iPad: A computer for the rest of them

Mon, Feb 1, 2010

Analysis, Featured, News

The reaction to the iPad has been largely negative, which isn’t too surprising given the out-of-this-world hype that preceded its unveiling. Many are dismissing it as a giant iPhone and nothing more, while some morons, who apparently get off on spec-sheets, are already calling it a failure because of it lacks Flash, an e-ink display, and support for multitasking.

Now let’s get one thing straight – the iPad is not the second coming, and isn’t nearly as revolutionary as the iPhone was when it first debuted. But that misses the bigger picture, namely that the iPad may very well be the perfect device for the large group of people who not only don’t know how to use computers, but who lack the desire and/or patience to learn.

To anyone with a modicum of technical savvy, this all might seem a bit silly, but it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of adults have but an elementary understanding of how to use computers outside of a few basic tasks. The iPad, with its impressive screen and intuitive and easy to use UI will instantly make computing a more welcoming and friendly experience for the large number of users who probably couldn’t tell you if more RAM is a good or bad thing.

Fraser Speirs writes:

I’m often saddened by the infantilising effect of high technology on adults. From being in control of their world, they’re thrust back to a childish, mediaeval world in which gremlins appear to torment them and disappear at will and against which magic, spells, and the local witch doctor are their only refuges.

With the iPhone OS as incarnated in the iPad, Apple proposes to do something about this, and I mean really do something about it instead of just talking about doing something about it, and the world is going mental.

One of the more frequent memes to emerge in the wake of Apple’s iPad announcement has been, “The iPad would be great for my parents”, a sentiment which implies that the iPad fills a much needed void for users who need a basic computing machine, but have no need for a full powered Mac running Final Cut Pro.

As a fan of Apple products, I’ve led my fair share of PC users over to the greener pastures of the Mac. But every so often, and I’m sure other Apple users can relate, someone will ask me what kind of computer they should buy and I can’t, in good faith, tell them that buying a $1,100 iMac is what they need when all they really want is a machine to check their email with and browse the web on. For these users, the subpar user experience on a cheap Windows PC or netbook is hardly a consideration when comparing pricetags is the extent of their market research.

Now, out of nowhere, comes the iPad. It’s relatively cheap, easy to use, and offers a range of functionality that far exceeds any device at a comparable price. At its core, Apple’s iPad provides an intriguing alternative for a group of users who want as seamless an interaction with technology as possible.

Some have referred to the iPad as an appliance, and I think that it’s a fitting title. Consumers want their appliances to just work, and they couldn’t care less about the underlying technology that drives them. A toaster, an HDTV, a video camera – people use these items for specific tasks and simplicity is often what sells. And just to be clear, simplicity, as Apple’s products exemplify, does not necessarily imply less-capable.

Remember back in the days of VHS when recording one TV program while watching another required one to pore over a users manual while haphazardly pressing an assortment of buttons in the hopes that you’d figure it out? Nowadays, DVR systems are so simple that the average 10-year old can watch a Baseball game while simultaneously setting up a series recording of 30 Rock. The technology is not only easier to use, but a helluva lot more powerful, and it’s that balance that drives Apple’s products. The iPad embodies that balance for the large group of consumers who get their tech news from CNN’s cable channel instead of from Engadget.

Speirs continues:

Think of the millions of hours of human effort spent on preventing and recovering from the problems caused by completely open computer systems. Think of the lengths that people have gone to in order to acquire skills that are orthogonal to their core interests and their job, just so they can get their job done.

If the iPad and its successor devices free these people to focus on what they do best, it will dramatically change people’s perceptions of computing from something to fear to something to engage enthusiastically with. I find it hard to believe that the loss of background processing isn’t a price worth paying to have a computer that isn’t frightening anymore.

The iPad obviously isn’t for everyone, and it’s by no means even close to a replacement for a MacBook Pro. But it serves a demographic of users that for the most part have been ignored or overlooked – users with no serious interest in technology.

The appeal of the iPad obviously extends beyond the technically uninterested crowd, and will undoubtedly be a rich gaming, video, and print media experience as well. But it’s appeal to the average consumer who could give a shit about multitasking and who has no idea what CES is might be the trick up the iPad’s sleeve, and is probably why Steve Jobs reportedly views the iPad launch as being on a similar plane as the Mac and the iPhone.

The Macintosh was advertised as the computer for the rest of us. The iPad may very well be the computer for the rest of them.


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14 Comments For This Post

  1. Aaron Says:

    I believe the less savvy technical user still needs a keyboard. They mostly want to use their computers for email, but the virtual keyboard will be too frustrating of an experience.

  2. Gary Says:

    How can you say this virtual keyboard will be a frustration without ever using it. I use the iPhone keyboard daily and find it works just fine for email. Even if you just type with one finger, someone familiar with a standard keyboard layout can type quite fast on a iPhone touch keyboard.

    I have tried to type on other touch devices other than the iPhone and found the touch capabilities quite lacking, but Apple has a much better touch experience. The biggest problem I have seen with other touch systems is that the screen sometimes does not recognize the touch so you skip a letter, I don’t have that problem with the iPhone. On my iPhone I can type ahead of the feedback and it will catch up with me, on other devices they don’t have that multi-touch capability, you have to wait for each keystroke to go on to the next letter. The biggest problem I have on the iPhone is sometimes hitting the wrong key because the keyboard is so small, with the iPad the bigger screen solve that problem. I think you will see this category of computer grow quickly in the market place.

    Apples introduction of such a device will force everyone to step up and improve their products, so even if you don’t like Apple products this device will push your favorite brand to improve their products to new heights. So everyone wins with this product.

  3. fernando Says:

    Aaron: That is why there is a keyboard attachment from Apple along with the ability to connect any bluetooth keyboard to the ipad for large amount of text entry.

  4. Per Says:

    Aaron: I don’t think a virtual keyboard will make typing with one finger more frustrating than it already is 🙂

  5. Robert Says:

    I agree with the essay, though I disagree that DVRs are easy enough for most people to use — in my view, at least, the monstrous remotes that come with most DVRs are even more intimidating than Windows.

  6. Aaron #2 Says:

    Amen to the author. I’ve been telling people that the iPad could be someone’s ONLY computer. In fact, I think Apple would love it that way.

    Think about this: If your iPad is your only computer, you rely on Apple to provide applications (paid and free), music, and videos, all from the iTunes Store. The only thing I can think of that you could be missing for a majority of the more basic computer users out there is a way to back up the iPad. (That requires the device to be synced to a Mac/PC.)

    If (when) Apple comes out with iPad II with a front-facing video conferencing camera and the ability to make my coffee in the morning, I may give up one of my laptops and replace it with an iPad.

  7. Gary T. Says:

    …iPad may very well be the perfect device for the large group of people who not only don’t know how to use computers, but who lack the desire and/or patience to learn.

    hmm requirements listed below

    “Mac system requirements
    Mac computer with USB 2.0 port
    Mac OS X v10.5.8 or later
    iTunes 9.0 or later (free download from http://www.itunes.com/download)
    iTunes Store account
    Internet access”

    guess you need to know how to use a mac or windows platform (hate to even say those words)

  8. Photo Booth Guys Says:

    I am not getting why I am a moron for wanting multitasking? If there is iWork, but the inability to grab data from another application and plug into it without the juggling of opening and closing apps; it seems as if the designer was the moron for thinking people would be ok with this.

    Furthermore, if it is an appliance, which I agree, then why no video iChat? This is a perfect platform for video chatting.

    In recent days I have found many instances where the iPad would come in hand, but I fell prey to a crippled first gen iPhone and do not see the need to do so again on a first gen iPad.

    I will wait until the next release with GPS, video iChat and multitasking. VPN would be great also!! I just do not get all the hype over Google maps on the iPad with no GPS! Try explaining that to non technical users. “um no, there is no GPS and you did not get the 3G version so it can only find your location based off of wifi that does not exist where you are trying to find a restaurant”. “Yes, the iPad map app is like a digital paper map only”.

    “Yes mom, when you closed down your game to check your mail, the game ended and did not keep your score” “Well yes it is a computer, but it can only do one thing at a time, like dad.” “yes dad, you can watch movies and check your sports scores, but not at the same time”.

    Great conversations about how wonderful this new latest technology is.

    “well mom, yes, we could have simply bought a Palm Pre that DOES multitask for much less money”

  9. clochard42 Says:

    I’m what others would call a techie and even I’m tired of computers not just being “a thing” that does, what it supposed to do. I’ve a PS3 because I’m tiered to anti-virus, os-re-install and equip-with-up-to-date-graphic-card a PCs first to – just play a game.

    People seem to hate the iPad because of this: It is no computer – as we know it.

    Indeed, it is some sort of closed box where only some developers (actually 99%) pass thought the state security service of Apple are able to deliver apps on iTunes.

    Customers and – to be honest – I don’t care.

    I hate the software in my washing machine (does not spin dry a single jeans because the software detects unbalance and shuts it down – no joke!). There’s no SDK for it so I can fix it. Most of the products and things we’re using today are not open. Would you trust an air plane with avionic software written by the open source community (or Microsoft – oops, that’s a different story).

    We’ve been reading a text written by the New York Times inside a browser, running on a PC. After touching the App-Icon on the iPad the iPad will be the New York Times. If you don’t see the difference, you won’t understand where the potential of the iPad is and why it will be sold million times – even to techies like me.

    Yes, the iPad is an appliance.

  10. Anthony Says:

    VIDEO CHAT is something that will come, but Apple is not a company misguided without a vision. In an ideal world, everyone should be video chatting. Right now, its not the norm. Also, being that the IPAD is a version of the IPHONE OS. Why would you make 1 version of the product do conferencing while everyone misses out. There are what? 75 MILLION IPHONE os devices? why not wait and do it right. Wait until you can get all 75 million with the ability to Video chat! IPHONES, Ipods, IPADS, and Max osx !

    Its not made to replace a computer. Its made to supplement your other devices… the CD PLAYER did not replace your home stereo… It supplemented!!!!

    Thats like owning a car… buying a mountain bike, and having people say thats stupid, it doesnt have a motor. You cant bring your family on vacation etc… give me a break. Look at this realistically, plus, like I mentioned in another thread somewhere else. If apple made the the one all n all device. they would hurt their own business by taking away from COmp sales… Now, you can get an IPHONE, end up bying a MAC, and wait… ANOTHER LINE!!! an IPAD to do the basics anywhere!!!!


  11. Gabriel M. Says:

    Great article.

    I am having a hard time understanding what all the fuss is about video conferencing. I am an avid Mac user (Mac Mini, Macbook, iPhone) and most of my friends are heavy Mac users and yet I think I only use iChat video once a year. I mean think about it. When was the last time you actually sat down and leisurely had a video chat with someone. MOST, not all, people probably don’t use iChat video conferencing as much as we think. Apple probably got the meta-data and realized that it didn’t catch on like they hoped it would. I also understand why they didn’t include a camera on the back because they weren’t sure what people would use it for and exactly who the demographic would be. Similar to the iPod touch. I don’t see a front facing camera coming to ANY mobile device outside of the laptops any time soon.

    Would you agree?

  12. Aaron #2 Says:

    @Gabriel M.: My wife, her friends, and her family use video conferencing daily. Why? They are spread all over the world and the free video conferencing that iChat, SkyPe, and others provide is priceless to them.

    @Photo Booth Guys: We’re not calling you a moron. If you want that kind of performance, the iPad is not for you. You are like me — you need a laptop. You have to put yourself in other people’s shoes, though. People who truly believe in their heart that they will “break” the computer if they touch it. Those people are the ideal use for an appliance like the iPad.

    @Gary T.: If the iPad is anything like the iPhone, you can use it as a stand-alone device. My wife only syncs her iPhone when she wants to take the photos off of it. She does not sync videos or music at all. It’s virtually a stand-alone device. She can get apps from the iTunes Store and, if she chooses, can buy music or videos there too. Why would she need to sync to a computer? Apple likes it that way, too.

  13. Derpassant Says:

    @Aaron “I believe the less savvy technical user still needs a keyboard. They mostly want to use their computers for email, but the virtual keyboard will be too frustrating of an experience.”

    Did ya see the dock with a keyboard. Hmmm wonder what that is for?

  14. Logicub Says:

    I want to understand how people would *want* multi-tasking to work.

    PhotoBoothGuys says “I am not getting why I am a moron for wanting multitasking? If there is iWork, but the inability to grab data from another application and plug into it without the juggling of opening and closing apps; it seems as if the designer was the moron for thinking people would be ok with this.”

    So, you’re in Pages, and you want a Numbers spreadsheet. On the assumption that there’s no “media browser” for instantly grabbing content cross-application, here’s what you would currently do: Press the home button, tap the numbers icon, copy the table, tap the home button, tap the Pages icon, paste the table.

    Now, with reports from last weeks event saying that applications launch *instantly*, tell me how Apple could make that process noticeably quicker and smoother than it already is… You could maybe save a second or two, and it would be a nice feature at some point, but it’s really not that big of a deal.

    The next comment, regarding the iPad being perfect for video conferencing… Holding the Pad in what appears to be a comfortable position would give whoever you’re chatting to a wonderful shot up you nose. For optimal video-conferencing composition, you’d be holding the Pad at arms length out in-front of you… Or maybe hunching over a table in a position that would give any health & safety officer a stroke… Good luck chatting to anyone for any length of time like that…

    VPN; I’ll give you that, here’s hoping!

    Almost every app I’ve tried on the iPhone saves your state when you hit the Home button; sure, you may have to hit ‘continue’ when it loads back up, but whinge to the developers for not making a decent app (I’m looking at you, Grand Theft Auto), not Apple for providing the tools for doing it properly…

    Regarding your Palm-Pre, am I right in thinking you can’t do *anything* else with your data connection whilst you’re talking on the phone? I’ve not tried, I’ve only fiddled with the gadget in-store, but I’ve read as much…

    Sorry to pick on you, but your comment included everything I wanted to rant about 🙂

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