April 6, 2010
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The iPad is not a computer

The torrent of emotion that has drenched discussion of the iPad in the tech community stems from an expectation that is wildly improbable. The iPad is not your next computer. It’s not your mother’s next computer. It’s not going to replace your laptop.

The iPad is a new thing.

Dave Winer is right: it's important to make stuff, and it’s nice to make stuff on the same device you’re going to run it. This is like using your own software: if you start developing here and running there, you can tell yourself that problems and imperfections don’t matter because your users won’t notice. It doesn’t affect you: you’re working somewhere else. And sometimes that’s the right decision. But this can also lead your company to start thinking of the customers as children to be placated, or marks to be fleeced.

The iPad isn't a place for developers to develop. Nor does it slice, dice, or make salad. That’s not what it wants to be.

Al3x is right; it’s important to have places where people learn to program, and places where people who don’t know better can once again take a shot at programs we all know are impossible.

The iPad isn’t a place for programming. It’s also not a place for dancing.

Adrian Miles is vexed that his colleagues, who still haven’t understood how important new media are going to be, won’t stop students from leasing obsolete laptops and get them to grab iPads. I think he’s wrong: students need a general-purpose computer. And they also need something like the iPad. (The iPad is a luxury: you could get by with a good laptop, but you’ll do better with both. $500 isn’t a lot compared to the cost of being a student.)

All the fuss about iPad and the enterprise (no printing!) is froth. Do you know how often you’ll feel like printing something from your iPad? No you do not. You won’t know until you’ve done a lot of work with it. You can guess, you can theorize, but you don’t know anything. (Funny: people will advocate user-centered design until the cows come home, but when they have a newspaper pulpit and a review assignment, they somehow forget all about it.)

Maybe Winer is wrong to think of the iPad as a computer at all. Maybe it’s not a replacement for the computer. Maybe it’s just a replacement for the book that sits next to your computer.

You say: '$500? That’s an expensive book.' Sure. Who knows what the price point will be? In the meantime, have you worked out what your company pays as rent for bookshelves? Across my office, I see lots of books that used to be next to my computer. Thinking FORTH. Petzold. Knuth. CSCW ’90. I pay rent for them every month.

Maybe it’s a replacement for your picture frame. Or for your clipboard. Maybe it’s something else.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Enjoy iPad for what it is. Figure out what it’s trying to do — not what its maker thinks it’s trying to do, not what they say they want it to do, not what the script kiddies or the Wall Street Journal or your grandmother imagine it wants to do. Look what the thing itself is attempting.

Listen to the the work.

Then, when you know what the system wants, you can criticize it intelligently.

Until then, it’s not criticism, it’s merely a projection of your anxieties and your politics.