Why I Am Excited About the iPad

Photo via Flickr by Mknobil. Indian kids at school with their slates

My fondest memory of my childhood was the day when my grandfather gave me a slate. I was four years old. There was no silicon in that slate — unless you count the silica in the earth itself — that was essentially a thin smooth slab, almost volcanic in color. Along with it came a little piece of chalk, which I would eventually use to write on this slate whose rough edges were covered by a well-made maple wood sheath. I have no idea what this slate cost — maybe one-twentieth of a penny at that time — but to me it was priceless.

For hours at length I would sit with my grandpa and with my mom — learning math, learning how to write proper English sentences, often getting wrapped on the knuckles for messing up my articles. Sometimes I would draw — but mostly I would try and write.

Paper and pencils were expensive and were restricted to finishing up school assignments or “homework” as it was called back then. Over the next few years, whenever I used that particular slate and its subsequent upgrades (it would break way too often), I would start with the proverbial blank screen (or a blank slate). I would write, calculate and articulate.

To me it represented two things. It was a way to spend time with grandpa.  It was also a tool for constant education and self-improvement. Of course, I didn’t know these fancy words then. I just knew it was something I couldn’t live without. The very low-brow slate was the very antithesis of cool, but I just loved it.

It was simple, elegant and utilitarian. It was cheap. And in hindsight it fueled by my imagination, though at the time I had no idea.

On January 27th, when I first picked up the iPad, I was that four-year-old boy again. I felt like I was getting that old slate of mine one more time. Today the meaning of cheap may have changed for me, but the iPad’s elegance, simplicity and utilitarianism is firing up my imagination. Just as I would sit with my grandfather, learning the basics of English grammar from Wren & Martin and then constructing sentences, I am now thinking about what I can do with the iPad and where will we go with it.

The minute I touched the iPad at the Apple event a few weeks ago, I knew my world and my idea of computing had been transformed, irrevocably and irreversibly. I’m not sure why some of my friends, who have helped me shape my thinking about devices, Antonio Rodriguez for example, are disappointed with this device, whose potential is limited only by one’s imagination.

When I look at the iPad, I see a clean slate to reinvent pretty much how we think of media, information and in fact the whole user experience. Why do we have to think in terms of a keyboard — real or virtual? How can we not be excited about the very idea of a media experience based on touch? Why do we have to limit ourselves to one kind of media when building information experiences? Why can’t we leverage everything that is around us — location, social connections and persistent connectivity — to build a whole new media consumption experience?

MLB At Bat for iPad is a new kind of immersive media experience that blends photos, video, stats and real time bews

When I walked out of the Apple event, in an on-camera interview, I told David Carr, media critic for The New York Times, that this device is first and foremost about media consumption. Our world, as I have outlined in many previous writings, is overrun with information. For the past 15 years we have perfected tools for creating information (or content). From camera phones to cheap laptops to open-source blogging platforms, the world of the web has been about creating a tidal wave of media/information/data. What we have used to consume this information is a 30-year-old technology, the personal computer and lately, the cell phone.

While the PC was created for personal computing, it never really became personal enough. The mobile phones weren’t quite cut out to consume content beyond phone calls, some text messages and maybe emails. Today’s smart phones are proving that when done right, they can become great tools for consuming information — from little tweets to Yelp reviews to blog posts to Tom Friedman’s latest rant. The explosive and unstoppable growth of mobile data traffic only reinforces the fact that if you give people a better way to consume information, they will use it!

With that as context, you start to see the implications of the iPad and get excited.  Paul Buchheit, Gmail creator, FriendFeed co-founder and an angel investor, wrote in a blog post:

By focusing on only a few core features in the first version, you are forced to find the true essence and value of the product. If your product needs “everything” in order to be good, then it’s probably not very innovative (though it might be a nice upgrade to an existing product).

The essence of the iPad, as Joe Hewitt, the creator of the Facebook app for the iPhone, says is that “the Internet is an integral part of the iPhone OS, and it is the part of the OS you can tinker with to your heart’s delight.”

This is one of the reasons why I am spending most of my waking (and some of my sleeping hours) thinking about what would be the kind of application a media startup should build for the iPad, in the process creating a whole new media experience. While some folks might be satisfied with their iPhone application for media consumption, I’m not one of them.

We are in the process of building a fairly unique and distinctive iPhone app, but I’m also ruminating on an iPad-only app that leverages everything from its distinctive menus, large screens, location information and more importantly ability to interact with content by touch.

Hewitt, when talking about the iPhone, recently wrote, “Once I got comfortable with the platform I became convinced it was possible to create a version of Facebook that was actually better than the web site!” He was right. Facebook has more than 100 million mobile subscribers and a substantial portion of those are using the iPhone (or iPod touch.)

iPad is an incredible opportunity for developers to re-imagine every single category of desktop and web software there is. Seriously, if you’re a developer and you’re not thinking about how your app could work better on the iPad and its descendants, you deserve to get left behind.

If you are one of those developers who has doubts about the iPad and needs something to change your mind, I recommend you read RoughlyDrafted’s Ten Myths of Apple’s iPad: It’s a curse for mobile developers.

My mind is made up. I have a brand new slate to create upon. I know sooner or later I will be able to create something new on this. The bad news is that I am not a developer. That is my curse. That is my opportunity. I am four years old again.

Related GigaOM Pro Research (sub req’d):

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