As I wrote a few weeks ago, Apple recently announced a new tablet computer to be called the iPad. This device has been hyped more in the past few months than the Super Bowl. Thousands of news articles have appeared online and in print, trying to guess what the new device would be. The announcement stopped the guesswork: the iPad will be a one-pound, battery-powered computer with a 9.7 inch screen.
You can watch the introduction of the iPad at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU6isGR3PaM
Apple started accepting orders a few days ago on Friday, March 12, and reportedly sold 120,000 units the first day. I ordered one early that morning, and I plan to write about it once I receive it. The delivery is planned for April 3. I will first spend a bit of "hands on" time. I will load several genealogy applications on the iPad. I hope to describe my successes or failures in this newsletter a day or two after delivery.
The iPad reportedly is fully compatible with the Apple iPhone and the iPod Touch. It should run all the present iPhone/iPod Touch programs, including the genealogy programs, although some of the programs may look "funny" when displayed on the much larger, 1024-by-768 pixel screen. I suspect the programmers will scramble to modify their programs so that they look good on the iPad screen as well as on the smaller iPhone and iPod Touch screens. Look for updates to most all the present programs shortly after the iPad's release on April 3.
Thousands of articles have been written about the iPad, both in print and on the web. Many of the articles I have read about the iPad complain that the unit doesn't display Flash or that it doesn't multi-task or that it does not perform other high-power functions. I believe those writers have missed the whole purpose of the iPad. It wasn't designed for them or for me or for other techies; it was designed for the non-techies of the world.
Old-fashioned computers (those that were sold last year) are general purpose, do-it-all machines. They can do hundreds of thousands of different things, often running multiple programs at the same time. We load them up with whatever programs we feel like, and then we pay for that power with instability, performance degradation, viruses, and steep learning curves. Old-fashioned computers can do pretty much anything, but they don't do anything well. The latest versions of Windows, Linux, and Macintosh OS X -based computers are all examples of old-fashioned computers.
What we are now seeing is a change to task-centric computers. To heck with pushing the computer to the max; just make sure that the new computer performs the few tasks that we need and that it does them well. We all need to read email, browse the web, and maybe play a game or two. However, we don't need to do all those things at once.
Let me offer an example.
I know an 87-year-old lady who is technology challenged, and I see her often. A few years ago, one of her children gave this lady a $1,000 Windows computer so that she could exchange email messages with her children and grandchildren. It was a miserable failure. This lady was soon lost in a discussion of how the operating system works, what a drive is, what a file system is, how to use the dial-up modem, why she needs anti-virus software, and so on. She didn't understand a bit of it, and even worse, she had no idea how to make these things work. She doesn't understand the difference between software and hardware. Telling her to save a file in a subdirectory on Drive C: or Drive A: or to click on an attached file in an email message was similar to teaching her the geography of the back side of the moon.
"Click on the Start Menu. ... No, it's in the lower left. ... Yes, I know it says 'Start' and you want to change printer settings, but .... No, I don't know why it doesn't say 'printer' in that case. ... Yes, just click on it. ... With the left button. ... No, there's no button on the keyboard marked 'left,' I meant the left mouse button. ... Yeah. Right. .. No, left!"
She threw her hands up and turned the expensive computer off. She never touched it again.
Think about the other tablet PCs that have appeared in the marketplace up until now. Were they new devices? No. Most of them were just normal, full computers crammed into a tablet case. Most of them ran Windows, the same multi-tasking operating system used by many techies. A few of them ran Linux. They wouldn't have been any better if they ran the Macintosh operating systems. They made as much sense as putting spoilers and a turbo-charger on my SmartCar.
The design of the iPad is to be as simple to operate as a toaster. I don't think that Apple made it quite that simple, but it is close. Like a toaster, the iPad reportedly "just works" with minimal training for the user. Sure, a toaster isn't a microwave, and it cannot cook gourmet meals. In a similar manner, the iPad is not a super powerful computer, and it isn't designed to provide leading edge, state-of-the-art services.
The iPad is made for my 87-year-old friend and for others like her. She won’t have much trouble using the iPad. Ease of use is the key here. All she has to do is turn it on and start using it. She doesn't need to know what a hard drive is or what an operating system is. She has no need to learn about file systems, subdirectories, or disk drives. She doesn't need to learn about A: drives or C: drives or about subdirectories. The $499 iPad just works. She will never miss Flash, nor will she ever miss multi-tasking. She doesn't know what those things are, and she doesn't care. All she wants is a device that works. The iPad seems to meet her needs far better than any other device I can think of.
In fact, we have seen this with the iPhone already. Every day I see 2- and 3-year olds having absolutely no problem using the iPhone, and I bet they will do the same with the iPad. They can't even read, and yet they turn the iPhone on and play games and run other programs. I am sure they will also be able to use the iPad once it ships.
The 87-year-old non-techie can do the same. Without training, an 87-year-old with diminished vision can use the iPad as a day planner, email device, Web browser, e-book reader, and digital picture frame, things she could never do with a Macintosh or Windows or Linux computer. That makes a HUGE difference.
Sure, the techies will certainly notice and complain about the shortcomings. Non-techies will not. For most of the world, I believe the iPad will be a great device. For many non-techies, the iPad will become their primary computer. It sends and receives email easily, it surfs the web, it displays videos, and it plays music, all with no technical expertise required. Sure, it only does these tasks one at a time, but you know what? That's how the human mind works!
In fact, the software in the iPad has been deliberately "dumbed down" to meet the needs of the masses, and I think that is perhaps the biggest strength of the iPad. Let the techies who appreciate "bleeding edge" features run Macintosh or Windows or Linux. Multi-tasking? Who needs it? The non-techies are better served by the simpler iPad and similar devices. The iPad "just works." At a price of $499, this is the perfect computer for a non-techie. Even my 87-year-old friend can use an iPad without assistance.
Yes, anyone with technical expertise will know there are some missing features initially, but the non-techies won't notice and won't care. Besides, any real shortcomings will be addressed in future updates. That is the evolution of any product. We have seen this before with the iPhone, and I am sure we will see it again with the iPad. Version 2.0 or 3.0 of the iPad hardware and operating system will contain improvements dictated by customer feedback, primarily feedback from non-techies. The techies will prefer to use Windows or Linux or Macintosh.
My belief is that we are on the verge of still another computer revolution. Personal computers will soon become divided into two groups: the first group will be the computers made for the technically elite, and second group will be computers made for the masses. The latest versions of Windows, Linux, and Macintosh OS X will fall into the technically elite group and will continue to see new features added most every year. They will remain at the leading edge, or "bleeding edge," of technology.
The second group of computers will include the iPad and whatever follow-on products are created by Apple's competitors. These computers will be low priced and simple to operate. The user-friendly devices will be decried by the geeks as underpowered, locked-down, useless toys. These devices will also sell by the millions.
As a techie, I always appreciate high-powered, leading edge computers. If I tire of the iPad's limited features, I'll give it to my 87-year-old friend. I bet she will use it every day and will love it. She will even be able to use it to track her genealogy, something she has never been able to do with Windows or Macintosh.