On the iPad

I’ve been meaning to write a detailed piece of the iPad ever since it was announced, but knowing myself, it’s no surprise that I haven’t gotten down to it yet. So before everyone receives their iPads over the weekend, I would like to put some thoughts on record, essentially for me to look back at this article 3 years from now and see what all I got right 🙂 Not the detailed article I had hoped to write, but more like important points that need to be made. Some, of these points may have been made by someone or the other, I am not sure.

First off a couple of points, that should be clear to anyone who’s even heard about the iPad.

    • A device for technophobesThe kind of device you’ll give your grandparents and forget about it, so they can do everyday things like check mail, photographs, videos etc. without having to worry about “fighting” with their computer. Without worrying about viruses, malware etc. For you and me, it means no more remote support over TeamViewer trying to fix their computer!
    • Geeks stay out!As a corollary of above, and as has been (very) well documented, not your cup of tea if you like to be in “total control” of your computer. The tight control that Apple has over the device is what makes the device what it is (in terms of usability as well as end to end user experience) and “hackability” has to lose out. 10 bucks says Apple comes out with a similar device in the near future that runs full OS X and is as geek friendly as OS X on the desktop. You can quote me on that!

Now that we are warmed up, let’s look at the significance of the iPad in the larger scheme of things.

    • Computing as an applianceNot sure if anyone has used this term wrt an iPad, but to me, this is, finally, computing as an appliance! You don’t care about the hardware inside your Television set, DVR or set top box, why should your computer be any different? The fact that you interact with a computer in far more complex and various ways as compared to, say, a Television, doesn’t mean it HAS to be as complex as that. An iPad (or for that matter any similar device that is capable of hiding the underlying complexity from the user) is finally going to unveil the joy and simplicity of using a “computer” to the masses. Of course, you may refuse to call them computers in the traditional sense, but they would do what most people wanna do with a computer – Connect, Consume (media/ games) and Create (basic documents/ spreadsheets etc.), what I would call the 3 Cs, if I wanted to sound like one of those B-school types.
    • iPad clonesEver since the iPad was announced, everyone has been playing the “me too” game. If these devices try to attend to the perceived “gap” that the iPad has (i.e. user being “in control”, hackability etc.) then they’ll just end up being slightly sexier looking version of netbooks. It’s going to be the iPod all over again, where the other players claim “but we offer *insert features here* that the iPad doesn’t have” and the market will just crap over them, because 95% of the people don’t care about those extra features. They just want to deal with the simplest device that doesn’t get in their way.

      The iPad clones that’ll have an impact will come from the people who learnt from the iPod scene and realized that cramming more features into your product isn’t the way to defeat Apple. Of course if anyone out there has actually learnt the lesson and is willing to build an entire ecosystem around their product(s) like Apple does is anyone’s guess. This “walled garden” approach that people (geeks/ commentators) criticize about Apple is what keeps the user happy. The idea that “if it’s in the app store it won’t crash and burn my computer”, works very well for most, thank you very much. If you look at the numbers, those who care about “openness” are an insignificant minority.

    • Apps not SafariOne thing I foresee, which I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, is a move away from the browser as the starting point. Mind you, I am not saying a move away from WWW, even I am not that foolish, but I see Safari (or whatever your browser is on your “iPad like” device) being launched less and less. You wanna check your mail, you’ll use either the built-in email app or Google’s Gmail app. Weather? Weather Underground app. NYT? An app for that. Pictures from the vacation that your grandkids went on? Facebook or Flickr app.

      The way I see it, the app (or widget or channel as various platforms do or will call it) model relates much better to the way “regular” people consume information in the real world. You want news, you pick up the paper. You wanna see photos, go look at the albums etc. A different application (icon, essentially) for different tasks is easier to understand/ relate to for most people.

      Technically speaking, I see machine readable formats like RSS (or more likely some other format that serves a similar purpose) playing an important role with this. Not for consumption by end users, but by the apps/ widgets/ channels by the same content producer, but on various platforms. So NYT produces content and publishes it (at a private URL) in a machine readable format. The NYT app on the iPhone/ iPad/ *insert device here* connects to that URL, downloads the content and displays a version optimized for your device. MVC anyone? Pretty much what happens today as well, but with the wide variety of devices that we are likely to see in the future, this is going to really take off.

    • The iPad impactIf you don’t know it by now already, or are one of the skeptics/ iPad bashers, let me tell you the impact this device will have is going to be huuuuge! And I am not just talking about the impact on Apple’s bottom line 😉 As I mentioned earlier, this will completely change the way people think about computers. This is the device we promised people when we sold them the idea of computing. Not machines that were breeding grounds for malwares and viruses or a gazillion other frustrations that regular people face when “confronted” with a computer.

      As I mentioned earlier, this is the beginning of a new movement. The iPad will force everyone to rethink the basic principles on which we have designed the user interfaces that we expose to the end users. Make no mistake about it, the entire “desktop” based UI paradigm that has been with us for 20+ years now is being challenged as we speak and “computers” as you and I know them today will perhaps we restricted to a small subset of the audience who extract a more specific purpose than the 3 Cs (see above). But the majority of the population don’t care about GCC, 3D accelerated video cards or the ability to run Logic Pro. The iPad and its approach to UI actually works better for them.

      At the risk of repeating myself, those who adopt this “new” approach, will be the winners and those who try to fit old ideas in a new bottle, like they tried on the mobile platform (a Desktop with a start button on a 2″ screen is a great idea honey!) will fail.

  • Flash killerYes, the iPad doesn’t have Flash and unless the folks over at Apple have a drastic change of heart, it probably never will. Does that mean you will not be able to watch Hulu and the likes? No! It means that Flash would be used less and less because no one wants to leave the iPhone/ iPad guys out. We’ve already seen this before, when Youtube started offering MP4 versions of videos, atleast partially, to cater to the iPhone crowd. Even with the iPad there’s talk of people releasing optimized versions (e.g. TED, who’ve already done that I believe) and plenty of buzz around Hulu doing something similar. Expect almost all the major players to follow suit. And it won’t be long before they realize it’s not worth producing content in two different formats, and since the iPad format works well for non-iPad users as well, let’s chuck Flash!

    Adobe knows this, and which is why it has tried to publically put Apple under pressure on more than one occasion, including accusing them of denying access to OS X APIs. Of course, such methods don’t work with Apple (howz that countdown going Opera folks?) and, if anything, would have made the guys at Apple more determined to hold on to their post – as if they needed any more convincing! So while Flash may continue to be around for games and fancy UIs, its days as the de-facto standard for videos on the web are numbered.