This was written when the iPad had just come out. I have kept it, albeit edited, on my blog as I think the insights still stand.
There’s been an iPad in my office for 2 months or so already, but with the UK release, I thought now would be a better time to talk about it. Whilst I’ll inevitably discuss some of the features, I want to keep to what I see as the key points of innovation, and draw some learning from those for future application.
Let me say right from the start: I think the iPad is a revolutionary device. Not so much for the device, actually, as it really is the culmination of 10 years of exceptional innovation from Apple that has created the right ecosystem to deliver the iPad. Without the ecosystem, it wouldn’t work.
So, here are the 5 innovations of the iPad:
1. You’re already using the iPad, even if you don’t have one
Because we are all pretty much accustomed to using some form of app store for our mobile device, whether it’s the iPhone or not, means that we are already using the iPad. You’ll understand what I mean when you get to holding the device, and then realise that there is no learning curve here – you already know how to use it, and if you’re on the iPhone, you already have a bunch of apps that are iPad apps that you know how to use and have installed.
This shows the power of the ecosystem that Apple have created – something that I would argue is actually Apple’s key asset that they’ve built over the last 10 years. They have easily tied in a new device into their existing ecosystem with such barrier-free adoption. I wonder what else they could do it with…
The fact that you already have been taught how to use it makes me think of Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch, who say that it’s easier to start a journey that is already part of the way there, than start a shorter journey where you have to begin right at the beginning. With the iPad, it’s all the former. Once I installed the iPad from my iPhone backup, I had all my apps and settings in place, optimised for the new device. I’m already most of the way there.
Mike Elgan wrote a peice a while ago on how Apple is training us for the future. When I touch the iPad, I understand what he meant.
A bit of help, admittedly, is needed for this who are entirely new to it all. The great thing for them, of course, is that they can book free lessons at the Apple store.
2. It’s does 80%, not 150%
I’d say you can do 80% of most of what you need a device (note the purposeful use of <em>device</em>, not <em>computer</em> here, because we’ve beyond that now – but we’ll get to that later.)
Email, admin, Word (Pages), browsing, Facebook, and then all the suff that we now love to do through apps are all a breeze on the iPad – and what’s more, they’ve cut out all the heavy features that you don’t use, so that this whole experience is not only mobile optimised, but also lite-user optimised. For years I wondered why Word had prominently placed features in the program that so few people use, and was frustrated that the program loaded slower because of it. This is why I use Pages on my MacBook Pro anyway, and now, I’m loving Pages for the iPad and find I need even less features.
This is the trouble with most PCs – that they provide 150% of the features you need. The Control Panel, for instance, is just waaaaay over the top. Macs are better at this, but still do have too much going on for the average user. The iPad hits a sweet point.
Because we have grown accustomed to apps, we are especially comfortable when using them on the iPad. Evernote, which I’ve used as a premium user for close on 2 years, is actually even better as an app on the iPad than the full blown client that they have on the Mac. I’ve found already I prefer using NewsRack, an RSS app, over Google reader – and there are other instances like this.
3. It’s a focus device, a productivity device and a social device
Perhaps the best use of the iPad is when I take it to a secluded location on a Sunday night, sit down, and plan my week. With my Mac, it’s so easy to loose focus – to open up Twitter as I plan, change tabs from Remember The Milk to BBC News, and so on. You know how it is.
What I love about the iPad is that you can’t do this. Even with multitasking, you can’t have Evernote on the left of the screen and Twitterific on the right – you focus on the app that is open – which makes this a productivity beast. Even with Twitterific, the Twitter client I’m using on the iPad, I’ve got a new degree of focus on Twitter (as well as it cutting out all the features in the heavy Twitter clients that I don’t use)
Or take email: you have a panel with the emails on the left, the panel to view each email on the right, and no where to escape to avoid dealing with it. This is where having email addresses for Evernote and Remember The Milk is critical, because you can email in a task or note and stay securely within Mail, without having to close the app and open up another one.
For meetings, the iPad also excels. First of all, I’ve never been a fan of laptops that cover all but someones face when they are at a desk. The iPad opens people up more, and also lets you know they aren’t just browsing the web behind that screen.
As for note taking in these meetings, I’ve found the keyboard in landscape mode very easy to use and remarkable close to using a standard keyboard. I can touch type on it. There does need to be better auto-correction though – I took about 2 hours typing up this post (whilst thinking about it too, of course.)
Not only is the iPad social because it removes the 17inch screen barrier between you and I at meetings, but the apps that I have tested are all overwhelmingly social when it comes to sharing. Almost any app that has got some kind of content has sharing built in, with Facebook and Twitter on every list, with further options like email / Delicious / Instapaper and others available.
This is why I like using NewsRack – because it shares and Tweets what I’m reading the way Google Reader should. If I want to tweet an item from Google reader, I have to open the original up in a separate window, copy and paste the URL (as well as modify it if it’s a Feedburner URL) and then shorten it before tweeting. Sure, I can create a ‘send to’ item but they are very clunky and don’t actual tweet the message, but just send me to Twitter with the un-shortened URL in the post box.
How do share in NewsRack? I just touch where I want it to go. Simples.
4. It makes other devices what they should be
When I first had my iPhone I remember trying to use Google Docs, because I wanted to harness the power of a mobile device to have all my documents with me. Of course, on a screen that size, you could do nothing to edit those files, no matter how hard you tried. The same can be said of the rush for the first file management app in the iPhone – we all paid £5 per app to find the best one, only to discover that we couldn’t think of any files we actually needed on our phone, save files that were already on the phone in custom built apps.
With the iPad, the iPhone can actually be what it is meant to be: a communications device. Calls, texts, emails on the go and tweets, plus the future video calling, and then pocket sized apps that help me day to day like Google Maps, Evernote for quick notes, and so on.
Device is the right word. A device is a thing you use to do something. A computer is often an end in itself, but I find my mobile device, pad device and desk device all hook me to my synchronised files and help me get the job done, so I can spend more time with people.
Does that then make the iPad a content device? A lot of innovators are asking, and people immediately ask me the question too: can the iPad be used for content creation?
Firstly, lets consider the majority of people who don’t use the jargon that we do and blog like we do. Can the iPad create the content that, say, my wife spends the majority of her time creating? Yes.
Secondly, can the iPad create the content that bloggers want to create? Until WordPress create a better iPad app, then the answer is 80% yes. It’s links and images that can’t be done well, unless you want to do HTML, which most don’t.
The main caveat here, however, is the time factor. Almost every task with regards to content creation is still faster on my Mac, because I’m more used to it, and be use it is made for multitasking and all that jazz.
5. The iPad OS is how computing should be
For my final point, I want to paint a picture: Someone buys a PC, gets home, and after setting all the hardware up (hoping that they have it right), they start up. In a menu bar full of bundled apps that they don’t understand (and with many of them running in the tray, with the user unsure of how to stop them running when the computer starts), they procedure to install their software.
Each program asks where it should be installed (the user unsure of why they are even asked this, as they certainly don’t know), and then adds itself to the desktop and menu bar as he program decides it should. In a few weeks, the user wants to uninstall the program, but has no idea how, so they leave it as it blots the computer.
In the end, the family tech expert tries to make sense of the computer, but it’s such a mess. Files are everywhere, nothing is standardized, and you cant blame the user because they don’t have a clue because there is nowhere free to go for training.
You know this scene – and you also know the scene that is set with the iPad. You get apps from the app store (which just install, all the same), and you click the cross to remove them. You watch the video tutorials for help or get free help at the Apple Store.
When I switched to Mac in 2003 for video editing purposes, I also found lots of my time was freed up from having to fix PC problems. The phrase is, ‘it just works.’
With the iPad, I think this OS and this eco system is just what the majority of people need and how computing should really be. It removes all the information and feature overload, whilst enabling anyone to take pretty much complete control of their device, with all the education that they need for free.