January 29th, 2010 -- The iPad
by Chad

I think the iPad is important. I'm not sure if this 1st generation iPad will sell well, or how large the market is for it, but it is an important step in the growth of Apple's multi-touch platform (currently named the "iPhone OS"). Apple isn't just trying to sell you this one product; they are trail blazing, carefully advancing toward the next generation of computer experience.

They are going to sell a lot of these just to developers like me (maybe half-a-million sales right there?). And all those software developers are going to start "thinking different" about screen size and resolution when they think about new iPhone applications. I expected Apple to make a bigger play here for resolution independence or come up with some clever tools to help developers target vastly different hardware. But, just like everyone else, Apple hasn't come up with a silver bullet (yet). Each app's user interface will have to be adapted uniquely for each different screen size that they want to support.

The thing that stood out to me most in the iPad reveal on Wednesday was the iWork demos; for the first time since the iPhone launch, Apple showed new multi-touch gestures. The iPhone has been "out" for three years (since it was first shown) and has only had three basic gestures: touch something with a finger, swipe a finger to scroll, pinch with two fingers to zoom. You can argue a difference between a tap, double tap, and tap & hold, but they are clear variations on a single finger tap/touch. My point is that Apple has taken a very slow (and smart) approach in how they introduce the world to multi-touch. I'm actually surprised at how many gestures have been added to MacBooks in comparison (two finger and three finger swipes, for example).

The demo for iWork showed a new gesture: holding an object with one finger, and then tapping with a 2nd finger on another object to group them or copy their attributes. First Phil grouped several slides together this way, then he set two photos to be the same size in a layout. I'm not exactly sure if these are both the same gesture or not. If they are the same, I don't understand the over-arching concept. If you're doing something with one object, tap other objects to do the same thing to them? If so, why didn't the 2nd photo join the 1st in being resized (instead of the 1st photo being set to the size of the 2nd)? I guess the difference is that in one case he was "holding" an object, so other tapped objects were grouped; then when he was performing an action on an object (resizing) he taped the other photo as a target for the action ("make it the size of that") and not to group them. It'll take some getting used to it to anticipate exactly how this gesture should work in different situations.

Also important about the iWork demo: Apple now thinks you should create and edit content on the multi-touch platform. The iPod Touch was for consuming content (music, web, games, video), the iPhone added communication (phone, email, texting) and the iPad is now for creating and editing documents. This is a big (and great) conceptual shift for Apple. I have a small fear that some new iPad technology (like the new ability to share documents between apps and other computers) will be withheld from the iPhone and iPod for a while because they aren't intended to create documents! Hopefully everything will filter down in the next iPhone upgrade.

Very interesting that the iPad includes a microphone, while the iPod Touch does not. I haven't quite figured out what Apple intends users to do with the mic that they wouldn't expect them to do on the iPod. Very interesting. I'll be surprised if the iPod Touch doesn't get a mic later this year (but I was also surprised when it didn't get it last year!).

So, I don't think everyone needs this iPad Apple just unveiled, but I think this platform will one day soon be in larger tablets, wall mounted displays, virtual computers floating in the air in front of you, and many other devices.

The multi-touch version of OS X will continue to grow. Apple took a real OS and stripped it down to the bare essentials for the original iPhone. They've been adding those "stripped out" things back quickly but carefully. Now we have file sharing between apps and the desktop! We are just a couple features away from iPhone OS being considered a "full OS" along with Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. Multitasking, system wide notifications, and a little customization (adding new fonts, for example) seem to be the main things on most wanted lists.

As a developer, though, I need to be able to write software. The app store has yet to allow any app that can compile, interpret or execute code of any kind. It is funny because the only way you could use early computers was by programming them yourself, and we are getting close to that being the only thing you CAN'T do on the iPhone OS. I can write software FOR the platform, I just can't do it ON the platform. When you can write software ON the iPad or iPhone, they will become "real" computers.

Apple hasn't made a strong clear argument yet for why you should buy an iPad. They didn't for the iPod Touch either, when it was first released. They waited about a year before they started to market the Touch as a gaming device (it is more, sure, but they only advertise gaming on it). We haven't seen how they are going to sell the iPad yet, but I think it will come in a few months. Right now the killer app seems to be Mobile Safari

I'm an iPhone developer, so I'm getting an iPad. But if I wasn't a developer I could see traveling with the iPad instead of a laptop (only 1.5 pounds is great) or using it instead of an iPhone/iPod around the house. With wireless data starting at only $15 a month, I'd probably get an iPad instead of an iPhone. My personal preference would be an iPod Touch with the iPad data service!

I imagine many people could use the iPad instead of a desktop or laptop computer. Each upgrade for the iPad will make it suitable for more and more people to do just that. If this first iPad isn't for you, the next one might be.

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