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Why I Am Excited About the iPad

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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.

[related-posts topic=”iPad”] 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.

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82 Responses to “Why I Am Excited About the iPad”

  1. I’d say the iPad has created a fresh slate of the market, erasing huge swaths of established practices and relationships, and positioning Apple in a (potentially) commanding role. I don’t think Steve Jobs would settle for anything less. I have a feeling he’s revealed no more than 10% of what Apple has in mind for the iPad. At a minimum, there’s Apple as a platform of learning and a brand of education, with the iPad integrating textbooks, lectures (video), course materials and coursework, purchased through iTunes U in concert with (probably) top-tier universities who partner with Apple in a iPad-energized curricula. Thus, we have Apple reinventing Liberal Arts, which one slide alluded to (obliquely) in the launch. John Doerr (in Om’s post-launch interview) seems rather excited about this prospect. It is probably one of dozens.

  2. Nice article! Slate was great metaphor I can relate to, but that is not exactly why I am very excited about iPad.

    I like the simplicity, symmetry and integrated experience with seamless connectivity and access to information regardless of time and place. It just removes the formality of a PC or laptop (keyboard, mouse, blinking lights, batteries, wireless cards, 5 minutes of booting time + 10 minutes of crashing time… on and on). On batteries, just kidding of course… everything needs power obviously. I imagine one day this device will charge itself with some renewable source.

    In future, I can visualize it as an inexpensive personal video conferencing device that can work like magic. Be there virtually. But first, I need to buy the first version immediately.

  3. The Shadow

    Sounds great, if you could actually write on the thing…

    As for being limited only by imagination, no amount of imagination can overcome the deficits in the current iteration of this device.

    Methinks Om’s been fed some Apple flavored Kool Aid.

  4. Louis Wheeler

    Very good, Om, I think you caught the essence of the iPad. The naysayers misunderstand the iPad’s intent, because they are fixating on existing markets. Naturally, they can always find something which the iPad lacks. They are not the iPad’s intended market, so nothing will satisfy them.

    Apple designed the iPad, not to be a NetBook or Tablet replacement, but to extend computers to non technical and anti-technolgical people.

    The way you expand markets is to appeal to the needs of the marginal buyer. This is the person who, for some reason, decides not to buy. Often, that reason is price, but it could be a lack of style, beauty and flexibility along with a failure to fill a real need.

    The deciding factor for the iPad is ease of use. Computers started off being very demanding and hard to use. Every time computers became easier, the market expanded. The world wide computer market place is stagnant now — a replacement market. Everyone who had a compelling need to use a computer, and has the necessary temperament to operate one, already owns a computer.

    What do you do about the millions of people who fear computers? Oh! They want to use the internet and miss not getting email, but their temperament rebels at technical matters. This people aren’t stupid; they are just allergic to hard and boring actions. The iPad is anything but hard and boring. If a one year old baby can operate an iPhone to select images, then anti technological people can use an iPad.

    This is an enormous inducement for a child to read. I am assuming that the iPad has, or will have, the ability of Text to Speech. A person can select text and have the computer speak it out as they read. A child with an iPad can still use adult assistance, but often the iPad alone will be enough.

    • Nice article!
      Slate was great metaphor I can relate to, but that is not exactly why I am very excited about iPad.

      • I like the simplicity, symmetry and integrated experience with seamless connectivity and access to information regardless of time and place. It just removes the formality of a PC or laptop (keyboard, mouse, blinking lights, batteries, wireless cards, 5 minutes of booting time + 10 minutes of crashing time… on and on). On the batteries, just kidding of course… everything needs power obviously. I imagine one day this device will charge itself with some renewable source.

      • In future, I can visualize it as an inexpensive personal video conferencing device that can work like magic. Be there virtually. But first, I need to buy the first version immediately.

  5. Om, what a neat article. I pictured you when you were 4, and I have no doubt you were a little cutie. It’s refreshing to see some genuine awe around technology rather than skepticism. Apple did create a revolutionary product, and hopefully it’ll provide the same wonder and inspiration to many that the slate did for you as a little 4-year-old.

  6. Jefferson Berlin

    Lovely piece, Om. I agree with you about the slate you grew up with (I had a slate and a Mickey Mouse typewriter when I was four). But I can’t agree about the iPad. Not that what you say about its potential as a media consumption device isn’t true. My problem is that as an artist as opposed to a developer, it is the antithesis of what I want in a tablet. I don’t want to draw or write with my finger. I want to use a pen or a brush. I want a tablet on which I can move my piece of chalk and see the words or images that appear in my mind. The iPad does not do that at all. Frankly, to me, it is just another way for Apple to help big media companies and small sell me stuff.

  7. I think you missed the key part of what Joe Hewitt said, which only serves to buttress your argument:

    quote continued “…Of all the platforms I’ve developed on in my career, from the desktop to the web, iPhone OS gave me the greatest sense of empowerment, and had the highest ceiling for raising the art of UI design. Except there was one thing keeping me from reaching that ceiling: the screen was too small.”

    He never claimed the current one is better than the website. In fact, I feel it falls short in many ways and I still prefer the website in many ways. Indeed, I often prefer the touch enabled mobile web site (the one geared to webkit devices) over the native app. In fact, when Joe Hewitt left developing the facebook app for the iPhone, he said he would work more on web standards type applications — and now that he is jazzed up again, I hope he returns to the facebook fold. If you continue reading, his next statement makes this clear:

    “At some point I came to the conclusion that Facebook on iPhone OS could not truly exceed the website until I could adapt it to a screen size closer to a laptop. It needed to support more than one column of information at a time.”

    I think that the Cocoa Touch, coupled with a larger format, will unleash things we never could have imagined. I read a review of the Archos 9 yesterday. Basically a Winodws 7 tablet. The review was basically that Windows 7 tablets just “don’t get it”. Tablets cannot be a desktop with a touch screen and no keyboard. They truly have to redefine the product category…

  8. Nice post Om. I too am excited about the iPad. I cant understand why people are complaining about the lack of a camera, USB ports, etc. Don’t you think Apple is smarter than that? Those features will come in due time, just as pricing may go down. Bottom line is that the concept of the iPad will change the way we do computing and thats something to get excited about.

  9. timjones17

    The explosion of creation and access to knowledge has been drive by open, ubiquitous and affordable devices. Sadly, Apple is about being close, exclusive and expensive. Apple restricts what people can imagine. Cheap netbooks, phones and other devices, not from Apple, have enabled billions to imagine, create and connect with each other. Slates will be widespread, they just won’t be from Apple.

  10. Good post , “learning the basics of English grammar from Wren & Martin”, Yess the Red Book. I had the exact thing happened to me. Long story short , iPad success is guaranteed. But Two issues seems to me missing by one and every tech journalist/ blogger. First, Are we fine with missing 80% of the web video content? The second how many people can afford to carry another gadget apart from Phone/Smarthpone/iPod/tablet/Laptop/Ebook Reader ? It could be a moderate successful product in terms of sales. Adobe from last I read on the internet updates a billion PCs with their flash software. I wish Steve Jobs changes his mind and brings it to the iPad.

  11. @ideatagger: Of course, a camera that works well would make it more of a device. The iPad, being handheld, will be moving much more than a laptop; thus, the camera needs not only better stabilization, but also some way of staying focused on one thing, like a face (if that’s what’s desired). Apple did get a patent on something like this, but quite possibly it’s still not up to Jobs’ standards.

    Apple has always chosen to launch products sooner with fewer features that work well, and then subsequently add in stuff that people thought was missing (i.e., copy/paste, MMS, 3rd party native apps, push notifications). Apple’s genius has been in getting the initial launch set of features right for most people.

    1. A device “whose potential is limited only by one’s imagination.” I suppose it is just our imagination that the iPad has no USB ports or camera (for video conferencing) or won’t play flash?

    2. I am not suggesting that a device must have every possible feature to be considered good but Om and others are not only willing to forgive the iPad’s limitations but in fact praise them as positives. I suppose it is a testament to Jobs’ genius that he can get people to do this. Okay, so the iPad is for media consumption and I suppose therefore does not need a camera. Consider this – would the inclusion of a camera have made the iPad less or more of a device?

    3. I would have been much happier with this post had it been about tablets in general and their potential to change how we consume media. If it is true for the iPad then it will be true to large extent for at least some of the other tablets that are already being built today.

    By the way, I too used a slate as a kid and loved it but I find he analogy a bit of a stretch. With all due respect to Om and Apple of course.

  12. Nice piece, Om.
    Now consider that the child you once were, the boy who received the slate…maybe couldn’t have received a computer, say, because your parents couldn’t have afforded it. Would your life have been diminished?

    Within only 2 years — my guess — an iPad can be made for a touch over $100. Mobile broadband will be cheaper. Millions of videos will be free. Millions of books and tv shows will be available for 99cents.

    Meaning, this very device that can help spur the imagination and potential of a child will be affordable to hundreds of millions and soon after, billions, of children.

    What might the world look like then, I wonder.

  13. Thanks for the inspiration. I too am excited by the iPad, but not just because it’ll be good for consumption, but because it’ll be better than a smartphone for creation, and more personal than a laptop/desktop. The Brushes app shown at the launch is only the tip of the iceberg.

    The very fact it is a big iPhone is revolutionary, as it carries the revolution that was iPhone to a new form factor, opening up way more possibilities than the iPhone opened up previously. Yes, there were models that came before, but based on what Apple showed, it looks like the tech is finally here to make this form factor truly usable.

  14. James katt

    I believe you are so right!

    The iPad is limited only by your imagination.

    And the pundits who are disappointed in the iPad are the ones with LIMITED imagination.

    That is a profound statement.

  15. Om, like some others here I found your piece to be heartfelt and well written and like the other posters it impacted me, but not in quite the same way. You see I have no similar childhood memories to connect to the iPad. I have however been an avid user of just about every form of “tablet” computing device ever created (remember the CrossPad that used actual pen and paper? – I used that for years). So in some sense I’ve been begging the industry to get this one right for a long time.

    When it comes to the iPad there is one thing that I have had just about enough of – the suggestion that to love the iPad all we need is a little imgaination.

    I can “imagine” sitting in a meeting with my iPad, viewing a presentation as it is being given. The presenter makes a particularly interesting point which I want to capture so I reach for my stylus and jot a quick note, all without breaking eye contact or otherwise appearing distracted. But wait – there is no stylus input for the iPad.

    I can “imagine” participating in that same meeting remotely, viewing the presentation on my iPad and simultaneously seeing video feeds of the other participants, just as they see a video feed of me. But wait – the iPad doesn’t have a web cam.

    I can “imagine” reading my email and being sent a link to a cool new show in Hulu by one of my buddies. I click the link, bring up the site only to be presented with an empty box because the iPad lacks Flash support.

    I can “imagine” wanting to get my content from some provider other than Apple (shocking I know) – say I’d like to buy eBooks from B&N because I have a long standing relationship with them. Should be easy with my B&N bookstore application for the iPad. Of course I can also “imagine” such an application never seeing the light of day due to Apples restrictive AppStore policies.

    My imagination knows no bounds, but you get the general idea. So to suggest that those who point out flaws or who have misgivings about the iPad are doing so because they lack foresight or imagination is both condescending and disingenuous. There are real flaws and concerns here, not just childlike wonder and you’ll excuse those of us who are annoying enough to point that out.

  16. Hmm,
    as a kid you used your creative imagination with a slate, now you’re looking at a device which is build for passive imagination (consumption) and believe it’s the same? The creative imagination for most people has to happen on a different device or has it?

    I think the simplicity of the OS is it’s strength, do we really need the ability to run a generalized feature bloated applications in every context? It’s basically what the spreadsheet did to the mainframe, take complexity and shrink it down to just the functions we need in a given context.

    • Ronald

      Thanks for weighing in on this and good points about the OS and its simplicity.

      The imagination is about building an experience that (as an app) is going to make consumption of content interesting. It is a different kind of a “imagination engine”, one that is fueled by lots of information. YOU and I have e-talked about this.

  17. maybe bcos you like worshiping apple …..slate you call …where the chalk aka stylus ….how the hell kids/apple fanboys are going to input data …..hold with their let hand and type it by on small virtual keyboard which is covering almost 1/2 of screen…no need to input data or apple fanboys ….who needs camera btw …usb is useless ….multitasking nah thats so out …oh kindle is so bad ..look no color ….battery back of just few weeks versus 7-10 hours …applications you can always be mercy of apps store ….why even consider other tables like notion ink which 2 x battery life than ipad and better screen…its so un cool…

    • Let see – no multitasking, no real keyboard, no camera, closed system, etc. and the repeated use of the “fanboys” label to denigrate anyone who has anything nice to say about the device. Yep, that’s pretty much cover all the talking points. Good job.

  18. Tech critics so often don’t appear to read tech specs – or even other pundits. Paul – above – for example repeats the canard about no USB which would be critical I guess if you need a USB device perpetually plugged-in. Since there is USB access through the dock. But, why would you need a constant USB device?

    No camera? But, everyone who reads around the Web knows there is a position built into the internals for the camera – and presumes it will either show up by release – or be added in V2. I’d wait till then if it was critical – or keep on using the 2 cameras I already own. My current cellphone doesn’t have a camera BTW. Video conferencing in our SOHO happens via the iMac in the study.

    The iPad fits all the needs I’ve been filling with a laptop as 2nd choice ever since I gave up on Palm to update and improve their creation a few years back. The chuckle is that my partner in one of the blogs I toil at – to whom I gave my last Palm – is now considering an iPad.

    We’ll get one in during early days and my wife and I will swap forth-and-back, MacBook and iPad, so she might experiment and see if it changes and improves her portable needs. We may end up with 2 iPads.

    Om – I love your slate analogy. And I’d add those books my parents gave me to be mine alone while they were teaching me to read. They became some of my most important early possessions. As I reached adult understanding, I discovered a few books worth re-reading my whole life and still have them with me.

    Think of those you might store in your iPad to show to a friend or student, suggest they, too, might read and learn.

  19. Paul Jardine

    As much as I like the iPad, I think you are getting confused with tablet devices in general and the iPad in particular.
    Surely all tablets remind you of your slate? Why did the iPad suddenly change your view of computing, it isn’t like there were not devices like this before.
    I think the disappointments with the iPad are mainly around things like the lack of USB, lack of a camera, and the general lack of anything particularly ‘revolutionary’, it IS just a big iPhone.
    The extra screen space gives rise to different usage models, but they are not that clear yet and certainly not exclusive to Apple. Certainly the iPad will define the market for this type of product, but unusually, I would side with Aristotle and say that the classifying item is just the n+1th item, rather than the ideal form!

    • Paul – the disticition between pad and others is in the *touch” UI, the seamless integration of apps, a new class of apps (other tablets have the same boring Windows apps – how innovative is that?).

      And coming to “lack of” items, they can be fixed in rev2.0. “Revolutionary or not is in the eye of the beholder (errr user in this case).

  20. Jay G. Ethridge


    Great post! Since it’s announcement I’ve been thinking about the new and different ways of delivering content to the iPad. What excites me most is that I think is that people like you and organizations like GigaOM are imagining new ways to deliver content.

    It’s a unique device that elegantly supports the today’s medium and tomorrows.


  21. Om, you won’t believe but when I first read about the iPad, I too thought about my first slate! In 10 years time I’m sure that kids will be learning to write on their e-slates, be they iPads or others. Nice article.

  22. Om, I don’t usually comment on blogs too much, but your post resonated with me enough to write this. I completely agree with you that I fail to see how people cannot get excited about keyboard and mouse finally getting obviated! This is as big a shift as the one from console interface (remember DOS?) to GUI and brings the computer even closer to humans.

    I have a short post on this at the following link (Disclaimer: I work for Harbinger Systems, where this post is hosted):

  23. Malik sahab !
    I am also reminded of that ‘slate’ which I carried till my KG school ! And, yes, I can see why you are thrilled about iPad.

    In a country like India, I wish there was more support for devices like iPad so that children in far-flung villages can learn easily with their new ‘slates’ where the content was already supplied by someone or downloaded.

    Thanks for the nostalgia trip !

  24. Great article OM. I subscribe to your views and I can imagine myself teaching my daughter maths and showing her science videos on iPad. It is just easier to imagine and that is what makes it great.

    By the way we still call it “Home Work” in India. :)