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What Could The iPad Do For Us?

2010 April 3

How did I know it's coming out this weekend? Apple sent this to me in an email. A very specific email.

This is not a review of the iPad as a product, it is a preview of it’s potential. Outside of the reviews that are now coming out, this may be the only text you’ll want to read in order to be informed about the big story of the weekend, and probably, the weeks to come.

A lot of people have pre-ordered Apple’s iPad, which comes out in only a few short minutes from press time. Some people, probably more folks than in the first group, could care less and are pointing and laughing. The common wisdom on this product’s relevance is split. The former camp, mostly media nerds who are hoping their savior is this thin piece of metal (so the drought can end without them creating the fix themselves) calls this a “game changer.” The latter side, scoffs as they see this as an iPhone on steroids, and just another trinket to get your debt up with … and they might have a point. With technology, though, experimentation is the name of the game. I’m in neither party, but I am fascinated and have some thoughts to preview what may be on the horizon.

Why exactly would an iPhone on steroids would be such a bad thing? The iPhone is slower than the computer that does most of your computing, and if there was a serious processor behind it, the cries of “no multitasking!” would have to die down as it would take less and less time to process actions. Add enough screen space to lessen the amount of zooming/unzooming you have to do to read an article, and you’re sweetening the deal. Now, take AT&T out of the equation, and you have the entry-level iPad.

Admittedly, you’re taking the phone out, but sadly enough, the phone is the least loved aspect of the iPhone. What’s left in the iPad has a good number of things going for it, the least tangible of which is the strength of branding. Apple still holds innovation clout, enough for developers and the media to provide blind faith, which is always needed when you’re talking about a product whose entry level is 500 dollars and goes at personal computing in a detatched way. There’s no file organizing structure or nested folders hierarchy, but it has the branding behind it, so people will be willing to be disoriented because they have been brainwashed.

More importantly, it has the hardware behind it, as anyone who’s seen this slice of steel in motion and instantly thought “sci-fi” knows. It looks like what the tree hugging doctors and planet killing army folks in Avatar would be using, and once you’ve made something people want to touch and play around with, you’ve already won. More importantly, and this is something most havn’t mentioned in the mainstream press, the software design industry can go into this with a calming uniformity of screen size and internal chipset guts, working to develop one specific user-end-experience. This software will be different from most everything you’ve seen, even if you don’t realize it, in computing because the services will not have to be repeatedly asking questions such as which web browser it’s on, or are the right plugins installed, and what operating system you’re running. And here is where the potential will live and die, in the software. The iPad has to develop ways to surpass the more popular functions of the internet, if it’s possible, aspects such as:

The Better Social Network

Take facebook for example (and right now, it has to be the first example, as this past week they surpassed the mighty Google as the #1 Most Viewed Webpage). When you go to facebook, you better enjoy the supplementary content, as it too is winning a numbers battle, for what people log in for. Said supplemental material includes: “Adopt this lazy eyed gimpy dog in farmville!” or “Join my mafia!” or “the daily horoscope for your friend is…”.

Personally, I really don’t care about any of that. In the normal website interface for facebook, you can repeatedly click the Hide This Application button, but the rate at which new applications come up, it becomes a chore akin to weeding through your spam box. I love the facebook app for the iPhone, though, because you get no games or apps, and even more importantly, no ads. I seem to be in the minority on this though, so I assume that Farmville and the rest will get their standalone apps for the iPad, eventually.

And unfortunately, I predict that the absence of ads in mobile facebook will be going away in iPad specific builds, thanks to the larger screen. Of course this is followed by facebook offering a free edition and a paid app where you’re ad-free. What a paid edition could allow for, though, is to be able to have better control over what aspects you recieve in facebook. Toggle buttons in the settings could do a better job of letting the user decide what aspects of the facebook world are relevant to them. Facebook could become less aggravating, which would in turn cut down on the number of annoyed status updates you see of people complaining about facebook, while being on facebook. And that’s a win-win.

Word Processing, With Feeling

It’s safe to say that the average consumer would be incredibly happy with a computer that ran software which operated with ease. Most people I know think Microsoft Office is a laggy POS which is long overdue for a “less is more” makeover. What they don’t realize is that Apple has already accomplished this on their own. The iWork suite, Apple’s Microsoft Office compatible, and superior, set of word processing, spreadsheet creation, and presentation development softwares, already exists and each aspect will be available for the iPad for ten bucks a pop on opening day, which is about the cost of an empty box that used to hold Microsoft Word.

These programs are much faster running than their Microsoft equivalents, so I’ve been transitioning over to them on my home laptop. One thing, though, about the implementation, that I’m curious to see is a word processor without a file hierarchy basis. You may have a means to save files from email or something, but imagine working in Word without a desktop to save your documents to. It should be interesting.

A Better Blogging Experience

As anyone who has used the web drafting interface for posting to a website, hello The Busy Signal staffers!, can attest, these sites are far from reliable. The pages crash, the insert media buttons bring you to less than stellar contextual menus that rarely work correctly, especially for embedding video. A full fledged piece of software for this experience hasn’t been developed by the blog host company, because they think the web interface should be enough. These companies have made iPhone applications, but screen estate restricts you to making a choice between functions (editing HTML or approving comments) and does not allow for editing other aspects. I think an iPad edition should be able to be robust enough to correct these flaws.

This is due to the 8×11 touch screen is an ideal space for a DIY webdesign program. Dragging around widgets by hand could be amazing, and I know you’re saying why this would be better on the iPad than with a mouse and everything, and I bring it back to the single screen size interface. With only one way to lay this program out, there would be far less bugs and re-draw issues (when you move an item around from one area to another, and the computer processes how to re-lay out the objects for display and especially the text). Personally, I imagine it as more intuitive, a WhatYouSeeIsWhatYouGet environment, for the common blogger. I assume, wordpress, that you good folks are cooking up something good right now.

The Fantasy Sports Application Of Your Dreams

We’ve covered blogging, social networking, and writing, three of the more primary commonplace internet uses. So it’s high time to go to something a bit more specialized: the nerd world known as Fantasy Sports. My fellow fantasy sports leaguers, imagine having the iPad with you while you watch games. It’s thin, lightweight, and with the right app from Yahoo! or ESPN, you can be able to have a much better view of what’s going on across the professional leagues as well as tracking stats in your own league. You can have the MLB app open one second for clips and stats and then switch over to your league’s app to pick up that relief pitcher who just came up from the minors and struck out the side. This is a much more abstract and less colossal idea of mine, but it’s another revenue stream I could easily see many parties profiting from, not to mention making it easier to stay on top of the news around the league. When you’re in the act of watching a game on TV, a heavy bulky laptop is far from ideal to be checking, a tablet the size of a legal pad, though, would be perfect.

Magazines 2.0

When Wired Magazine put this preview of their iPad edition out, you can bet that publishers of magazines across the world instantly breathed a sigh of relief. A technological format is about to debut that moneyed people will support, and it gives the journalism industry a chance to go large or go home in terms of catching up with the times. I don’t think there’s anything I can say about magazine design on the iPad that Wired’s video doesn’t say for me, except this: they better localize the entire issue of each magazine.

GQ and Wired have tried to do similar feats in their iPhone applications, but the iPhone hard drives are limited, and force the user to sync the application with a live network connection, something which is not always available. When a new issue is available, it should download in it’s entirety, as podcasts do. The iPad is closer to a full computer than the iPhone is, and it should be able to leverage it’s storage space to accomodate a digital magazine library in addition to a ebook library, or at the very least provide an option for full or partial downloads.

A misconception about the magazine industry going to iTunes is that the subscription model (getting consumer information that informs ad agencies about the readerships) will be tarnished since Apple dispenses all content via the iTunes Store. People are missing an obvious workaround, wherein subscribers pay the publisher via the traditional means phone/net/mail and the publisher gives them a redeemable code that will start a subscription in the way that the iTunes TV show Season Passes work, wherein updates automatically download upon release.

If you’ve read the post on my own site regarding the failings of the analog subscription, you know that the problems are many, and could all be fixed on the iPad: timeliness, condition of publication upon delivery, erroneous duplicate subscriptions, etc. One that I didn’t mention in that article is the still aggravating delay window between payment and the first issue coming in the mail. You still see the 3-6 weeks nonsense wherever you go, and this is just another white flag that dead tree media didn’t realize they were waving. To Generation On Demand, this reads “we take forever to process an address, so who knows how long it will take for us to correct any mistakes or transmit your copy of the magazine to you.” If a customer is so kind as to request your services, you should be so professional as to provide them with product in as fast a manner as possible.

Web content producers will want their content viewed by the demographics with enough to spend to buy the iPad, because either the ad revenue for iPad specific clicks could be worth more, or because, through the iTunes Store, they can sell the software. Making a mobile-phone ready version of a major website was an arduous next to impossible task if you’re a provider of original content and not just a data aggregator (the difference being between The New York Times and Facebook).

Example: the NYTimes created an iPhone app which is a big miss in my book, as your in-app searches only scan through the previous day or two of news, leading to searches for major topics coming back with an empty results screen. Now, they have a larger canvas and can create a layout more true to who they are. As I mentioned with regard to facebook, many publishers will rope people in with two different editions of certain applications, or if a brand is especially strong, i.e. Wired or The Economist, they can just offer a very well designed app that trounces their web edition. If people will spend the money on these products has yet to be seen, but is quite likely.

Why Didn’t This Happen Before?

You might wonder why these breakthroughs will have to premiere with the iPad? They did not have to, but the way Apple does a big release goes a long way to help, and sadly this is a case where major market products will always be given an extra leg up that the lesser knowns, which could be even more creative, won’t (think NY Yankees’ vs. the Oakland A’s in terms of payroll and the book Moneyball).

The attention that the iPad release is receiving is practically unprecedented, and is far surpassing even the iPhone’s opening week. Last night on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, tech blog Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky came on to show off some of the neater features of the iPad, and with all this attention, as well as the record pre-sales I mentioned at the start, all the major software and media developers want in.

They want to get their projects to be what’s shown in these demonstrations, such as when Topolsky showed off the Scrabble app for the iPad, which integrates the iPhone. People talk about why would you need an iPad if you already had an iPhone? You wouldn’t, necessarily, but when you see something clever, how the Scrabble iPad edition allows players’ iPhone screens to stand in for the racks where they hold their tiles and keep them away from the sight of other users, you’ll be impressed. Even if you’re an alpha nerd, such as Fallon’s in house band leader, ?uestlove of The Legendary Roots Crew, you’ll be impressed:

@questlove actually retweeted this. No longer are nerdgasms something you hide in shame.

In a literal technological way, the reason why they had to develop applications when there’s already web versions of software that companies spent money to develop goes to the idea of the gated community. The iTunes Store, formerly the iTunes Music Store, is, outside of hacking, the only way you’ll get any software onto the iPad. In most reviews of the product, you’ll read things like “there’s no flash, and that’s horrible,” which is an arguable point. Flash is a seriously buggy piece of plugin-technology, and since it’s not made with a touch-screen in mind – I’m thinking of games more than films here – it would be hard for this pre-existing market dominant technology to be integrated into the iPad. Especially, since the iPad itself is going it alone, without any stylus/mouse nonsense to be lost and then repurchased. We must remind ourselves, though, this stuff costs a lot of money, and as the below comic strip demonstrates, you could play Scrabble for a lot less if you really wanted:

As you may have read, no flash sadly means no flash-based internet videos, like Yahtzee’s Zero Punctuation video game reviews, or sports highlights, meaning ESPN’s probably got their App ready since their site leans on flash video in a very strong way, with auto-playing clip packages in the corner. But, HTML5, the technology which aims to remove the need for Flash, has just premiered it’s potential for Quake 2 to run in browser on HTML 5, which is as awesome as it sounds.

If I’m So Excited, So-Jessie-Spano-Level-Excited, Why Am I Not In Line?

I’m not buying an iPad today, but if I had to walk by an Apple store today, which thank god I do not have to, I would be tempted. Primarily, I don’t have the setup to warrant it, as I already have a laptop as my main computing device. If and when this laptop passes on to the digital graveyard, and if the iPad has inspired the software I’m expecting, I do want to go the route of getting a desktop computer and an iPad.

Secondly, and more importantly, there’s the rule of never buying the first model of an Apple Product. I learned this firsthand when in high school, I won a raffle whose first prize was the original iMac computer, the translucent blue/white bubble computer, which was a horribly buggy dysfunctional have to pull the plug out from the back to shut it’s frozen screen off paperweight.

You can’t always just release a first round of hardware of a product and have it be the greatest thing ever. The original iPod maxed out at 10 GB, and had a lame battery and a hard drive that went unprotected, but round after round, it got perfected and became dominant. Over time evolving and leading up to where we are today in digital technology, playing a role in the ruin of the music industry. It’s easier than ever to carry around a portable warehouse of music you didn’t pay for, yet Apple is also responsible for the one success in the sales side of said industry, as iTunes now sells more music than anyone else.

Finally, to show proof that you can beat the design of your original web interface on the iPad, I’m going to show you Google’s preview image of Gmail on the iPad, which is so nice I have to go hide my credit card from myself.

BAMF!

Henry Casey, Editor-in-Chief of The Busy Signal, has been published in a vanity publication of a major watch maker, sometimes blogs at With A Passion, and since graduating Bard College in 2006 has worked in the art book industry and now for a major metropolitan museum in New York City, where he was born and raised.

3 Responses
  1. April 3, 2010

    I’ll be able to afford an iPad as soon as I can find someone to buy my Segway.

  2. Andrea Greco permalink
    April 14, 2010

    I laughed when reading your description of “the 3-6 week nonsense” with magazines. I recently restarted my subscription to New York, and wound up emailing after a month to see where my issues were. I got a response saying there would be a delay of 3-4 weeks, followed by a promise that i’d get my first issue on a date that was just about six weeks from the day they charged my credit card. So I wrote back, telling them that was kind of stone-age. And then I went to see Greenberg and realized that I am one of the cranky-letter-writers of the world. Yikes.

    That last interface really is pleasing. The day they figure out how to make a tablet with a comfy keyboard, Apple and I might be in business.

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