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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. Great article. And thanks for bringing up fond memories about using the slate and Wren & Martin :)

    I like the analogy of a blank slate. Just think of all the apps that have been developed since the iPhone was released. I’m sure may of them would have never been conceived or imagined had there not been a platform to support it.

    I am sure similar innovations specifically designed for the iPad form factor will be seen in over the next few years.

    Sure there are some short comings of the device that was announced, but the next version will be much better. Jobs being a perfectionist, probably didn’t want half-cooked ideas put into the 1st version of the device. They’ll learn from their mistakes and from their users and make the next version that much better and more usable.

    That being said, I think the iPad is an ideal device for the technically challenged, folks who don’t want to deal with the headache of maintaining a computer Mac or Windows, dealing with upgrades, crashes, install/uninstall problems etc.

    Using ones fingers to touch is a natural technique that everyone has mastered from kids to the elderly and a device that uses touch for navigation can be easily used by almost anyone–who can afford it :)

  2. Excellent column. I use One Note extensively and am excited over the possibilities of the iPad and One Note. At least One Note started as a tablet software program. The same would be true for Keynote. I have not seen any indication that those programs would work on the iPad.

  3. I think there are four key issues with this device:

    1. The wohle thing in concieved as a pure “Itunes Store Purchase Terminal(tm)” with some very limited www/E-mail/Ipod/Ilife capabilities added. People seeking for a sleek/highly portable productivity device are left with no interest in it and will most probably look for a netbook (which will be even cheaper to buy!)
    2. The lack of even the most basic connectors like USB kills all interest from the creative community. I could have imagined a multitouch version of Ableton Live or Serato Scratch running on it so that mp3-DJs could use it as mabye the most tempting DJ-tool since the Technics SL-1200! Impossible without a decent external audio interface (and perhaps multiple I/O).
      Another example: why can’t I transfer pictures taken on-the-road directly from my cam into Iphoto?
    3. The missing phone capability was a deliberate choice from Apple and therefore the most scandalous omission. Of course the Ipad was never intended to replace your cell-/smartphone, but with cheap prepaid contracts all around you could easily have a second phone number and do some calls occasionnally. To make things worse, Apple, again, inisted on a ridiculous “microSIM” non-standard card just to annoy potential customers not willing to be locked into Apple’s retail foodchain.
    4. Most important of all. THIS IS VERSION 1.0. And like with all Apple lifestyle products, this is a public beta that enthusiasts (also called “idiots”) buy so that they can provide Apple with valuable short- and mid-term experience. There are some serious design flaws (huge frame, rounded backside), glitches in the software and a total lack of interesting software from 3rd party vendors. IT IS NOT INTENDED FOR THE MASS MARKET. Remember the first Iphone? Shiny looks, but completely lo-tech and totally unsuited for business use.

    I will patiently wait for the second Ipad to be released. Maybe then we could see that ridiculously huge frame disappear from around the screen.

  4. Krishna Rao

    You talk about how iPad will change the way we consume media. There is no doubt that such a device is sorely needed today. But you do not talk about whether the device is good value for money. The iPad does not replace the iPhone-like cell phones (roughly $500). It does not replace the laptop (again roughly $600). So you essentially want consumers to spend another $500 (which comes with a measly 16gb memory) for the iPad? Sorry, your analysis makes sense when it comes to media consumption, but the iPad is less than an ideal device.

  5. I’ve re-read this several times and forwarded it around, b/c I think you’re articulating very concrete terms what many people are missing or just reacting to emotionally, which is hard for others to engage with.

    We’re forming our own thoughts (as producers of online video, and the ZIO blog network) and will post them shortly.

  6. Venkatesh

    Hi Om,

    Do you think there is a chance that Apple will launch a iPhone WiFi only version like the iPad ? That will cannibalize on iPod Touch but will complete change the landscape on so called “feature” phones. We know it costs 129$ or so to add 3g to iPad. So theoretically they can make a iPhone WiFi for $300 which can be “free” with a 2 year voice contract. They will completely own that segment.

  7. Yogesh Pandeya

    Hey my post carefully again with open mind (if you have)….I have not pointed out a single fault with iPad….and for imagination part read my pointers for Apple’s future possibilities…Apple may one day change they way we interact with TV…iPhone OS becoming open for all devices…fueling further innovative applications…can you even imagine how many applications will come to the market if Apple provides tools for Windows to develop applications for iPhone and iPad??

    It is good to be passionate about a company or a product…but it sad to become blind to see some facts…particularly the truth…

    Rest is your choice….

  8. Om, a wonderful tale, heartfelt and important as it helps us cross cultural divides.

    As to the posters in this thread who, satirically, trashed the idea of “imagination” and this device… I say the following.

    There’s a big difference between imagining the potential of the device–the type of uses and apps that have not been seen before– vs. trying to fault the device because it lacks certain hardware features–and “imagining” scenarios where it won’t be useful as a result.

    Hey, I can “imagine” that the iPad won’t be good for guitar strumming or baseball throwing either! :-)

    I challenge those who focus on pointing out what the iPad can’t do to come up with things that it can or could do because of its special design! Prove that you really can use your imagination!

  9. Yogesh Pandeya

    Adding a line to my last post….

    However, Apple does come out with devices with unimaginable User Interfaces which no other device could imagine and later they are forced to copy Apple….

  10. Yogesh Pandeya

    You have hit some nostalgic chords with the article by mentioning slate, though I would not consider iPad equivalent to slate. For sure I would consider iPad as Kindle++.

    In fact, Apple has always been doing the same with all its devices. Pick up the most popular device or a device with great potential (but under utilized) in the market, design a better product, add awesome UI to it, and time it well with all the marketing tricks in the market. Good part is that they always lay grounds for future products. And keep people excited about upcoming products.

    MP3 Players -> iPod -> Future for iPod Touch
    Touch Screen MP3 Players -> iPod Touch -> Future for iPhone
    Mobile Phones -> iPhone -> Future for iPad
    Kindle -> iPad -> Future for iNoteBook?
    Set Top Box -> iTV -> Future for changing the way we watch TV?
    Power PC based PC -> Intel based PC -> Future for releasing OS X for all PCs and killing Microsoft?
    iPhone OS -> Future for make a killing by releasing it to everyone??

    The quality I liked most about Apple that they are able to see a potential of a device early on and capitalize on it before any one else does. But I rarely see a device coming out of Apple which is not imaginable before!

  11. Great read. What Apple does better than most is positioning their products in between that space of satisfying both the pro consumer and the ordinary Gen consumer. The iPods and iPhones are devices that’s been easy and intuitive to use with hardly any learning curve involved (babies can use it). Yet they’re also technically advance enough to keep Pro consumers smiling, and thinking of new clever ways to use it (Apps).

    This is the same case with the iPad; I plan to buy the mom one because it’s everything she needs from a computer, without the unnecessary upkeep and headache. And angry calls for me to fix problems. Surely I will be getting one to use the same way I currently do the iPod Touch in the house. I find the iPod Touch more joyful to use for consumption of information and entertainment than a PC, if only it had a larger screen.

    If this becomes a success, it may finally get us closer to breaking away from that 30 year old desktop PC metaphor.

  12. ..Paper and pencils were expensive and were restricted to finishing up school assignments or “homework” as it was called back then.

    Kids still use the term “homework” in this part of the world :)

    Brilliant piece, Om.

  13. Om,

    Beautiful post. Thanks for reminding me to not be cynical about something that could have the impact that you describe here.

    And here’s hoping that folks @Apple are reading you and realizing that the value of what they could have on their hands if only they could loosen their ironclad grip.

  14. Thats exactly how I felt when I first used a Mac vs MS-DOS or Windows. Then the iPhone/Touch. Now with the iPad I feel like we finally got something that we fantasize or just see in futuristic SciFi movies that looks cool, but impractical in the real world.

    Apple has figured out how to get such a device in our hands today…well in March.

  15. vinceMAZE

    Maybe you are little bit unconscious because it’s the first computer in our history which is closed the most in the world (no USB, SDcards…). Try to find how it’s profitable the iPad. It costs 229$ per machine and the first price is 499$ without application and so on… You know, in a bad economy the best way to handle it is to create something which already exist and ad the best marketing technics with it and you’ll be Mister Billions…
    To conclude I think it’s a dangerous way for some people. This strategy included to spread a message: “I have all the Apple products and look it’s funny, beautiful[…]”. It’s rare to see products which are who are very relayed by the purchasers themselves. And it’s not about quality, because it’s middle range and not innovative because it exists already. It’s just Apple, formerly we had the British American Tabacco now drugs are changing in technology…

  16. My thesis on this one is that there was a bit of a natural “That’s It?” predicated on the simple fact that the iPad is an evolutionary device, whereas the iPhone was more revolutionary (relative to what was already in the mobile space).

    That said, I believe that skeptics under-factor the “It’s the Platform, Stupid” dynamic; namely, that there are already 150K apps that will work with the device out of the box, and 100K+/- developers coincidently engaged in the building apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad combined device footprint. That’s a lot of built-in leverage.

    Now, as to the magic and wonder part, I don’t think most people grok how true multi-touch will be a game-changer when you have a device with large enough screen real estate to accommodate two hands and lots of fingers as “interaction” interfaces. That will spawn some real compelling applications, I think.

    A note aside, most people looking at the iPhone revolution never even counted iPod Touch in the equation until this Christmas when “suddenly” everyone realized that there were 30M of those devices out there.

    While I expect a slower ramp on iPad until something like a “TV Anywhere” offering materializes or tools for a Book “re-boot” are slotted into the platform, I expect a similar surprise when the post Christmas numbers are reported.

    Btw, if interested, here is my analysis on iPad:

    Check Mate: Apple’s iPad



  17. Although I have a publisher (for the last four books and a fifth one), I am going to use a revised, updated version of my first book in an email promotion. That said, it is going to be published as a ebook. Now as unholy as it sounds, I was forced to buy MS OS software, an emulator and a new MS office program just to make the ebook – which won’t work on a Mac once completed without the emulator. And now here comes something that is going to muck up the works – unless you can tell me that this professionally produced, Kindle reader ready ebook I’m about to publish will be able to reach Job’s legions of fans, of which I am one. Do you know whether this is machine will be the ultimate in compatibility (finally) or just another line drawn in the sand?