I just watched the full video from yesterday’s introduction of the Apple iPad, and had a few thoughts.
If you have seen other Apple product introductions, the format is familiar, and they are never less than well executed. Of the intros I’ve seen, nothing has come close to the introduction of the iPhone. (I saw the original Mac intro years too late to fully appreciate its true impact.) But what the introduction of the iPad may have lacked in shock and awe, it made up for in the completeness of the story. The iPhone was on stage by itself, just the software that came on the phone. The iPad arrives with an entire ecosystem, of new and existing applications, third party developers, accessories, etc.
People who were expecting to get the stomach drop of excitement that the iPhone intro produced (at least in me) were certainly disappointed. But that’s misplaced, the iPad is a far more advanced product and story than the iPhone was when introduced. It’s like the difference between the excitement of crushing hard on someone new, versus the comfort and trust and love that comes after many years of marriage. One’s more exciting, but the other is richer and more fulfilling.
Another disappointment, or fear, that people have expressed is the lack of “openness” or “freedom.” I’ve got a different word for that concept: “complexity.” You can call that spin if you like, but I’ve spent 20+ years showing people how to use computers, and they’ve never been easy to use. Even today, 25 years after the concept of clicking and double-clicking hit the mass market, I see people confuse the two, and that is the most trivial of examples. It’s easy to come up with dozens more serious.
What Apple is doing, first with the iPhone and now with the iPad, is offering a new model for computing, one that allows more direct interaction with objects on the screen, while at the same time simplifying away huge amounts of complexity, things that most people will never care about.
Those of us who are “computer sophisticates” think those things are important, but when the iPad arrives, and normal people love them, and rave about the user interface, and buy them by the millions, we’ll see what’s really important, and it’s not the “freedom” to fuck around in the file system, or the “openness” to go out onto the Wild Internet and download and install random software.
Try this exercise: every time you hear an expert say the iPad isn’t open, change “open” to “complicated.” Every time they write the iPad is “locked down” subsitute “simplified.” When the gurus get detailed about “important” three letter acronyms or random tech talk, hear “blah blah blah,” because that’s all it matters.
Gruber put it best, it’s the arrival of the automatic transmission for computers. Those of us who are enthusiasts and experts will have access to manual transmissions for decades — regular computers are not going away. But for those folks who only care about getting to their destination, it just got a lot easier.
Update: Here are some terrific articles that tackle this topic in depth, and in different, complementary ways:
- “Future Shock” by Frasier Speirs suggests that existing computer experts are suffering from future shock.
- “The iPad Is For Everyone But Us” by Mike Rundle argues that “Most people who … are now writing about the iPad are misunderstanding its intended audience because they’re not in it.”
- “On iPads, Grandmas and Game-changing” by Rob Foster illustrates the reaction normal people are having to the iPad.
- “iPad Snivelers: Put Up or Shut Up” by Joel Johnson calls the whiners out on the bogus parts of their arguments, and suggests they compete with Apple, instead of just complaining.
If you want to really understand this, and get an idea of just how much Apple is leading by example, watch the segment where Phil Schiller demonstrates the iPad versions of the iWork suite (a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation tool). Apple has completely re-thought the way that you interact with these tools, and except for the on screen virtual keyboard, it surpasses the desktop experience in every way. Really quite extraordinary, it was here that I got genuinely excited about what is new in the iPad, and what it means. A small taste of The Future.
Scott Forstall offered developers a big incentive to build apps specifically for the iPad: separate, prominent placement in the iPad App Store. The phrase “a new gold rush” was used. Is that sound in the distance the clatter of Android and web OS and Blackberry phones being dropped by developers? Maybe not, but Apple is certainly building tremendous momentum for their platform. Competitors will not be catching up for years.
At $500, the iPad will be $100 cheaper than the original iPhone I lined up to buy. I may not line up for an iPad, but I’ll certainly be buying one. Yes, the 2nd generation will be even better. That’s always true. So what. I don’t think the iPad is the grand slam home run I wrote that the iPhone was, but it’s most definitely a hit that will score runs. I want one.