Now, the debate about keyboards is mostly over. When the iPhone came out naysayers and competitors alike all said, “I’ll die before you rip my ‘real’ keyboard from my cold, dead hands!”
And while there’s still people out there like that, the competitors have largely fallen by the wayside and adopted software keyboards. Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capitalism once again shows us the way to the future. While that may reflect the evolutionary path forward, is it really the best? What are the long-term implications?
Long-term readers of my blog will know that I love my iPhone. It is a transformative device, much the home microwave oven. Things are simply not the same once you have one.
I have little or no problem with the software keyboard, but I do recognize its limitations and frustrations. Then my iPad comes along. I love my iPad. I find that it is increasingly marginalizing my laptop in my life.
As a side note, while Apple may have played the “Windows is oh-so-vulnerable” and “Macs just work” cards heavily during the renaissance, I’ve long felt that the reason Apple Mac sales have increased is because they’ve built and bundled a machine that correctly addresses what people really do with their computers. We don’t do spreadsheets and word processing, we do email, web-browsing, photos, videos and music. They correctly assessed that the market isn’t about a computer “being a tool that can do anything” but instead made a tool that does what people do.
A good craftsman doesn’t blame his tools but he always has the right tools for the job. Having once worked in one of the trades, I can tell you the difference between having the right tool and a makeshift or general purpose tool is the difference between night and day. (Alton Brown and his stand on uni-tasking tools be damned.)
This, above all else, is the brilliance of the Mac resurgence. And, of course, like all computers, the Mac is still a tool that can be made to do most anything. That is still the nature of the programmable computer.
The iPad is a bit of a refinement over the Mac in this respect. It’s an even narrower tool, focused on an even smaller subset of day-to-day computers, but, significantly, still a subset that makes up the vast majority of those tasks. Most of us don’t make movies, we watch them, we don’t make music, we listen to it and we show off more pictures than we take. Use that assumption and make the device a more convenient form factor and Apple has (it would seem by sales numbers) hit upon the winning formula again.
Yes, there are times when I’m using my iPad and need to do something that I cannot do, but that’s increasingly less often as third-party apps come along to do the most amazing host of things. If I’m not at work, where I still use my laptop for software development, I can go days without using the laptop. The largest deficiency area of the iPad when we were in Taiwan is the inability to load pictures directly from my camera to the iPad. (Yes, I know there’s a camera-connection kit, but I couldn’t obtain one, and they still seem to be in constrained supply.) The laptop is increasingly irrelevant. With an SD card reader and a built-in camera (rumored for later iPads) the laptop will slip further into obsolescence.
Let’s diverge for another tangent for a moment. Apple has got a new data facility being built in North Carolina, and it’s a monster. Lots of people suspect that, in conjunction with clues based on Apple’s purchases of other companies, that iTunes will be adding a streaming service. I suspect that’s true. Why not? If you actually can rip people off for a monthly “service” fee instead of actually selling them a product, any businessman would. The health club industry has given us the model for all our future personal bankruptcies.
But actually, I think Apple has something grander in mind. I think the iPad (and the iPhone as well) are going to go (hopefully optionally) from computer mandatory to computer optional. I think they’ll begin to offer (iPads at first) the ability to buy, setup and use an iPad without needing a computer at all. It will be perfect for someone like my dad who, rather than replace his aging computer, could downsize to an iPad – provided that he had sufficient room somewhere in the cloud for his mail, contacts, music, pictures and videos. Many other computer-less people I know were interested in the iPad, until they learned it didn’t replace a computer, it had to be an extension to one. That’s what’s Apple is up to, if they’re smart.
I have no doubt they’re smart. One day soon, iPad will have the words on the box, “Requires computer with Mac OSX 10.X or Windows PC with Itunes or MobileMe account.”
Back on topic, because that’s not what this post is about, it’s about that damned software keyboard. It works sufficiently well for Twitter, Facebook, Friendface, Jitter, Flickr, most e-mail, notes and websites… but it fails miserably when i want to make a post like this one.
So, does that mean the iPad fails as my primary device? No, it means my behavior changes and I stop writing long blog posts.
I’m afraid the ipad will be the true dawn of the age of Twitter. People will voluntarily express themselves in 140 snippets.
Considering most people haven’t got even 140 characters worth of anything meaningful to say, perhaps that’s a good thing.