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January 31, 2010

Why I think the iPad is good

Since Apple announced it, I've found myself in the strange position of defending the iPad to my friends, who uniformly think it sucks. I don't think a single one of them agrees with me that the iPad is good. Most of them cite things like the name, the lack of multi-tasking, and the lack of deep customizability (i.e., programming) as reasons why it sucks. (If you want a full list of these kinds of reasons, the Huffington Post gives nine of them). I don't disagree with these complaints at all, although I'm pretty sure that some of them will be fixed later on (like the multi-tasking).

Some complaints are more thoughtful, that the iPad is a closed device (like the iPod touch / iPhone), that you can only do the things on it that Apple allows you to and that these are basically focused on consuming media (and spending money at Apple's online stores). (These points are made well by io9's review of the iPad). And, I don't disagree that this is a problem with Apple's business strategy for the iPad, and that it will limit its appeal among more serious computer users.

But, I think all of these complaints miss the point of what is good about the iPad.

The iPad is good because it will push the common experience of computing more toward how we interact with every other device / object in the world, i.e., pushing, pulling, prodding and poking them, and this is the future. (Imagine programming a computer using a visual programming language, rather than using an arcane character-based syntax we currently use; I don't know if it would be genuinely better, but I'd sure like to find out.) One thing that sucks about how current computers are designed is how baroque their interfaces are. Getting them to do even simple things requires learning complex sequences of actions using complicated indirect interfaces. By making the mode of interaction more direct, devices like the iPad (even with all of its flaws) will make many kinds of simple interactions with computing devices easier, and that's a good thing.

I think the iPad is disappointing to many techy people because they wanted it to completely replace their current laptop. They wanted a device that would do everything they can do now, but using a cool multi-touch interface. (To be honest, it's not even clear that this is possible.) But I think Apple knows that these people are not the target audience for the iPad. The people who will buy and love the iPad are your parents and your children. These are people who primarily want a casual computing device (for things like online shopping, reading the news and gossip sites, listening to music, watching tv/movies, reading email, etc.), who don't care too much about hacking their computers, and who don't mind playing inside Apple's closed world (which more and more of us do anyway; think iTunes).

If things go the way I think they will, in 20 years, the kids I'll be teaching at CU Boulder will have had their first experience with computers on something like an iPad, and they're going to expect all "real" computers to be as physically intuitive as it is. They're going to hate keyboards and mice (which will go the way of standard transmissions in cars), and they're going to think current laptops are "clunky". They'll also know that serious computing activities require a serious computer (something more customizable and programmable than an iPad). But most people don't do or care about serious computing activities, and I think Apple knows this.

So, I think most of the criticism of the iPad is sour grapes (by techy people who misunderstand how Apple is targeting with the iPad and, more fundamentally, what Apple has done to the future of human-computer interaction, which is going to be dominated by multi-touch interfaces like the iPad's). I hope the iPad is successful because I want interacting with computers to suck less. Of course, I also want it to run multiple apps, have a camera for video-conferencing, use open standards and file formats, do handwriting recognition, and generally replace my laptop. These things will come, I think, but to become real, they need a device like the iPad to call home.

posted January 31, 2010 12:56 PM in Thinking Aloud | permalink


yes, ipad will bring revolution in HCI and will make the computing fun. but would that really be computing? Its mostly a consumption device aimed at accessing internet and to some extent doing word-processing and spreadsheets.

Whats point of having an ipad, if no student/teenager can load a programming language on it such as Basic or Python.

I hope a cheap ipad like slate/tablet device running on Chrome/Linux or Win 7 becomes available soon.

Another factor is that most of programmers and graduate students come from india/china where Apple is hardly popular, and where price is an important consideration. I believe Indians and Chinese students will learn using a more open win/linux/chrome computer and will have an edge over their ipad counterparts.

Technically ipad isn't a computer, considering their are so many restrictions on its use.

Posted by: akshay at January 31, 2010 07:29 PM

I think the iPad is a revolutionary step in the right direction. This is where computing is heading and I think the people who are saying its no good just arent ready for change. It will come and they will catch up eventually;)

Posted by: Apple iPad Reviews at February 1, 2010 11:03 PM

Yes ,The Apple iPad is good news for the book industry – on this much, most analysts agree.

The Apple iPad, in other words, will perform something of the same function as iTunes and the iPod: the device will widen the market, and help usher in an age of point-and-click sales. For Haber, it doesn't yet matter that the Apple iPad is technically a competitor. It matters only that the Apple iPad can help increase awareness and consumption of e-books.

Posted by: Designer at February 1, 2010 11:44 PM

No Multitasking is the dealbreaker for many people. That’s right, you can’t have Twitter, your browser, AIM, a couple iWork documents and some other stuff open all at once. You’ll have to choose one of those. It sure makes doing real work on this thing pretty difficult, that’s for sure. It’s a bit sad because Apple’s custom A4 processor should be able to handle the workload fairly easily.

Posted by: matrimony at February 3, 2010 11:10 AM