Earlier on I talked about solutions in search of problems, which ultimately don’t go anywhere the vast majority of the time, and for a good while, Apple’s iPad was very much perceived by the tech press as in that category.
After shifting millions of them, it’s clear that they’re not really solutions in search of a problem, nor even must-have gadgets for the tech elite, but solutions to a problem we had not always seen before.
The iPad was the first usably-sized portal touchscreen device that used the fingers on a wholly reliable and effective engine. (Yes, there have been other tablet devices, and other similar portable devices, but using stylus-type pointers or very inferior touch-screen technology)
Some of the tech press are still not convinced, even a year or so after the iPad debuted, because to them, it’s not of any use. It’s not like you can use it as a replacement for a laptop – but you’re not supposed to.
That’s the thing: the tech press haters, and plenty of other people, ridicule it for being ‘less capable than a laptop’, but they fail to understand the most important factor: it removes a boundary between the user and what they’re doing.
Right now, I’m sat at my desk, typing this on a keyboard. I could have used the iPad to write this very article; it’s physically capable, but it’s not really designed for it, and while it’s an experience I can imagine myself repeating when on the move, or for jotting down ideas perhaps, but I wouldn’t suddenly switch all document creation to my iPad.
Even if I could transfer my blogging to it, the rest of my time as a programmer is spent typing arcane symbols that are at best inconvenient on an iPad.
The haters at this point will point and laugh and tell me that it’s a toy, but it’s not – it’s just very good at what it does, and doesn’t try to cover other bases; it’s not a device for text input. You can do so when needed, but it’s a visual and visceral device, rather than an abstract one.
I’ve heard it before from artists that they get better results using a stylus and drawing tablet than using a mouse and keyboard and this should not be surprising; it’s the tool that’s most natural for them. Certainly more natural than trying to drag a box on a wire around to indicate movement with an arbitrary marker on the screen.
An iPad is not a natural tool for typing text; a keyboard is more natural because it’s the tool we’ve been brought up to use for decades. Because the iPad is not a natural ‘conventional work’ tool, it got a lot of derision.
Here’s the thing though: as I’ve said before, it allows us to do things that couldn’t be done before, and in so doing it becomes a solution for previously undiscovered problems.
User confidence is a big one, and with it education; ask any IT helpdesk and they can tell you all the urban myths about people using mice as a foot-pedal, or holding it up to the screen to move the pointer… these are logical things, while a mouse is not inherently logical. An iPad, however, removes that sideline and allows them to directly use the tools they’ve had all their lives: fingers.
Scrolling on an iPad is natural, it feels natural, and it removes having to train people on using mice and keyboards, though it isn’t without its own problems.
That’s actually the one thing the iPad has taught us: that there is the potential for a post-PC landscape, where we don’t have to sit down at an established place and use the same tools we’ve used for decades because we lacked the tools for anything better.
Some tasks will, thus, still revolve around keyboards and mice – for now; it’s only a matter of time before we find a replacement for those that even programmers and hard-core bloggers will appreciate…