Why The iPad Is Important

By April 4, 2010Uncategorized

Alright, I’ve read the reviews. I’ve the read Cory’s piece about open-ness and closed platforms (and I agree, open is better). I’ve read from the nit-picking details to the high level geekery, and I’m here to say, the iPad is an important device. Of course, some have already heralded it as the inflection point in “tablet” computing, and it is that – but the reason I think it’s important is actually a bit larger.

I truly believe that the models of human-computer interaction (“HCI”) that all of us grew up with are going to change dramatically in the next 3, 5, 7, 10 years. I believe it so much that Brad and I are working on it as a third show. And the reason that the iPad is such an important device is that it is a decisive break from the keyboard/mouse paradigm that we’ve been living in for 45 years (yes, the mouse is over 45 years old).

With this device, grandmas and doctors and “people on the street” will suddenly make the jump away from computing as a keyboard and mouse. In fact, the mode of interaction (and it is interactive, even if you’re passively viewing media content) is *completely* different. Multi-touch, tablet, portable — in much the same way that it’s hard for me to describe how I interact via a keyboard, so it is similarly hard to describe interacting via an iPad. But I think it comes down to this (fittingly, I’m writing this on Easter, in case there are any amateur theologians out there): Once computers went from pure business applications (numbers) to something “people” used (and this includes the entire advent of the internet), the primary mode of expression was the word. Text. Dare I say it, “logos.” 😉

Accordingly, the HCI mode was textual. Even the mouse was built to point at text links; highlight text links; manipulate textual (and sometimes numerical) objects.

The iPad blows right by that (and it should given that what the video revolution has brought to the web). Sure, there’s email on the device – but it’s a secondary application. This HCI mode is built to interact in a way where the “word” isn’t the defining object. And that, my geeky friends, whether your inner early adopter is fully satisfied or not, is a game changer. Yes, there are iBooks and apps with text — of course! But the mode of interaction has moved beyond the word as primary HCI mode. Granted, it’s in some weird, hybrid, not fully formed, purgatory universe of user interaction — but the move has been made. And it’s been made on a device that “everyday people” are going to use. [sidenote: this thing is going to CLEAN UP in the grandma/grandpa and kid (4-8) gaming markets. CLEAN UP.]

By the way, saying that the iPhone/Smart phone market did this first really doesn’t work. Phones always had different modes of interaction (voice). We brought computing *to* them. Most people don’t think of their phones as computers. So, the iPhone – yeah, it softened up the marketplace. But the iPad – it’s a *computer* that no longer feels like “a computer.”

At the end of the day, sure there are problems with it: it doesn’t multi-task; I can’t ever achieve the speed of typing I can on a keyboard (though I’m an edge case, since the Department of Defense taught me to type north of 120 words per minute eons ago); it doesn’t have the USB port I want; it needs video/camera. NONE of that matters. That’s details. That will all come. This devise is an inflection point because it marks the moment where the dominant human-computer interaction model of the last 50-100 years began to fade in prominence.

And that’s why the iPad is important.