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.
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.
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.