How is the iPad going to fit in?

The iPad.  It’s a large iPod Touch.  It doesn’t run OS X.  It doesn’t multitask.  It doesn’t have a camera.  It’s not a typical computer. It’s a new way to think about a tablet experience.

Lots of folks have been criticizing the iPad for what it isn’t, instead of praising it for what it is.  What it is, is a great user experience.  A user’s experience of a product goes way beyond the functionality of the software and dives deep into the usability of the software, the design of the hardware, the design of the context in which you use your hardware, and how all of these things are brought together into one product.  All of these things have been thought out exceptionally well with the iPad.

The software serves a purpose.  Lets take for example the operating system that runs on the iPad.  The iPad runs a version of the iPhone and iPod Touch OS.  This operating system has been in use for almost three years now, and it works great for a touch scenario.  It’s an operating system custom tailored to be touchable.  How fitting it is then to use this operating system instead of Snow Leopard, an operating system that is not designed for touch.

The software is usable.  There are some decisions that have been made by Apple that don’t provide a higher functioning of their new iPad, like the absence of multitasking. This is a huge pain point, but this decision was a decision that was made to make their software more usable.  With apps running in the background things can start to run slow, battery life can no longer be measured correctly, app performance isn’t guaranteed, developers have to worry about how their application behaves while running in the background, the OS needs a new metaphor for task switching and task killing, and down the rabbit hole of issues we go.  I’m not saying multitasking shouldn’t be there, I’m just saying that it’s not there for a reason.  When they figure out a way to guarantee a perfect user experience given all the issues multitasking creates, they’ll give it to us.

The hardware is well thought-out.  The shape, size, weight, battery life, and bezel around the iPad’s screen were all created with function in mind.  How are people going to use this product?  How are people going to hold it?  What about a two hand experience using their thumbs?  What about a one hand experience with a finger?  Given the uses for this product, how long are people going to be away from an area where they can charge their device?  What’s the multitouch experience going to be like?  The capacitive touch screen is extremely high fidelity compared to other solutions.  The more accurate the touch, the less you notice that you’re using a computer and the more natural the experience feels.

Apple’s products create an experience beyond the software.  With their operating system they’ve made the statement that “hey, this isn’t your laptop – it’s not a replacement for the exact same experience that you can get on a laptop or a desktop machine.”  This forces us to use this product as it was designed – away from the computer, away from the point and click of the mouse, maybe even away from the high-stress multitasking madness of a typical computer experience (It’s hard to concentrate sometimes with 50 browser windows open).  They’ve thought about an experience that other people haven’t.  They know what users want, but they also know what is possible, and create their experience accordingly.

So what’s the function then?  What’s the purpose?  If it’s not a laptop, and not a smart phone, then what is it?  When do I use it?  What’s it for?

I would like to call the iPad a peripheral computing experience.  It’s a device that enhances and/or creates an experience beyond your typical lap or desk bound computer scenario.  I place smart phones in this same category, but I believe the iPad provides a different experience than a smart phone.  An experience that we’ve never experienced before.

I’d like to hope that we’ve learned over the past 15 years that tablets suck at being normal computers.  They’ve all failed miserably at mass adoption and have only lived on in niche applications.  The iPad is a new direction for the tablet that can actually work.  The iPhone and iPod Touch exist as proof that the iPad will work.  Apple knows this better than we do: we don’t want a tablet that can do things the same way a computer can.

The iPad fills a gap.  It fills the gap between what a computer CAN do, and what a computer is inconvenient to use for.  Lots of things can be stuck in this gap: photo browsing, reading (on and off the web), watching videos, listening to music, playing games, sharing articles or sharing information to name a few.  These are all things that CAN be done on a computer, but experiences that can all be improved upon – experiences that can take advantage of multitouch capabilities.  Hence the iPad.

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