What is the iPad, really?

Jeff at the Aplepi blog recently wrote an article flatly dismissing the lineup of peripherals designed to bring a keyboard interface to the iPad, in an article entitled: “Please, for the sake of advancing technology, just let the keyboard die already.”

Not because any specific peripheral was poorly made, but that “there are still plenty of folks out there who just don’t get Steve Jobs’ vision” [sic] of a peripheral-free computing device that operates solely out of the touchscreen.

At first I thought that it was borderline idiotic, especially coming from my background as a writer. The reason one might want a keyboard for the iPad is that touch typists work much more quickly entering in information by qwerty (or in rare cases, dvorak) keyboard. When I’m using an iPad, iPhone, or other similar touchscreen device, it takes me forever to write anything longer than a Google search term.

But then I thought – Jeff has a point. The iPad is not designed to be used with external input devices like keyboards and mice – because it is not, strictly speaking, designed to be a creative device. It is, in effect, an output-driven device, designed solely for consuming, rather than creating.

Indeed, it was Apple who once led the charge of creating computers designed to cater to creative people. Lately it seems that that the market is being abandoned for creating devices to cater towards passive people. There are plenty of musicians who own iPods, but they do not create music on an iPod; there are plenty of writers who own iPads, but they do not, as a general rule, write on the iPad.

A future defined by the iPad is in many ways, a huge step backwards. I don’t know what version number of the Web we’re on now, but wasn’t Web 2.0 – YouTube, Facebook, Blogging – defined by becoming a Web of creation and collaboration rather than of passive consumption?

So, what is the iPad really? In short, it’s a passive entertainment device. If you want to read something someone else has written, listen to music someone else composed, or watch a video someone else shot, the iPad is a portable, fun device.

This is not a criticism of the device; but to suggest that the iPad represents the future of computing as a whole (as Jeff at Aplepi’s provocatively worded title implies) sends chills up my spine as a content creator.

Thoughts?

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19 Responses to What is the iPad, really?

  1. I've got an iPad with 3g, and use it extensively when I am traveling or out of my office. I use it heavily for email replies, document review and editing, and occasionally to RDP in to my Windows and Mac desktops. I've completely abandoned my laptop, and turned it back in to IT to redeploy to another employee. I find it to be completely adequate for the type of content creation I do when out of the office, and the form factor makes it convenient to carry around with me to meetings. Until I open the cover and turn it on, it looks very much like the legal pads my peers carry with them, yet it doesn't create a barrier at a meeting table the way a lifted laptop lid does.

    The iPad has full support for bluetooth keyboards. I have a ThinkOutside bluetooth keyboard that works pretty seamlessly with my iPad, but to be honest, I rarely bother unless I'm writing a long document, or want to be able to see the full screen while I type. I'm used to the glass keyboard by now (particularly in landscape mode), and other than the occasional misplaced space between words, touch typing works well enough to justify the portability.

    I don't think this signals the end of creative work in place of passive consumption. I believe the iPad, and its inevitable competitors, signal a completely different type of transition: the abandonment of the SUV computing model. Just like once-utilitarian SUV's became a misguided attempt to meet every imaginable transportation need of suburbia, laptops have bloated into power sucking, heat wasting attempts to meet every anticipated computing need. They've become desktop replacements, and many users are opting for a small, light and mobile daily commuting device, rather than dragging their whole home system on their backs.

    But that's just my opinion. Since I'm sitting in my office, this was posted from the Windows desktop machine with 22" monitor that sits on my desk. Where it stays.

    • I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe you're missing the point.

      The kind of content creation your talking about–e-mail and meeting notes–is completely different from trying to write a blog or a novel, record and edit music, and create and splice videos together. Those are the content-creation type things that an iPad simply does not have the power to do.

      It's great for *viewing* all that sort of thing, but not for adding to the pool.

  2. I've felt similarly about Windows-based tablet PCs – if you need a keyboard, get a notebook. Convertible tablets are the worse of both worlds.

    There's a lot to like about slate (keyboardless) tablet PCs, but only if your applications are well-suited to a pointer-driven interface rather than ones that rely heavily upon keyboard interaction.

  3. I think you’re overstating the case a bit — iPads work best and are fully realized as a device to consume rather than create — but the same is true of the iPod. Out where I live and work (Kansas) several school districts are experimenting with iPad as replacements for netbook computers to put in the hands of students — it remains to be seen if students who grow up using iPads feel the need to have a keyboard. My own iPad gets used primarily for consumption and light work — when I have something more involved to create, I turn to my Macbook pro . . . but I grew up with keyboards. I’m not the future anymore . . .

  4. I think you're overstating the case a bit — iPads work best and are fully realized as a device to consume rather than create — but the same is true of the iPod. Out where I live and work (Kansas) several school districts are experimenting with iPad as replacements for netbook computers to put in the hands of students — it remains to be seen if students who grow up using iPads feel the need to have a keyboard. My own iPad gets used primarily for consumption and light work — when I have something more involved to create, I turn to my Macbook pro . . . but I grew up with keyboards. I'm not the future anymore . . .

  5. I'm pretty much in agreement with Brian here. I think the assessment that the iPad is primarily a device built around consuming media rather than creating it, is spot on. Now obviously you can create with the iPad, we've seen some interesting light paintings recently on GaS that highlight this point, but I think that tends to be the exception to the rule.As time goes by people will, no doubt, find new and interesting ways in which to employ the iPad as a creative tool, but I think it's primary function is as a media consuming device. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I can't speak to apple computers, but apple's mobile devices are amazing content consuming gizmos. And that's a good thing.

  6. iPad is a step towards next gen computers imo. In it's current form it's not as easily usable for "creating" as our desktops or laptops are, but give it time and I'm sure the next version will soon enough.

    • EXACTLY.

      People weren't like "God, these calculators can't do anything except basic addition and subtraction! It can't do square roots or trigonometry like I can with pen on paper! Well, I can but it takes too long..", and then better calculators came out until the point where even mathematicians themselves rarely work out full calculations in their minds anymore.

      Why assume the iPad is different from any other piece of technology which has evolved in it's capabilities without adding extra hardware?

  7. I much prefer my netbook. It’s true that laptops have become huge power sucking desktop replacements – my father-in-law has a HP that is bigger than my wife and my ten inch netbooks side by side! I think that’s where the netbook thing came from: a reaction against huge laptops.

    I do like the ipad interface, but i prefer the flexibility of my netbook running ubuntu. And if i wanted to i could get a (resistive) touchscreen module and mod my netbook to have a similar (though inferior, i must say) interface. I might do it yet! haha

  8. I much prefer my netbook. It's true that laptops have become huge power sucking desktop replacements – my father-in-law has a HP that is bigger than my wife and my ten inch netbooks side by side! I think that's where the netbook thing came from: a reaction against huge laptops.

    I do like the ipad interface, but i prefer the flexibility of my netbook running ubuntu. And if i wanted to i could get a (resistive) touchscreen module and mod my netbook to have a similar (though inferior, i must say) interface. I might do it yet! haha

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with you. As a writer, I can't imagine trying to touch-type a whole novel. Heck, I can't even imagine trying to touch-type a whole poem.

    Sure, the touchpad typing thing is great for responding to e-mails or anything that's going to be short and to the point, but any time you're trying to choose particular words, and you're going for length, it becomes a hindrance rather than an asset.

  10. I do agree that the iPad is a consumption device, but I don't agree that iPads (and such) alone are the future of computing. It's all in the marketing.

    I do not do much creating on computers myself, but my fiancee built one for recording music. If something like that could be done eventually on something as portable and convenient as an iPad or laptop, that would be great…

    For now, they are still releasing desktops through Apple, Dell, HP, etc etc that cater to creators needs. I feel like the biggest reason everyone is looking so hard at the iPad is because it's marketed so heavily to the average person. Computer companies don't NEED to market their fancy, expensive computers to the average person, because the average person doesn't want one. When the serious creator is faced with which computer to buy, they will know where to go, and they will spend their money on components that do what they need them to do. Anyone that tries to buy an iPad or a crappy lap top is just being cheap, hehe.

  11. Small niggle, but one that's gonna live with me until I get an answer (or at least for a couple of hours)..where's the mistake in: "there are still plenty of folks out there who just don’t get Steve Jobs’ vision”?

  12. Holy crap. That is the perfect analogy. And definitely one to fire back at anti-iPadders:Anti-iPadder: "Why did you buy that? You can't really do anything on it except watch, read and listen to stuff and play games! I mean, typing is horrible on it."iPadder: "..don't you have a television..that you can't even type on?"