Exactly 8 days ago today, 2 beautifully packaged iPads arrived at my house, having pre-ordered them for their May 28 release in Australia.
“Pah”, you say, “I can already see he’s an Apple fanboy! Who cares about packaging?”
Many consumers actually do care about the packaging. This is one thing where Apple indisputably does better than any other consumer electronics and computer company. Their packaging, without the slightest doubt, is beautiful. Simple, elegant and bespoke to each product, Apple’s packaging inspires a gasp of admiration from many designers and regular consumers alike who happen to care about the aesthetics of their product.
The iPad doesn’t have the best packaging of an Apple product. I’d say that still goes hands-down to the Magic Mouse, but it’s still pretty damn elegant.
Moving past the packaging though, I need to talk about the sort of week I’ve had with the iPad. To help you understand though, I’ll first describe an average day without the iPad. Or rather, the average evening. Of a night time, I tend to haul my laptop out, put it on an Ikea laptop stand in front of me, and let it mostly dominate my evening. For the most part, while the laptop is occupying a chunk of space in front of me, I’m mainly using it for web browsing, chat and the occasional email. It’s hardly stuff that requires oodles of processing power.
On the other hand, the iPad fulfils all that functionality at a fraction of the space and sits comfortably in my hand, meaning I can sit wherever I want of an evening, rather than being constrained to a single lounge chair. Without even thinking about it, I’ve got 7 days without using my laptop of an evening – I used to struggle going 7 minutes without using my laptop of an evening. I’m not saying I’ll never get the laptop out again of a night time, but what the iPad does, at the very start, is give me some personal space back and let me relax without a traditional computer. That’s liberating.
Onto the pretty pictures. Without a doubt, the iPad is truly beautiful. The screen is crisp, clear and has a fantastic viewing angle:
Now I know that some techos insist that the functionality of a device isn’t governed by its aesthetics, but I’d argue contrary. If you want to see me come close to having a fit, make me work at the computer of someone who has filled up every single space on their desktop with hundreds of icons. Clutter drives me nuts. At least once a week on both my Mac Pro and my Macbook Pro I end up having a cleanup session and eliminate documents that have built up on my desktop. Just like I have difficulty concentrating with a highly cluttered desk, I similarly struggle to concentrate with a highly cluttered desktop. So for me, the aesthetics aren’t about “ooh, I have to have a pretty interface”, they’re about “I have to be able to concentrate”.
The first thing you might notice looking at my home screen is that I see my iPad as a productivity tool. Even with only a week of using it for instance, I’m in love with the iPad version of Pages. Sure, it’s not going to be something that I’d construct an 800 page book on, but it’s also not just an advanced note-pad either:
Having used Pages for the Mac quite a bit, I’m astounded by the amount of functionality Apple managed to get into the product on this tablet. Pages also retains all the elegance of the desktop package whilst making use of the multitouch interface:
You’re probably noting that so far, all my screen shots have been of the iPad held on its side; this to me constantly seems like a more natural position. I can still hold it comfortably, and I can also type at a fair pace – particularly if the device is sitting down rather than being held. Two handed I’m assuming, when comparing against my normal touch typing speed on a regular keyboard (around 120wpm) that I’m easily hitting 60wpm when I get into the zone. Sure, it’s not perfect – no touch screen keyboard will be – but it’s as good if not better than a lot of netbook keyboards I’ve experimented with over the years.
From an entertainment perspective, the iPad is limited only by the imagination of the developers who are coming up with applications for it. For instance, a friend recently pointed out an (iPhone compatible) application called Air Video. This cost me $3.99 AU, and allows me to stream video from any Mac or Windows PC (not that I have any of the latter) running a free video server. It even offers on-the-fly conversion to maximise playability of content, and when you’ve got multiple cores sitting idle, that’s not a challenge:
(Of course, Air Video offers full screen video as well.)
It’s obvious that on an entertainment front alone, Apple has done an end-run around all the conventional entertainment device companies – Sony, Nintendo from a gaming platform, and just about any other company that does say, portable DVD players, have all been caught with their pants down over this. From a gaming perspective, iPad games give fast gameplay and quite simply, it’s like holding a PS2 (or better) in your hands:
I’m the first to admit that my gaming is pretty limited most of the time – I tend to stick mostly to RPGs, though the iPhone allowed me to discover the tower defence category of games, and I’ll admit that I spent some time conquering Angry Birds once I got into it. But I’m hardly a hard-core gamer. But I did have a PS1, I do have a PS3, I did have a PSP, and I can safely say the iPad takes hand held gaming to a whole new level as far as I’m concerned. For the parents out there, you better be prepared to give in and buy the kids an iPad – they’re going to be all the rage. Not only that, extending the same experiences that people have with the iPhone and iPod Touch, why would you spend hundreds of dollars on a dedicated hand held gaming machine where you then have to spend serious money for each game when the average iPad game is just a few dollars, and the “expensive” ones are still under $15? Dungeon Hunter HD (shown above) cost me $12.99, and it easily competes with the RPG games I had on the PSP – and wins.
Going back to something I wrote on my main blog a while ago (iPad = iManage), I think the iPad is going to help Apple even more than before break into the enterprise market. (And I’m not the only one who sees the change coming.) Even compared to a netbook, an iPad is a lot less intrusive, and certainly a hell of a lot less intrusive than a full size laptop sitting on a desk. What does that mean? Meetings, geeks, meetings. If you’ve got one of those days where you’ve got a series of meetings, or your just going to be in a lengthy one, an iPad is going to let you conveniently and non-disruptively (at least after the initial hubbub of having one has died down) keep monitoring systems or check details without having to leave the meeting. This mightn’t look like much, but here’s the VNC functionality of iSSH being used to connect to a VMware Server guest for console access:
I felt confident in asserting even before the iPad was released that it was going to be a game changer – that there’s room for a device that sits between a smart phone and a regular computer (laptop or desktop). My view on that has changed – but only to get stronger. If you want evidence, I think you’ll see it in HP’s acquisition of Palm. As the HP CEO said only a few days ago, they didn’t buy Palm for the phone business, they bought them for the IP. There are now effectively three platforms out there which will help to define a new level of portable computing – Apple, HP (webOS) and the Android eco-system. This in itself is going to create excellent competition in an emerging market – something that will help push the market forward by there being a variety of choices.
Any vendor who isn’t either (a) writing custom management apps for their devices or (b) ensuring that their web consoles are fully functional in a standards compliant way (i.e., HTML5 rather than Flash) is not only nuts, but is, like Sony and Nintendo, bending over and asking their competition to take advantage of them.
When Apple sold more than two million iPads in their first two months, it should have been clear to anyone that the game has changed. Blithely running around insisting that it’s just a toy, or that it’s a walled garden is ignoring the simple fact that consumers see the potential of this device to free them from a conventional approach to computing that requires some level of technical training. For those consumers who have a slight fear of computers, the iPad is going to be a liberating device. For those of us sick of carrying around laptops regardless of whether we need the full horsepower of the device or not, the iPad is going to be a liberating device. For me – neither fearful of computers nor shy of having excess CPU and memory horsepower, it’s still a liberating device.