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Summary:

Since purchasing the iPad for my family, I never considered it a “personal” device. In fact, I would not even consider it a “family” device as much as a “location-based” device. You see it, you pick it up, you use it, you put it down.

There is a change going on in society right there in front of all of us, and we all seem to have missed it. Loosing our privacy is only a temporary side effect, as it only admits that we never really had it in the first place. Especially whenever someone or something wanted to take it from us.

It just so happens that with modern technological advances, this exposing of ones privacy into the public domain has become easier and easier. And for the most part we are each contributing to this each and every day we continue to exist online. Watching Apple overcome Microsoft in recent months is only a sign of things changing, not a final victory on an age-old battle between two companies. While Google may have us believe that one man, one company, one device, one carrier is the root of all evil, it is actually our own doing that is forging this change. Apple just happens to be manufacturing the instrument of change, not the change itself.

Since purchasing the iPad for my family, I never once considered it a “personal” device. In fact, I would not even consider it a “family” device as much as it is a “location-based” device. The location would be the family room, bedroom, den, kitchen or home theater in my household. You see it, you pick it up, you use it, you put it down again. Someone else comes along and does the same. It is a quick way to check the weather, the field location of a family soccer game, show off the family photos, read a book or magazine, or lookup what has been recently released in the entertainment world. Its format and rotation of screens and the fact that there is no keyboard dangling awkwardly to deal with when handing the device back and forth make it the perfect communicable tool of communication. The iPad is not as much a private device as it is a public device.

What’s Personal?

So then what is a “personal” device? Something I cannot go anywhere without (well almost anywhere). Something ultra-portable and in most ways unique to just me personally. Something that works when I am awake, and recharges when I am asleep. An extension of me personally. By this classification, neither a computer nor a laptop would be a personal device, as they have the means to be shared and even accessed by multiple individuals. In our household, the need to have one’s own personal computer is diminishing with each new technical device that is brought into the house. Televisions are shared, game consoles are shared, desktops and even laptops are shared. Depending on the current need, the device is used to serve each member of the household in its own unique way. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of grey areas in the in between parts. Even the difference between a Mac Pro and an iMac is getting harder to distinguish. And based on continuing sales trends, the usefulness of a desktop compared to a laptop is tipping the scales in favor of laptops by a margin of 60 to 40. But just because something is portable does not make it personal. The direction we are heading is more portable, but not more personal…its more social.

So what do we use these modern devices for anyway; work, personal, or both? Up and until just about five years ago, we made choices as to which ‘computer’ to bring into our homes based on the choice our employers made. This was due to some mythical belief that we would then be able to bring work home and seamlessly transition from office workstation to home workstation by carrying around a binder full of rewriteable disks or USB memory sticks. With advances in secure VPN tunnels, web enabled business software, standard based mail access, and the fact that employers have been switching to laptops, our employers are no longer the driving force behind our at home purchasing decision.

In today’s evolving digital age, even the difference between work and personal is blurring. Teams within the rank and file of even the most conservative of cooperate environments are starting to utilize more social means of communicating. This includes technologies like Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and tools like those offered by 37signals. If your boss wants to know where you are, they are way more likely to figure that out by following you online then they are by getting any sort of phone call. Things have to change as the younger workforce who all grew up in this new digital age are driving it. This is simply how people communicate today. For better or worse, everything is getting more social. Selecting a movie based on posted reviews, playing a game online, and sharing photos and videos. This move away from personal e-mail to other more open forms of social communication may be one reason 40 percent of Blackberry customers are looking to switch to an iPhone. Given the fact that we now communicate to everybody all at once, why do we even need a personal account online anymore? What we do need are devices that enable this fundamental change in the way we disperse and use information.

The Revolution

And that is the revolution. Once everything is in the cloud, and I mean everything, why hang on to the old paradigm which requires us each to have a personal account? What would one do with personal access to the system? All information entered will become instantly visible to everyone. If nothing is private, why secure your access to it? Granted we all will need a way to identify ourselves to the system, but that is all. Once we have been identified, who we are to the system is no different than the GPS signal the device receives from satellites.

Who is using the device is fundamentally no different than where the device is being used. As Google turned the name of its company into a verb synonymous with search, Apple is destined to make its social devices, like the iPad, as utilitarian as the public restroom. When visiting an establishment, or when guests come to visit, it will not be uncommon to hear a polite request “May I please use the iPad?”

While devices are getting more portable, and the daily lifetime of its usefulness between charges is expanding, information about ourselves is becoming more open. There is a new place in our lives for true utility devices that provide convenient and communicable access to information based more on the availability and accessibility of the device rather than how private it is.

And that is where the iPad comes in: it is a community device, not a personal computer. Passing an iPad back and forth is much more friendly without having to balance a clam shell keyboard and screen around. The iPad will even conveniently change orientation based on how the receiving user decides to hold it. It is not that the iPad is a better personal computer than a netbook, because it is not. The reason that people are preferring iPads over Netbooks has more to do with the ending of a personal era in computing. What we all need is access to our collective cloud of communal information. And that is what the iPad gives us. iPads therefore are for places, not people.

Photo by Flickr user blakespot, licensed under CC 2.0

  1. Aside from being a grammatical cacophony, your premise, to be kind, is simplistic. The reason people are buying iPads and eschewing netbooks is one part netbook market saturation, one part dissatisfaction with the devices’ hardware and OS and one part realization that Apple’s UI/form/hardware combination is a compelling mobile offering. Apple simple does small form-factor devices better.

    You make no distinction between an iPad and a smartphone. Why is the former “shared” while the other is “personal”? My iPad doesn’t leave my company any more than my smartphone except for my closest of friends and my family.

    The iPad does not reflect a shift from person to place, whatever that means. It’s Apple’s successful remix on the powerful, mobile device.

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    1. It is actually the device that will be licensed to play music, movies, and books; not the person that is licensed to view them. The iPad is too large to be a smartphone for the masses. Think instead of s public reading place, not s puplic library, where there are several devices like the iPad that are licensed to ‘play’ all materials in the library. That is the shift that the iPad has to offer from person to place.

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  2. manifesto-a-go-go Thursday, July 22, 2010

    “Who is using the device is fundamentally no different than where the device is being used.”

    I don’t see how that is true at all. An ipad in my living room can be used by either me or my wife. A post to a social networking site identified as “from my living room” is meaningless.
    I don’t believe people want to live in a world where nothing is private. We still need and will always need user accounts to identify and control access.

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    1. I agree that we think we do not want to live in a world where nothing is private, even though our behavior in the online social media space is to the contrary. What I am saying is that the type of information that a device like an iPad can deliver does not have to be private information, rather information that we all share. And if the trend continues, the amount of information we want to keep private will become less and less.

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  3. This is so completely opposite of my experience with the iPad. So, completely, utterly opposite… and of my wife’s as well. These iPads are the most personal devices we have ever owned, and that very reason is why we like them (we each have our own). It’s this very personal nature that I believe is what is making them so popular. If I had to share it, I wouldn’t use it. I think the whole premise of this op-ed is way off.

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  4. This is a pretty poor article I’m afraid to say. Poorly written, and half-baked ideas.

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    1. The half baked comes from the very fact that the revolution being outlined has not happened yet. Device installed software assumes a single user per install, and online services assume individual accounts are necessary. The thought being conveyed cannot help but come accross incomplete.

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  5. The iPad is just another von Neumann machine.

    There is a von Neumann revolution happening and no one knows where it is going.

    I have an Archos PMA400. I wouldn’t buy an iPad because it won’t fit in a pocket and doesn’t have a USB port. My 4 year old Archos has 2 USB ports and a 30 gig hard drive.

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  6. I quite liked this article. For me, one of the most crucial things it brings up is, not particularly to do with the iPad, but that there’s the idea of privacy vs. identification. I agree that, as we share more ‘things’, we only supply our name as a method of identification (i.e. ‘who I am’), rather than for privacy (i.e. ‘only for me’). That’s because the amount that we share is becoming greater, less private, and more visible to all. And it’s why we identify ourselves on to Facebook, Twitter, and our computers, rather than *log on*.

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  7. I agree that the premise is off, at least in my experience with the iPad. We bought one at launch, ostensibly for my wife and me to share. 24 hours later, I’d had approximately 10 minutes of use on that device. It became crystal clear that the experience was going to be a personal one with the iPad, and that we’d need two. Even today, she tends not to use mine (or vice versa).

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    1. Unfortunately some of that is due to the way software is built today, as well as the way we are forced to use online services. Music, movies, books, and games are not mine. Playlists, bookmarks, and high scores are. I do not necessarily need a dedicated device that keeps a separate copy of the information I want to access. I do need a means to keep track of how I interacted with the information.

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  8. Prior to the iPad’s release, pundits and Apple haters were saying it’d be a flop. They were saying that netbooks still had tremendous growth opportunities. Since the release, the netbook love has dissipated.

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    1. Was there growth potential in smaller, cheaper, more portable personal computers? Absolutely. But I believe that is not what was needed. The revolution being proposed is that what our changing society needs is access to shared information, not cheaper access to private information. Somehow, by it’s design to optimize the viewing and hand to hand sharing of this shared information, the iPad has struck a cord with people. That is the idea I tried to get across.

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  9. The one thing iPad doesnt have that make me worry about it in the house is lack of personal accounts on it, and no parental controls like on OS X.
    The mail and calendar apps don’t care who you are, they assume the user is a single person, so you set up your work and personal calendars, then when the kids have it, there is a chance they’ll accidentally (or on purpose, who knows) edit/change/delete an important mail or calendar event.
    On our one, I may end up just setting up a family mail account on Gmail, and have to stick with my phone and desktop to access my personal and work calendars/email/contacts.
    and then the chance of an ipad being sneeked away into a bedroom after lights out – on the Max, in the family room, the kids get three hours each a day, and cant login after 8:00pm on a school night – no such controls on the pad. I am looking for someway to shut down the wifi at night – maybe just a single AP on a power timer for the kids mobile devices. I just don’t want to have to patrol my home network like my work networks.

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    1. I have done something similar, and have used the feature to subscribe to an editable calendar. I have found that I do not have to sync in order for the iPad to pick up updates to calendars that it has subscribed to.

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    2. John, to protect your home network, and limit access to inappropriate content check out a service called OpenDNS (I think that website is http://opendns.com). The basic service is free and you simply configure your router to use the DNS servers provided by OpenDNS instead of your ISP’s name servers. Then configure access restrictions appropriate to your home using the dashboard at the OpenDNS website. For example, you can block all gambling and porn sites, and chatroulette.

      This provides another, easy and inexpensive layer of security, at least until the kids get smart enough to reconfigure your network.

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  10. I just read of a coffee house which plans to actually rent iPads to compete with places which have wifi. Place bound. Also, I am sure librarians will be thinking along these lines (if any have the money).

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