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.” –

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

One thought on “The Apple iPad is an Ambient Information Device

  1. Ok, I see your point about comparing it a wall clock . If I got
    an iPad, it would make the apps that are iPad compatible redundant on the iPhone. Personally, i don’t want to spend
    800 for it.

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