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Revolutionary: iPads are for Places, not People

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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 (s aapl) overcome Microsoft (s msft) in recent months is only a sign of things changing, not a final victory on an age-old battle between two companies. While Google (s goog) 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

26 Responses to “Revolutionary: iPads are for Places, not People”

  1. Good article Geoffrey.

    I have definitely found that the iPad lends itself to be a shared device, the portability enabling passing it around to others.

    I think that apps need to adapt to this use though, because when I am letting others use my iPad I don’t necessarily want them going through my e-mail, calendar, documents, notes, etc.

    Some sort of user account mode is needed, a guest account or something for general users to have access to apps without access to personal information.

    Perhaps the solution is not an iPad used by multiple people, but instead iPads everywhere, so everyone can just pick one up and use it ;-)


    this article is exceedingly ridiculous. I hate when people write articles based on stupid ideas that make me think about their stupid ideas all day and wonder how someone could think in such a moronic way. Anything you would use an iPad for at a random location that “has one available” you can already do on your phone… any device can be used in a public or private way… some families right now share on a macbook, while some families have an imac for every member of the family…? of course the iPad will be shared with family and friends sometimes in some situations, but i’m a firm believer that the more mobile a device is, the more private it is.. that is why it was engineered that way… arguing that we’re moving to an ipad-fixed-in-different-locations society is stupid. One of the huge feature/experiences Steve Jobs highlighted at the iPad’s announcement was the personal-feel of using the device. Whether or not or photos and info move online is irrelevant… More people are going to have their own iPad, than be using public ones….. HELLO PAY PHONES??.. what’s that?… get real.

  3. If one is going to pontificate loftily, one really should check one’s grammar and spelling. Among the most atrocious in this article is the misuse of “loosing,” when what the author clearly meant is “losing.” that it is in the leading paragraph only makes it more glaring.

    As to substance, I guess I agree with the notion that there is an explosion of communal information occurring right in front of us. I thought the news earlier this year that the Library of Congress is archiving all public tweets made that point rather succinctly. But the fact that there is an explosion of communal information, and that privacy is difficult to protect, hardly means there is no longer a role for private devices. And to claim that the iPad is both proof and engine of that argument is not very persuasive. In one of his replies to the comments, the author defends his argument by noting that this revolution is in progress and therefore not very clear yet. That is convenient. I think the reality is that the notion here is not yet well thought out. The iPad, as several commenters have noted, is an exemely personal device. I don’t share my iPad with anyone, and would not. That has nothing to do with whether or not my information is difficult to keep private. It has everything to do with how I use it, and the fact that iPad’s OS is not set up for the device to have segregated user accounts. My iPad has very private data on it. I also do a lot of confidential work on it. The author sidesteps this fact by noting that the software of devices like the iPad has not yet evolved. But if it does, to permit segregated user accounts for example, then it seems to me that such an evolution is counter the author’s point.

    The author also ignores email and other forms of one-to-one communication such as phone calls. While phone calls are placed between devices, protocols like FaceTime and others allow us to connect to people, regardless of what device they are using. Email will likely remain personal, not device-specific.

    I agree with some elements of the author’s observations. But there is more puffery than substance here. Yes, there is a revolution happening, and it may be obscured in part by the gigantic digital revolution itself. But I believe the communalization of much information will actually place a greater premium on the privacy we can protect. The iPad makes it easy to share, but what it is you are sharing is ultimately up to you. Even if the iPad is “for places, not people,” people will still choose how to use it and what to pass across the table to someone else. In that respect, as much of an Apple fanboy as I am, and as many iPads and iPhones my family and millions of others own, I don’t think the revolution the author is trying to describe is being driven by the iPad. It is being driven by a capability brought about by the Internet and the ubiquity of smart communications devices, whatever their form factor. Those tweets during the protests in Iran weren’t posted from iPads, and it doesn’t matter. That they were posted–publicly by private people–is what matters. That’s the revolution front and center.

  4. B Hanson

    I disagree with the premise of the article also. While an iPad may be more “tied” to a location when compared to say an iPhone which is extremely portable. An iPhone relies on 3G for its primary function (making phonecalls), the iPad can do everything it needs to via WiFi (even though certain models Can utilize 3G).
    This, and the size of an iPad, mean it’s not portable in the sense that you can’t chuck it in your pocket and run, like you can with an iPhone. These observations I think, are different to Geoffery’s examination of the of the iPads effect on our privacy. The iPad is so new, it will take some time for the actual effects on our personal privacy become apparent. Secondly when offline, we guard our privacy depending on who we are with and where we may be. I say different things standing at a bar with a couple of stiff ones aboard than I would at my in-laws house. The biggest effect on privacy comes when people wake up to the fact that their employers, their in-laws, their children and their friends all get to read a single version of you. This is going to enforce some honesty, not a bad thing… but it has very little to do with the form factor of a particular Apple product. That is crediting it with far too much influence altogether.

    • Just to clarify a point, it is precisely the form factor of the iPad that will only serve to accelerate the socialization of information on a scale we have yet to realize. First of all, the user interface is extremely simple to master. For the most part, each big shiny button on the touch screen serves one and only one purpose. Each App is a highly optimized single purpose App (again for the most part). You hand someone an iPad and they instinctively know how to interact with it. Secondly there is no wrong way to hold an iPad. However one holds an iPad is the correct way. Passing an iPad from person to person is a very natural experience. The iPad lends itself to being passed around more so than any other object meant to convey information in our modern age. Together, the simplistic nature of the user interface controls, and the constant adjustment of the orientation to accommodate passing from one being to the next makes the iPad a very natural means of sharing information. The easier devices like the iPad make sharing information, the more information will be shared. The more information that is shared, the less information will be private. The form factor will inherently lend itself to the proliferation of social media and minimize the amount of information we feel we need to keep private. Information that cannot easily be shred will not be shared, information that can, will. The form factor of the iPad will make more information easier to share.

  5. I believe that any device that is portable and designed to be used in the hands is an intensely personal device. I believe that is behind the many accounts you read from new iPad owners who find it to be far more indispensable to them after a very short time. Using a computer in the hands is as personal as computing can get. I also believe the very nature of portable devices make them the opposite of location bound.

    • James, taking your comment one step further, the iPad recently made a sales presentation much more personal for me. I’m a tech consultant, including hosting and managing some large websites. During a meeting with a client I was using the iPad to demonstrate some new interactive features we were adding to their website. When I handed him the iPad he suddenly saw his website in a whole new way. Instead of the typical disinterested suit, he suddenly had lots of time to explore my (amazing) new code. Being able to literally put our product (websites) into a customer’s hands has been a really interesting experience (in a good way).

    • I can certainly see where the terms ‘personal’ and ‘private’ are being interchanged. I agree that the experience one has with an iPad is a very personal one. It can certainly show each of us the world of information in a manner to which most of us have not yet experienced. I have to disagree that what most people will tend to do with an iPad will be private. It is much more a device to share information than to prevent information from being shared. The more shared information the iPad conveys, the less likely it will be used as a container of private information. The more it is shared, the more likely it is to find its home in a central location, rather than strapped to a specific roaming individual.

  6. I also have to disagree with this article (seems like most readers, at least the iPad owners disagree). The iPad has become my almost constant companion, leaving little time for anyone else to use it. I certainly keep it with me much more than I ever kept a notebook computer nearby.

    I use the iPad throughout the business day for e-mail, WebEx meetings, Skype, monitoring servers, reviewing documents that people send me, Keynote presentations, and a majority of the browsing/reading that is an important part of my job. I use the iPad for many business applications because it allows me to get up and move around; working where it’s most comfortable. Nights and weekends I’m using the iPad to read books, magazines and news, and generally have fun.

    In fact, it’s more likely that someone will be found borrowing my desktop computer since that’s getting used less and less the more I transition to the iPad.

  7. 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).

  8. 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.

    • 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.

    • John, to protect your home network, and limit access to inappropriate content check out a service called OpenDNS (I think that website is 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.

  9. IcyFog

    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.

    • 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.

  10. 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).

    • 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.

  11. 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*.

    • 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.

  12. 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.

  13. manifesto-a-go-go

    “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.

    • 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.

  14. jtsnyc47

    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.

    • 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.