Evolution vs. Revolution
I believe that the uses of the iPad is revolutionary, even if the iPad’s technology is not.
The internet’s reaction to the iPad has been fascinating. Tech geeks seem to be fully polarized on the issue, with most (it seems) quite upset that the iPad isn’t what they expected it to be. I think it’s safe to say that it didn’t fully live up to the tremendously overinflated hype that surrounded it’s launch. I was fully drawn into the hype, and allowed myself to get excited about a brand new form of text input, video chatting, etc. I was let down during the keynote to see that it was, as many people have said, just an oversized iPhone.
But by the end of the Keynote, I was sold on it. Sure, the product itself wasn’t revolutionary, like the iPhone was. It was more an evolution of the hardware platform up to a new size.
It’s the concept that is revolutionary, and that started with the iPhone. The iPad just expands this concept into a space traditionally held by proper computers running full fledged operating systems. We’ve been using essentially the same computers for 30 years now: mouse, keyboard, windows, file systems, device drivers, RAM, disks, viruses, installation disks, removable media, etc. They’ve improved incrementally, but have also grown more and more complex to handle the multitude of tasks that they are given. And yet what MOST people actually DO with computers is interact with apps, one at a time. Very little time interaction with the file system is needed, because apps have evolved to make the file concept abstract.
The iPhone and iPad builds on what good applications on the desktop have been doing for years and continues the evolution to the rest of the computer. Gone is the file system, thanks to each app handling files itself and central repositories for file types (like photos, music, etc). Viruses and malware are less abundant, thanks to the closed system.
The vast majority of people don’t really know how their computer works, even if they have grown quite adept at using them for their daily tasks. This regularly becomes apparent to me whenever I am asked by someone to help them install software, or upgrade their OS, or back up, or find a file that has gone missing. These are all considered complicated annoyances, things that you either have to have a friendly geek do or pay for.
The iPhone and iPad have none of these problems. They just work. They can’t do everything a “real” computer can do, but they can do most of the things that a real person does on their computer. And over the next few years, the number of things that they will be able to do will grow significantly.
I sat in a room full of non-geeks today and asked them what they thought of it. Most didn’t know much about it, nor did they care, nor did they see the point of the device. They said “isn’t it just a bigger iPhone?” Many people would argue that this doesn’t bode well for Apple, that this core market of everyday users is who they need to make this work. Almost every person in the room had an iPhone. They love them because they are easy to use and let them do cool stuff on the go. And when they first use the iPad, and it works just like their iPhones yet lets them get at what they want faster and easier than a laptop, they’ll get it too, and they’ll want one.
In a few years, we’ll wonder what this debate was all about. Because in a few years, a cheap Windows netbook will feel like a kludgy dinosaur next to a freshly updated iPad running iPhone OS 5.0. Then again, the nerds will still love them, and that’s fine. I’ll still want something I can hack open and mess with from time to time. But for everyday usage, even I want something that gets all the extra stuff out of the way and just lets me do. If the iPad doesn’t live up to that promise yet, just wait and see what happens in a couple of years.