Monday, June 21, 2010

Another angle on Social Computing - the iPad

There was a distinct ethereal hum as I finally added an iPad to my iPhone, iPod, Powerbook, iMac and G5 kingdom.

I had to answer some questions for myself on something that felt 'game changing' - magic almost.

What is the magic in the hardware, form factor and software of the iPad?
  • Given it's size it travels from room to room with you. The only other computing device that really does that is a feature/modern phone. Laptops get parked which equals bad for a prospective command centre and true on body device.
  • The role of phones will change. The size of displays for pocket devices have limits (technical and social) that the iPad immediately begins to highlight. Phone's may be more of a cousin of your car key, wallet and GPS devices than the final form factor of the utopian 'life controller'. Phone holographic technology would of course help phones reassert themselves as a social device rather than a private device.
  • Works great as you walk and use the device using only 1 hand (unlike a laptop) for essential workflow tasks of the OS (cut copy-paste-search-open-close) , in fact most programs and tasks are possible given multi-touch to allow context. It also works really well with 2 hands allowing richer expression and depth of interaction.
  • No wires and it fits everywhere - that's a fail for most laptops which demand height as well as depth on a desk or surface. iPad display and control are merged into one flat surface.
  • The resolution is great - it looks like an interactive magazine.
  • It wins the war hands down as the master input device for contacts and calendar control. Phone calendar co-working was not convenient with phones or laptops. Laptops feel 'official' and had to be crowded round with a bent neck (or worse via ping pong mail). The iPadCalendar experience is one where you co-author it with your spouse or friend or colleague sitting next to one another...on the couch, standing in the kitchen, and so on. Passing the iPad back and forth so everyone can download their details makes for good 'ownership' of events and to-do's and will prompt healthier use. This form factor, so far, is the best capture tool and it's social - just like calendars and are meant to be.
  • The e-book, e-comic and e-magazine have arrived - they never had before. iPad allows you to zoom on article, photos, paintings or Maps. Hand it to a friend. Magazines can't compete...physical books also look like they will get in the neck strong if iBooks is anything to go by.
  • Contact data and references (URL's etc) really are ubiquitous and synchronised across all my equipment. Retyping was hurting the mass uptake of computing - we need to do away with it. A combination of mobileMe, wireless and apple core products (itunes, iphoto et al) ensures that data, preferences and references are available, accessible and synced no matter where you are. No mean feat.
  • Resolution of expression for multi-touch fingers. So much more satisfying for almost all application experiences from innocuous address book management and browsing to rich real-time control audio/visual applications.

The form factor of the iPad makes it a truly social device
The laptop and the mobile are personal computers - we don't share them physically with others much at all. They are social in that they can enable 'remotely social' experiences but it's a private affair.

This is where the iPad and form factors like it have a potential to shine ... families passing it round to arrange the trip to the lakes, band members trimming the email marketing list collectively, waiters allowing customers to select their choice and then taking the device to send wirelessly to the kitchen, putting in in grandma's lap to see slideshows.

but it's not all honey...
  • The weight - any more weight for the iPad would be a fail but it just gets away with it.
  • Heat - beware your iPad in strong heats up quickly and then forbids you to use it until it cools down.
  • Power and Charging - Non native chargers that work for iPhones don't fare well with the iPad.
  • Utilising other devices - I'm not a fan of the buy a wireless or a wireless with 3G simcard approach. It's a bad fit as iPad demographic probably already have mobile data contracts and don't want another. I'd have much rather payed an extra levy per month on my network provider bill (O2) to use my iPhone as a modem. The iPad is a natural main console for all your computing so it would have been nice to see utilisation of slave devices such as iPhone available out of the box - specifically from Apple rather than a 3rd party integrator.
  • Upfront user profiles. Given the inherently social capability of the device it is a miss to not have controls for multiple user profiles.

We live in interesting times alright.

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