As Revolutionary as the DeLorean

The iPad has been in our house for twenty-four hours now, and I’ll start with the obvious and not-very-original praise — it’s a beautifully engineered device.

But with that out of the way, let’s dive in and get to the heart of the matter — the iPad will be about as revolutionary to the computing business as the Delorean was to the car industry. Meaning, not all all.

Dave Winer was perhaps a tad too harsh yesterday calling the iPad a toy, but I think the essence of his argument is about right.

Here are the key things I’ve noticed in playing with the device the last day and trying out twenty to thirty different apps:

  • My kids (14 and 11) love it. Why do they love it? For one reason only — the games.
  • Touch gestures are awesome for browsing photos, and some specifically designed apps (Time magazine and the Guardian had the best photo-oriented apps)
  • That said, there is no way I’m ever going to pay $4.99 a week for a magazine on this device (and I am your target market); Kevin Anderson has a great post on this
  • It is definitely not a production device; every time I wanted to do something, I reached for my laptop (typing this post on my laptop now — the keyboard on the iPad is not a serious tool)
  • I found the ergonomics of the device more awkward than I expected; I’m surprised so few people have written about this. There is a reason you see people propping their legs up tent-like to support the device in all those ads.
  • It’s a horrible daylight device — hard to hold it in a position to avoid screen glare
  • It’s far less useful for video than I would have imagined; not because of lack of Flash, but because of the ergonomics. You really want a fixed screen position to watch video. And you often want to multi-task. Laptops are perfect, really, for video
  • I used the iBook app, and again I found the weight and heft of the device less friendly for book reading than a Kindle
  • Touch gestures are elegant and lovely and efficient for some applications, they’re awful for others. In many ways, touch is much more important and critical on the iPhone than the iPad.

In short, I think this is an awesome game device, and a very, very good browsing device for photos and specifically-built content applications. But it is most definitely not a computer. If I had to make a Sophie’s choice decision, choosing between my MacBook and the iPad, it would not be a close call at all. Whereas, if I had to choose between my iPhone and my MacBook, that would be a very, very hard decision.

To claim this device is as important and revolutionary as the iPhone is just delusional. And anyone who thinks it is a potential replacement for a real computer smoked too much Steve Jobs PR crack. In my life, using computers intensively the past twenty years and building applications and services designed for them, there have been four truly huge developments:

  • The web browser and Internet
  • The lightweight laptop with built-in wifi — this revolutionized mobile computing, and was a huge leap forward (very under-hyped at the time, giant in retrospect)
  • The iPod — the ability to take 1000 songs and put them in your pocket, what an incredible thrill, and introduced the world of digital mobile devices
  • The iPhone — the first truly great mobile phone & computing device, and the single best and most revolutionary communication device made in my lifetime

The iPad isn’t anywhere near as important as any of these things, elegant as it is. It’s essentially a nice to have device, not a must have.

And in many ways, I find it a big step backwards. It’s an incredibly infantilizing device. On my MacBook (favorite computer ever) I love being able to write a blog post and listen to music and toggle over to my Twitter feed and my e-mail while sitting on my couch. My computer makes me feel faster, more productive, more engaged. It helps me to do more things.

Whereas my iPad reduces me to poking my finger at the screen, one application at a time. I found myself getting bored, and reaching for my MacBook.

So why all the praise? It’s interesting, when you start to break it down. So much of it comes from people who want you, reader, to go back to being a consumer. If you make your living as a writer or a maker of content, say, the thought of having someone drinking in your words in an elegantly designed app without the distraction of a Facebook alert or e-mail or music or web-browsing or other multi-tasking madness is unbelievably seductive. It provides them the illusion that we can go back to the world pre-web, where content creators were few and ruled the Earth. I think a lot of folks hope Steve Jobs have given them back that world with the iPad, a world where they’re in control again.

Diverging opinions on the iPad are reflective of a larger cultural war happening within the technology and media businesses. As I wrote from SXSW last month, there are a lot of folks in the media business who have never really liked the web. Including some folks, ironically, who now make their living on the Web.

If you’re an entrepreneur, the iPad poses a huge dilemma. Anyone who makes games should be focused on this device straight away. But if you’re not in the game-making business, it’s not as clear. There will be hundreds of millions of people with smart-phones or super-phones the next two years. And hundreds of millions with a laptop or computer connected to broadband.  Maybe 20-30M at most in two years with an iPad?

But, fortunately for Apple, you can hedge your bets by thinking of the iPad as part of the iPhone family of devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad). Taken together, that’s a huge addressable market. And a force to be reckoned with (bacause ot it, Flash for video will be largely gone from the Web within the next 12 months).

So, back to my new iPad. It’s sitting over on the bookshelf re-charging while I type this on my MacBook. I might grab it later to play with. Or I might not. It’s kind of like that.

AN UPDATE: I should note for the record that when the iPad was announced earlier in the year, I thought not including support for Flash was a big mistake. I was totally wrong about that. YouTube and and a few other services already work brilliantly on the device, and I think by year’s end we’ll see most mainstream video sites gravitate towards support for HTML5 standards as a result. That’ll be a good thing.


3 thoughts on “As Revolutionary as the DeLorean

  1. Pingback: Where the iPad is Revolutionary « MHALLVILLE

  2. Pingback: The Tablet: It’s the Future of Entertainment (Not Computing) « MHALLVILLE

  3. Pingback: The Tablet: It’s the Future of Entertainment (Not Computing) « GoodStuff Blog

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s