My dad has this habit of printing out e-mail. Occasionally he’ll get something that captures his interest or makes him think or makes him laugh, but his first reaction sometimes centers on this urge to print the thing out and pass it around. When I go home to visit my parents these days, it’s almost a guarantee that at some point dad’s going to break out the paper e-mail to share a joke or something that he read about.
Needless to say, I think this is weird. It’s not how I use e-mail and feels like one of those Stuff Old People Do kinds of things. If I wanted to share it, that’s what the “forward” button is for. But even as I shake my head at the notion of my dad clear-cutting whole forests to share that latest e-mail joke going around the Intertubes, I realize that there is something there. We live in a networked world, and we like to share our media. It’s just that he likes to physically hand his e-mail to me.
And I do my fair share of, well, sharing. One of the things my wife and I have had to work out as fairly newish married folk is the use of laptops in the living room. We both have work to do at nights at times but it seems nicer if we’re at least spending time together in the same room, even if we have our heads down and are staring at our laptop screens. And while we might be exchanging information back-and-forth in that Only In The 2000s kind of way, there can be some sense of human disconnection even as we collaborate.
Even tougher, sharing something on my screen is more difficult if all I’m doing is playing. You can’t just pass a laptop to someone so they can quickly read an email, see a photo, or watch a video, and so I’m stuck with either e-mailing it to her or sitting next to her and trying to orient the crazy thing so she can watch it while still being able to access the controls. The former is just another impersonal manifestation of our highly wired society, whereas the latter is just clunky.
This is a post about the iPad, but not from an insider who was lucky enough to touch one yesterday. This is about me, the consumer looking at all of this stuff and deciding whether it’s worth being an early adopter. For the first time in a while, this is an Apple product I’m actually excited enough about to think about getting at initial release.
The fanboys have had their say, and the Apple naysayers (a cottage industry unto themselves these days) have taken their shots. I’ll let you decide what features it needs, but really I don’t care. We know with things like the iPod and iPhone that Apple likes to release these big-idea things in v1.0, then listen to its customer base when it makes improvements. With Apple the initial release is always about the big concepts. In the end, you buy it if it has utility at the price they set. This thing has utility for me.
My impression after seeing the demonstration videos and coverage is that I view the device in two ways: it puts the human touch back in our media experience, and it’s going to be a game-changer with the way we do wireless data in the U.S.
On the human touch, getting back to my original anecdote …. this thing seems like a really nice way to share media interpersonally. If I’m reading an email or viewing a photo I want my wife to see in the living room, or looking at something in a conference room that I want to show someone, you can pass the device. It weighs 1.5 pounds and it’s compact. It’s my dad’s e-mail printing dream without all the tree-killing. And it makes media sharing interpersonal again, not just a push-button experience. Handing it off, acknowledging the person who’s taking the pad from me … *mon dieu* making eye contact??? That human connection, that’s why we share, and the iPad looks like a device that lets me share things any way I want, including passing the device to someone else in the room.
As I think about the iPad it reminds me of how much more gratifying it is to sit down with someone and go over photos from a trip by sifting through the printed paper versions. Way more gratifying than posting them to Facebook and wondering if anyone is seeing them (or cares). There’s something tactile, human if you will, about the experience. I’ve watched slideshows on a laptop with people before, but it does lack that tactile feel of flipping through the photos. It’s one of the things I love about viewing photos on my iPhone, and I can’t wait to see it done high-res.
I also was super interested in the body language during Steve Jobs’ presentation yesterday. As Jobs was presenting, he was seated in a comfortable chair, legs crossed, and reading it pretty casually like one would read a book. You can sit like that with an iPod or iPhone, but that device isn’t made for reading for long periods of time. And you can read quite well on a laptop, but you can’t sit like that (or comfortably, for that matter). I’ve long liked the notion of e-readers precisely because of the potential it has to let us read in the way we’re most comfortable.
It’s the thing I keep hearing when people rave about the Kindle, and it seems like the next evolution in media devices. Jobs described it as the “bridge” between mobile devices and laptops that netbooks were alleged to be but were not: the comfort of ease of reading while using a powerful computing device but without the bulk of a laptop.
I’ve been intrigued by the Kindle for a while, but I’ve never really had the urge to own one. As much as I like the concept of an electronic medium that allows me to read while lounging around the house, I’ve never had utility for a single-use type of device that basically is for reading. The iPad is like the Kindle on crack; it does a lot more, it has the Apple app store, and it gives me the function of a mini computer without forcing me to assume the laptop position. So while I’ve never seriously thought about taking the Kindle plunge, I want an iPad now. Not because I’m a fanboy (which I am), but because I could see myself using this thing in a way that’s distinct from my iPhone and my Macbook.
So, to sum: Human connection, comfort, and actual utility. Yes please!
Will this thing become as popular as the iPhone or iPod? I don’t think so, but if people think that’s a disappointment they’re using the wrong metric. What this will do is increase the appetite and market for eReaders more than the Kindle ever could because it is far more than a reader. And knowing that the iPhone runs a Kindle app, I find myself wondering if this thing will kill the Kindle in the long run and turn Amazon into a book distributor again and take their focus off the actual hardware.
At the very least, this might be something that makes netbooks useless in the long run.
The other thing I want to mention is what I think is really the huge, huge takeaway from yesterday, and that’s related to data plans. My mentor at Mizzou Clyde Bentley, a brilliant fellow whom you should all get to know, had a similar reaction to what the most standout announcement was from yesterday’s presentation: few are talking about it, but this is going to change the way phone companies price and do data delivery.
This is not new for Apple. Before the iPhone the notion of unlimited data came with a hefty price tag, but Apple used its leverage to change the market. Quite simply, the iPhone wouldn’t have worked without it. But even now with iPhones you’re talking $30 a month for unlimited data. There are no “lite” plans and it comes as part of a 2-year contract.
The iPad’s data options are different. First, the thing works on wi-fi so you can run it for free without a 3G network if you want. There are two different types of iPads: both work on wi-fi, but you have to pay a bit more to get one that works on wi-fi or 3G. If you want 3G, you can buy data from one of two tiers ($14.99 for 250 MB per month, or $29.99 for unlimited). But the best best best part? NO CONTRACTS. You can use wi-fi if you want, then maybe go in for 3G if you feel like you need it or if you’re, say, traveling and need more mobile access. And you can cancel at any point. It really is brilliant.
When Apple launched iTunes few expected it to change the music industry’s business model in such a meaningful way. An industry built on the idea of whole album sales over time realized the value in selling songs a la carte. Apple already has changed data delivery once, and it seems poised to do it again. The ability to buy a lite version of a data plan and, God forbid, cancel at any time is a game-changer. Other companies are going to have to follow suit if they want to be able to capture the iPad user market in the future. Price wars, so absent in the mobile market these days, are a good thing.
I love the technology of this thing because I love gadgets, but I didn’t expect the big reveal to be Apple using its leverage to improve wireless data for the consumer.
Does the iPad have everything? No. First of all, the name is you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up funny (huge props to MadTV for seeing the future three years ago). It’s what happens when you develop this stuff in a secretive mad-scientist lab environment; tech nerds don’t make good focus groups. Second, some of the criticisms like a closed OS or lack of USB or memory card slots are valid, although I think it’s overblown. The first iPhone didn’t have an app store, text messaging, a video camera, Bluetooth, and so forth. Apple does a good job listening to customers and, more importantly, figuring out how they want to use it. They won’t deviate from this course with the iPad, and while you can’t have every feature people want there is room for it to grow.