Nobody Lost, Nobody Found
I had a chance to take home an iPad from work yesterday. I had spent some time with the device in the store a few weeks before and held off on writing a review. My reluctance had less to do with the iPad, than with my general feelings as a designer working in technology towards Apple’s cultural dominance in my field of choice.
I’ll use the iphone as an example of The-Inner-Conflict, which goes something like this:
1.) These days, the iphone is basically the social equivalent of a Jersey Shore tan / tramp stamp, they have same sort of allure that most of pop-culture does to designers.
2.) The iphone is the best phone available out there. Period. And it pretty much brought the mobile revolution to America, by building a phone that made everything easier on a phone but phone calls.
So maybe that gives you an idea of what kind of person I am, and thus, which grains of salt you’d like to keep on the table.
Let’s start with the physical object. The size and shape are just right. The slate form factor has been around for a while, but nobody’s nailed it in a consumer product. And this does. The screen size, thinness, and materials all feel like a ‘magazine’. The touch screen works great, a little smeary, but if you’ve used Apple’s other touch screens, you’re used to that.
When you turn it on, it boots in less than a second. This goes for the apps too. There’s no waiting. I touch what I want… and then I get it. The ‘operating system’ is basically the same as the iphone: a grid of apps. They’re all perky and transitions here work really smoothly. The instantaneous result from interaction to content is glossed over in many reviews in favor of the product design, but it’s probably one of the most important features. The competition for an iPad is a magazine, not tech. And they recognized this. You can pick it up and consume information– instantly.
I used the keyboard and was surprised by how quickly I could type up an email, when the device was in landscape mode. Although I hear stories of people using the device to take note, typing input is probably just something I tolerate for the other features. (At one point I was typing and I wanted to open-apple-z, but there’s no “undo”.)
I tried to use Safari. For a device “built for browsing” it sucked pretty badly. All the sites (Twitter, Facebook, Gmail) loaded into their mobile versions which lacked design and content. There was no tabbing, so switching between windows was extra clicks and the background loading seemed to be broken. This meant that I had to wait for pages to refresh. In the meantime, I had a strong desire to just download the apps.
Calendaring, notes, and email were nothing fancy, pretty bare bones, but all usable. I had tried the iWork suite in the store and found it pretty useless. The apps weren’t well designed for touch, the only exception being the PowerPoint clone. Moving and scaling images in a presentation using multi-touch was much, much easier than with a mouse.
At home, I tried several free apps: Nike, Weather Channel, and a magazine app for Esquire. I didn’t have an account yet to buy the paid ones; I’m very interested in the Popular Mechanics app. The apps, for the most part, were good looking and you could tell people were thinking about how to use a touch slate. I think we’re going to see a lot of creative people make some amazing things for the iPad. It’s sort of a genius play by Apple, to build just enough of the thing that other people can build your killer app for you. There’s a huge developer community behind this device and that’s really exciting. Apple mobilized and energized a massive community of people into developing software; although, I do wish Apple would recognize that there are similar communities using Flash, Google (and Microsoft) products and their communities might add to what iPad apps could offer.
As many people have been arguing for years, the slate form factor fits nicely into a number of scenarios and it’s nice that the bar has been set high enough that we’ll get an explosion of software/ideas. The slate’s niche is probably going to be most dramatic in the home, where most people who don’t need a home pc will instead have a slate on their coffee table that they can take to kitchen, read in bed, or ‘plug’ into their TV.
Anyone who uses a notebook (the paper kind) might find this a good replacement. For people out in the field, like doctors, technicians, or office workers who are always on the move, this might be a great form factor to equip people at low cost. I think soon (in the next few months) we’ll see competing devices but I doubt that they’ll produce better software, as flawed as the iPad OS is. The apps for iPad will be far advanced, by that time. There is also a lot of potential for a slate form factor as a creation device rather than just a consumption device. Something like Microsoft Courier might fill that gap, or it might be quickly accomplished by the right iPad apps.