For an article I’m writing for a well-known magazine I needed to get my hands on one of the new iPads for a few moments, pre-release. I went bottom-up, top-down, pretended to be a reporter, employed vague threats, etc. All to no avail. I suppose the powers-that-be have a good reason for this, but it is a mystery to me. I mean at this point, the cat is out of the bag! On the other hand, I’m not really in the target market (like these guys, I find Apple’s mobile devices far too restrictive — my particular pet peeve is having to subvert the OS just to mount as a drive). So maybe I’m not meant to understand.
Setting all of that aside, the iPad got rather mixed reviews, with many people coming to the conclusion that while it is not a great book reader, it may be a “big tent” device that brings in many users who previously were wary of computers. I disagree somewhat with both points. I don’t see any reason why this device will follow a different diffusion curve than any other new technology. It may be easier to use, but it is still a new gadget.
Regarding reading, certainly the display is not the best for standard reading tasks that involve sitting down for an hour or so reading sequentially through text. It turns out, though, that type of reading is increasingly uncommon (much to the dismay of high school English teachers everywhere). Much more often, and especially in work-related reading tasks, people browse, skim, and search through rich documents either to glean a summary of the text or to find some specific piece of information. For those tasks, I think, the iPad is a real step forward. The high resolution display should fascinate new collection browsing applications that help people find and organize important pieces of information in a catalog of documents. Another emerging trend that the iPad could support is interactive multimedia documents. There are a variety of applications for this technology. Science textbooks can go beyond simply describing an experiment, showing process much more interactively and letting students comment and upload their own video responses. Geography textbooks can include video interviews with people in different parts of the world, etc. Also, health workers can keep open all of the documents for a single patient in one view, or use their pad to quickly review all of the patients they are currently serving. In general, I think there will be many new, domain-specific uses for interactive collection browsing.
Of course, we all know the real inspiration for the iPad.
Live long and prosper.