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.