Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Apple iPad is an Ambient Information Device

Update 26 May 2010.
Video proof of my position.

iPad + Velcro from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

The keyboard + dock for my iPad arrived today – which marks what I’m considering the start of my actual evaluation of the device’s strengths.

The Apple iPad is quite comfortable in the dock, and both sit quite comfortably in the corner of my desk.

For a while, I had it play through my photo library. Then I let it sit on today’s view in the calendar. I found myself wanting to flip the faux pages in the Calendar. And more generally, I wanted to flip from photo slideshow to Calendar to Weather Station and back.

Overall, It felt quite comfortable in the corner of my eye, quietly reminding me where the day was at.

Like the clock on the wall and the thermometer out the window.

The iPad is an ambient information device. It’s not a competitor to laptops – it’s a competitor to the Ambient Orb the Chumby [1], and digital picture frames.

As has been discussed everywhere else, while scrolling through Google Maps on the iPad is a joy, more precise input isn’t. Reaching to the touchscreen then back to the physical keyboard is a flow killer. Ironically, when I set myself in front of the iPad to type, it felt like typing on a manual typewriter. Intimate and error prone.

With this in mind, the question is – what kind of apps and websites does the iPad bias?

Those presenting at-a-glance changes in data. Think of high resolution Dashboard widgets, like the ones Edward Tufte describes for the iPhone.

Today, we have iPad-compatible websites.

Tomorrow, with web sockets – we’ll see more websites like the Panic’s Status Board or Cultured Code’s Development Arrival board. A single page, continually updated, information dense, and communicates at-a-glance.

Extrapolating all the way out on this line – video, movies.

But unlike television – I don’t think the iPad actually wants to be continuously engaged with you [2]. If there’s any benefit to the limited capability of this first release – it’s that you should get back to work and the iPad is good with you doing so.

No worries, It’ll be there when you need to know what time it is.

Comparing the iPad to a wall clock also explains why a) it’s not redundant to have both an iPad and an iPhone and b) why traveling with the iPad is a little silly.


“The iPad looks and feels like a massive photo frame—and that’s how you should design for it.” – InformationArchitects.jp

  1. The Chumby prefers Adobe Flash-base apps.
  2. Amazon’s Kindle rewards a lengthy, continuous engagement.

I’d like to suggest Apple license ‘Frustration Free Packaging’ from Amazon. Just like they did w/ 1-Click Checkout.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Apple iPad – First Impressions

My iPad arrived on Saturday, and as I mentioned in my iPad Prediction post – the Apple iPad does feel like the third attempt at Apple TV. And like all third installments of sequels – it continually risks becoming a parody of itself.

Since the iPad is a member of the iPod family of products (including iPhone & Apple TV) it is tethered to iTunes. The first thing my iPad asked for was to be connected to iTunes. This means the iPad will always be a peripheral – never a first-class, stand-alone computing citizen. This inherently makes a very powerful technology suddenly less useful than any laptop, Amazon’s Kindle, or a portable DVD player. It also provides a clear path for competitive devices. Even in the universe of the computing peripherals – the iPad’s intended use is closer to a wireless printer than a Wacom Tablet.

“iTunes is a crazy way to connect something as powerful as this device to local resources. A nightmare. Whoever thought up this way of doing things hates users” – Dave Winer

When I pre-ordered the iPad, I hypothesized that the Hackintosh‘s days were numbered. As soon as I saw Jen importing and uploading photos from the digital camera to Facebook, I knew I was wrong. While a tablet computer would be great for that – I just listed 3 things the iPad doesn’t do.

The iPad-as-Kindle-killer is complete nonsense. The Amazon Kindle still owns the physical ebook reader niche. The iPad is twice as heavy as the Kindle (24 oz vs. 10 oz) and more than 2 inches wider (7.5 vs 5.3). These differences mean the iPad can’t be comfortably held and used with the same hand 1.

” [iPad] is still large and not portable by any stretch of the imagination. You won’t be grabbing for your iPad every time you’re headed out.” – Adam Kmiec

The iPad’s screen is worthless in the sun. Hell – the iBooks application isn’t even installed by default. Once installed the iBooks’ wooden-bookshelf-as-UI is a hint that reading an ebook won’t be at enhanced by the iPad’s computing power and digital capabilities.

Just a book.

With pages.

The iBooks app doesn’t even support annotation – unlike the Kindle for iPad app.

I don’t get the sense that Amazon is concerned – their acquisition of Lexcycle gave them eBook readers on 5 platforms and they seem more interested in providing access to digital libraries than worrying about the merits of specific devices.

Personally, I’m much more interested to see web-native offerings like the ibis reader and Monocle take off. This is partly because the majority my eBook library (like my mp3 library) isn’t sold in stores – so it’s not accessible in the Kindle app nor iBooks app and partly because I think there’s lots of interesting things that can be done with ebooks & ebook readers that I’m not seeing yet.

“The book of the future is already here. It’s been here for about 15 years. It’s called The Web.” – David Weinberger

Like the eBooks app, the UIs of the Calendar app, Contacts app, and Notes app all contain the lamest, and most useless aspects of their real-world counterparts (Calendar is a book, Contacts has bookbinding stitching down the middle of the screen, and Notes has torn pages in fake leather folio with side pocket).

It’d be one thing if these apps didn’t have digital buttons throughout the faux physical UI – but they do. Reminds me of a time when TVs were covered in wood paneling. It reminds me of a paper I wrote in college on how plastics were first used to emulate other materials because the fabricators didn’t know anything else. It remind me of Microsoft Bob. God, it reminds me that the iPad, like the iPod Invisa is a parody of the iPod.

That’s all before anything is clicked to cause a giant digital keyboard to slide up and cover half the screen.

“Despite being faithfully designed to look and work like a real-world object, the Calculator app hasn’t made any progress. It hasn’t advanced technology. It hasn’t made anything more useful or created new interaction models.” – Marco Arment

Also like the eBooks app – I expected iWork-for-the-iPad to be installed default – or at least heavily promoted in the setup and experience – not at all. It makes me think Apple doesn’t believe this is anything more than a really big iPod Touch – with a slightly more usable keyboard and better web experience.

Yes, the normal web in Safari looks fantastic in the iPad. So much better than the iPhone. Highlighting my position that – generally speaking – web apps provide a much better experience on the iPad (and iPhone) than native apps. Even without @font-face support, the iPad highlights how typographically poor most websites are – a noisy jumble of tiny type and randomly arranged imagery, not optimized for reading on any device. Even so – the Web is a more consist and fulfilling experience than the iPad app store. Which feels not unlike an Apple retail store – if you don’t know why you’re there, you won’t find anything and you’ll be surprised at the price.

While I’ve already said the iPad won’t replace the Kindle – what do I see the iPad replacing?

The DVD entertainment systems inside minivans, the desktops & handhelds & paper forms around the neighborhood clinic. If ‘genetic technicians’ still drive between farms in rural America inseminating cattle – I can see the iPad replacing the pinhole-ridden plat map riding shot gun. With the right app, I can see the iPad replacing point-of-sale systems in boutique retail shops (like sales/service oriented ones like salons and auto sales). Less eBooks – more ePaperwork.

For me, I’ve had this vision of a device just outside my peripheral vision that would cycle through my favorite photos & images from iPhoto, provide an at-a-glance view of what my daily schedule looks like, something I can watch PeepCode screencasts on while writing code, watch Netflix or TED in the backyard, etc. This notion of a glorified digital picture frame is how I imagine the iPad will fit into my world – I’ll know once the dock arrives.

Lastly, the iPad started me on a re-work of my home network to make everything (files, media, ebooks, etc) accessible in the wherever I am and whatever device I’m using.

“So I see the iPad as a Bizarro Trojan Horse. Instead of importing soldiers into the kingdom to break down its walls, in this horse, we, the people, are stuffed inside and wheeled into the old walls; the gate is shut and we’re welcomed back into the kingdom of controlling media that we left almost a generation ago.” – Jeff Jarvis

Update 28 April 2010:
The 2 year old points at the iPad sitting next to the iPod Touch and declares, “Mama. Baby.” Seems like the most obvious declaration that the iPad isn’t anything new or different. Just supersized.

Update 1 May 2010:
Continuing on both the iPad-as-Apple-TV-v3 and iPad-as-Periphal frames, the iPad has replaced my laptop when I’m watching the TiVo. That feels very comfortable – in a way the Kindle does not. Putting the iPad down to watch the ‘big’ screen is easier (and more satisfying) than putting the laptop down.

Update 4 May 2010
I’ve been reaching for my iPad more than the iPod Touch primarily because of Fitts’s Law. Makes me wonder if Apple had started w/ the iPad and scaled down to accommodate the price of the touchscreen components.

1. The tagline for the iPad on Apple’s is ‘The best way to experience the web, email, photos, and video. Hands down.’ The second sentence implies you’re going to get tired of holding it.