The first two salvos I fired in the iPad War were tweets to my buddy John. Yes, the terribly named iPad is a dollop of iPhone with a side of Kindle, but it’s more than that. Gizmodo captured the essence of the device perfectly with their headline “The iPad is the Gadget We Never Knew We Needed”. Indulge me in a little tangent here. When computer companies were looking to make their desktop PCs portable, what did they do? They shrunk desktop computers into a portable case, rather than re-imagining the computer in terms of mobile human-computer interaction. Microsoft took that decision a step further with its mobile devices, which until recently featured a virtually unusable UI that was much the same as their desktop OS but smaller. Much, much smaller.
I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to say that the iPad marks the first significant shift in the direction of recontextualizing mobile computing. It’s by no means perfect. The iPad doesn’t multitask, although that functionality is expected in iPhone/iPad OS 4.0 (or so we hear). It doesn’t include a camera, still or video, so no insta-Flickr or Facebooking, video Skype-ing or Chatroulette for you! The Adobe-Apple war on Flash is also getting old, although I’m not exactly shy about my opinion of the software. No Flash means no Hulu, although I’m sure someone is working on a hack for that now.
Despite the Jesus Tablet’s shortcomings, Jon Gruber gets it, as does Stephen Fry. This device is going to absolutely gut netbook sales, particularly on the high end. Amazon is going to have to rethink the pricing on their large form factor Kindle DX, or discontinue it altogether. At just $10 cheaper than the base iPad model, it’s a no brainer. The Kindle wins the battery life war hands down, but in virtually every other respect the iPad takes it behind the woodshed and gives it a whippin’.
Back to my original point about re-thinking the paradigm of mobile computing. The demo of the revamped iWork apps proves that Apple, more than just being a hardware or software company, has really become the pre-eminent design company in the world. I’m not expert on HCI, but I could feel that the iPhone was different the first time I played with one. They completely rethought the mobile interface, in a manner that virtually anyone could master. While I held off buying the original iPhone, I absolutely leaped into the abyss with an iPhone 3G after a canoeing mishap rendered by Windows Mobile powered, HTC-built Tilt unusable. I had used every flavor of Windows Mobile back its humble Pocket PC beginnings, figuring out how to strip DRM from iTunes songs so I could play them in Windows Media Player Mobile, investing in software so that I could sync my phone to my iMac, and learning how to install hacks and edit registry entries to customize the phone as I wanted it. All that came to an end with the iPhone. I took the OS as it was given to me, and for the most part I liked it. Once Apple granted iPhone users the ability to re-order app placement in iTunes, I was happy.
Now that I’ve completely made the switch to Mac products, I won’t be going back to Microsoft. And I’m not saying that because I’m some kind of contrarian fanboy, like the execrable Linux crowd. I’m saying that because I feel like Apple just gets it. They’re pushing the boundaries of interfacing with computers forward, not in some abstruse, theoretical, gee-whiz-MIT-Media-Lab kind of way, but in a real, everyday, this-is-how-we’re-supposed-to-use-computers manner. I think we collectively took a step into the future on that stage in California.