I recently had the opportunity to use an iPad for a while at work (I know, I’m already well behind the cool kids). I found the device not wildly exciting, for two main reasons.
The first reason is that it is a single-user device, so in a situation where one has been bought for everyone to have a play with and try, the device is very nearly hamstrung. Admittedly with a little more effort I probably could have convinced the thing to talk to my itunes account and downloaded some free apps and cool stuff, but the fact that this was not obvious means this is not a device to be shared between people who don’t share passwords and credit card details.
The second thing that was more immediately obvious, and more confounding was that within even a few moments of interaction it was clear the iPad is very much a device for consumption, and not for production. Although the touch screen would make the ipad an obvious choice for some kind of gestural or pen-based input, this isn’t available (perhaps Apple are still smarting from the spectacular failure of the Newton?), and the native “keyboard” is noticeably clunky to use. This means that for all production purposes–even those which involve consuming media (such as annotating books or pictures, gestural photo or video editing)–that would seem ideally suited to a touch-based interface, the iPad in it’s native state is essentially useless. Even doing a Google search on this thing is hard. And while there are pens you can buy, and keyboards, and apps and all kinds of workarounds, it doesn’t change the fact that all of these things are not what this large and expensive piece of equipment was designed for.
I’m not alone in my assessment of these limitations of course. Larry Marcus says that the iPad is no replacement for a laptop unless you are primarily a consumer. Nathan Jurgenson at Sociology Lens reinfirces that prosumption is not where it’s at for the iPad. Jeff Jarvis, in his must-read review calls the iPad vapid and shallow, and points out how it is a move backwards from the open content the web made possible. Cory Doctorow takes it one step further and points out the iPad itself is a closed device. Jonathan Zittrain points out that even Apps don’t make the iPad open because they are vetted (and makes some very interesting points about a large antitrust suit against another technology company).
None of this is to say that the iPad doesn’t have a market; Jake Simms thinks “grown ups” will like it, Steve Myers reports on a panel at SXSW that suggested the iPad is designed for “laid back” computing, and Kathy E. Gill says we will have to wait and see how people use it in their consumption activities.
Personally, I won’t be getting an iPad; I have a netbook that does all the consumption things an iPad does except nice ebook reading, and there are cheaper ebook readers (if and when I decide to get one) and plenty of prduction things besides. While iPads are very du jour, I think they have missed a number of interesting interaction possibilities afforded by a touch screen, and I will be interested to see where they go from here. Any iPad users care to comment on their use?