhone, and even web clients - but they will effectively be auxiliary clients in much the same way that many iPhone apps today are auxiliary to their desktop counterparts.

Does this mean that, before such apps arrive, the iPad is just an empty slab? Perhaps useable only for the very old, the very young, or the technically illiterate? Not at all. The key reason that there has been such a backlash against the iPad is that there was so much hype about it before the announcement. It wasn't just that everyone had idyllic expectations of what it would be for them - although that certainly didn't help. Just the fact that there was hype meant that everyone was watching this event as being a turning point in the history of computing. The trouble with historical turning points is that they are often only recognisable as such when you have the historical perspective. Put it this way: if the launch of the iPad really does turn out to be the moment of a revolution in computing, when looking back on this in years to come, would it seem reasonable to think that its lack of a front-facing camera or support for Flash would be a factor in that status?

I think it's quite likely that some sort of camera facility will arrive at some point - either by way of a future hardware upgrade, or as a peripheral. There are some practical challenges there, but if they can be overcome I suspect they will. As for Flash, that's another story. I'm with the camp that hopes it doesn't get it. There is plenty of good discussion of why that should be the case around already. Whether you agree with that or not, and whether Apple does eventually allow Flash or not, I think is irrelevant to whether this device will change the way we think about computing in the future.

Some great articles and blog posts have been written already about why the iPad really is a revolutionary new device. I think I can summarise them in one sentence:

The iPad takes the tasks we use personal computers and the internet for the most and packages them into a focused, polished, device with an interaction method that gets out of the way.

To add a couple more sentences to that: It does this by removing the need to know about mice and windows and multi-tasking and file systems and cables and hard drives and memory and even, to some extent, physical keyboards! Not that those things are gone forever - just that, for most tasks - tasks that even us technically-savvy power users perform much of the time - they are just a distraction! They are, or were, the means not the end. The iPad gets you to what you were trying to achieve more directly than any device before. If this is not what you wanted that's fine. That doesn't mean this device won't change the way many - perhaps most - people interact with and think about computers forever.

But that hasn't answered the question of what can we use the iPad for right away? Well, even assuming there are no additional game-changing apps available on launch (remember that's still 2-3 months away) there are still some very worthwhile apps bundled with the device, or available on the app store (including Apple's own iWork suite). While none of these are conceptually revolutionary, the ways you interact with them, and when you can use them, may well be. Here are some of the things I can see myself doing that currently would be either impossible or a different quality of experience:

  • Reading on the train. The laptop is not always possible - iPhone too small for sustained reading
  • Reading/ watching video at the gym
  • Browsing maps. Especially when planning future or reflecting on earlier travel. Looks like such a better experience than a laptop.
  • Picture frame in my office. I was planning on getting one anyway - this will save me the cost and looks better than most, if not all, dedicated devices anyway.
  • Task management. It's been great having GTD apps like Things with me all the time on my iPhone, but they still suck for data entry or big re-orgs - so I usually have to wait until I have access to my laptop - by which time I often have forgotten (which was why I was using them in the first place!). I'm confident that at least once such app will be available on, or shortly after launch. If not the existing iPhone versions, in pixel doubled mode, will still be more usable just be dint of a larger keyboard.
  • I'm hoping that the Remote app for controlling iTunes will soon be updated with an iPad UI as that will be an awesome way to control my household media
  • Showing photos. When family visit it's been great that we can browse photos on the TV or a laptop - but this will be a far more natural and intimate experience.
  • Playing vConqr. No seriously - it's going to be great! :-)
  • Of course casual browsing, email contacts and calendar when I'm away from my laptop - or even instead of using the laptop for such things. That way I keep my workspace a little tidier. Obviously I'll still do serious web-browsing on the laptop (if only because of multiple-tabs and copy-and-paste into my other desk-top apps).

I should point out that I consider myself very much a power-user of my laptop/ desktop computers. I have my laptop (a Macbook Pro) connected to a 30" display and still use Spaces to give me more workspace area! As a developer and technologist this will alway be my primary computing experience, but I still see myself using the iPad for more and more tasks too - and not just when I'm on the move. For many people I can see it being their primary, and at some point only, computing device (for now, at least, it seems the iPad still needs to sync against a general purpose computer but the need for that seems to be decreasing).

I started to write about multi-tasking here too, but realised I had a lot of material that diverges from this post, so I've moved it into its own article, which I'll post a bit later.

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Reader Comments (1)

Actually, the picture frame is an interesting idea. It strikes me that with something as big and flat as an iPad, you need to worries about where to put it so nobody puts anything on top of it accidentally. A picture frame would do the job nicely, while also allowing the obvious.

January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony B. Coates

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