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Friday Four: Why the iPad Matters

Let’s get this out of the way up front… The name is awful, and deserving of all the ridicule they’re taking on for it. Then again, so was the Wii, and nobody really talks about that any more. Just like Jr. High, people move on.

Besides the name, I think there has been a knee-jerk backlash from the geek community ever since Jobs came down from the mountain on Wednesday with the iPad in tow. The simplicity, form-factor and method of interaction were not as surprising as many had hoped, causing most of us to meet the iPod Grande with a collective “meh.”

When I finally saw it in motion, it hit me; the reason I am so disappointed in this computer is because it’s not a computer. The iPad is an entirely different take on the common tasks we think we need a computer to accomplish, and it may be the most important device of the decade. Here’s why…

1) It’s Not for Us

As I followed the live blogs with a few fellow geeks on Wednesday, I’ll admit that I was initially pretty underwhelmed. No multitasking?! No folders or obvious file structures?! How am I supposed to log into FTPs, write and test code, etc? You see, I (like many of you) am the person that wants to tweak hidden system settings, dive into the command line to start a server, etc. I’m also the small minority of the population.

The iPad simply looks to be the perfect computer for the average human being. It’s for my mom that just wants to update Facebook, check her email and look at photos. It’s for my friend Sarah’s kids who want to play games, finger paint and maybe lookup stuff for a homework assignment. It’s for my grandmother who would love to explore the internet, but has never used a mouse before. It’s a new perspective on computing that drops the things that don’t matter.

2) It Provides Computing Tasks without the Computer

The iPad lets its audience accomplish the tasks they need to do, without having to learn how to “work” the computer. In my (limited) tech support experience, it seems like most folks understand how to get around the websites inside of their web browser but have no real understanding of how the rest of their OS actually works. The question here is “Do they need to?” For most folks, I think that answer is “no.”

The iPhone/iPad approach basically obscures the technical details of the system and displays on what the user needs to see: the task at hand. For the average person, this is exactly what they want.

3) It’s the Missing Link

For years now, there’s been an attempt to move the browsing experience out of the monitor in your office and into other parts of your everyday life. We’ve seen internet connected TVs, alarm clocks, game consoles, etc. The most successful of these approaches has been the internet-enabled smart phone, but tiny screens and limited horsepower still hamper the browsing experience.

The iPad fills this gap with a form factor and browsing experience that appears (for the first time) to surpass the convenience of browsing on your computer. It combines the rich content of the internet with the convenience of kicking back on the couch with a newspaper or your favorite book. It’s going to change the way we think about websites.

4) It Creates New Expectations

Needless complexity and poor design are no longer acceptable experiences. The graceful, user-focused experiences found on devices like the iPad will become the audience expectation, which means we better start rethinking the way we approach our interactive efforts. “Just functional” is no longer enough to engage your audience; it’s time to seriously step up our game.

Now’s the time to get ahead of the curve and start thinking about your information strategies in the terms of experience instead of websites. Are your visitors able to focus on your content, or are they distracted by figuring out how to use your software/website? It’s time to change our approach.

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  1. Adam Houston (Reply) on January 29th, 2010

    I’m with you. I think that this is the perfect “non-computer” computer for the average person. I’ve been distancing myself from Flash for years, personally, but I still use it everyday when trying to access key web properties like Hulu, Vimeo, etc. I think one of two things has to happen:

    1) Apple needs to include Flash support in iPhone/iPad OS 4.0

    or

    2) Flash must die, since 25% of all web users will suddenly be browsing from a device that can’t support it

    I guess I’m ok with either, but an iPad that still can’t play Farmville and can’t watch hulu 9-12 months from now will mean a lot of frustrated iPad owners.

  2. Trae Cadenhead (Reply) on January 29th, 2010

    I didn’t think it was possible, but I think you actually convinced me that the iPad makes sense for the average Joe. Your powers of persuasion are strong Mr. Murrell.

  3. Kathy Chapman Sharp (Reply) on January 29th, 2010

    Nicely written, Eric.

    I was pretty open-minded from the beginning with the iPad and ultimately think it’s exactly what it needs to be – Apple’s answer to a netbook and ebook reader. I never expected it to be a MacBook replacement which is probably why I wasn’t disappointed. :)

    Loved your wrap-up challenge. You are absolutely right. It’s all about experience. Keep saying it.

  4. Willie George (Reply) on January 29th, 2010

    Ditto.

    My mother would love this thing. My dad and I want to know where the usb ports and wired networking and mini-DisplayPort are.

    However, I also think that HP or Asus or some other similar company could easily pick up a large portion of this market if they make a very similar device that (since it would likely run that Microsoft OS) has flash support before Apple does it on the iPad.

  5. Andy Young (Reply) on January 29th, 2010

    Hmmmmm….I can still here the MacHead in this post rather than an objective perspective, but I get you and will let it slide. ;) I love Apple products and I can see the appeal in this product by the “average Joe”. It’s obviously not for me based on my “geeky” desire for an actual computer with complex applications and multi-tasking.

    However, here is my question in all of this, should technology like this meet people where they are or should make tasks easier while pushing people forward into understanding more technology?

    The iPad just feels like it will lock users into a “spoon-fed” computing mentality. What happens when the demands of the other users cause Apple, or whoever picks up the concepts and runs, to make a similar look and feel machine with an actual nuts-and-bolts OS. In other words, what happens when this becomes an actual computer? Will the users of this machine be left behind again?

    It seems that the “Apple netbook” was the obvious move here. And easier way to teach a stripped down version of OS X to introduce an easier computer than a harder iPod. Sure, the device will stop the questions about “finding programs folders” and “burning iTunes” onto a CD from your mom for a while. But is it the best solution to help them become as computer literate as the world is requiring? What happens when your electric bill payment online requires flash?

    I see a fun product, but not what was needed. I think Apple didn’t raise the bar as it has the history of doing. Personally, this is a product, but not worthy of this kinda praise. Kinda feels like the PowerMac G4 Cube.

  6. Adam Lehman (Reply) on January 30th, 2010

    #4 is – for me – the key.

    it is something dramatically different than any other piece of tech. it might fail, but it’ll change the expectations we have on laptops. i’ll start asking, “why doesn’t my laptop have a touch screen?” Maybe the next macbook will have a touch screen. why not?


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