iPad and the disappearing act

When the iPad was first announced I found it odd that Apple would decide to market it as a “magical” device. Although I was excited to get my hands on one, I thought the word magical might be a bit much and dismissed it as a gimmick. In retrospect, I may have dismissed it too quickly.

I don’t proclaim that the iPad has the ability to perform magic — not in the literal sense. On the contrary, it’s a gadget, something made to help us improve our lives. But after owning and actively using the iPad for a few months I’ve come to believe that the iPad does have one remarkably magical quality — the ability to make other devices disappear.

The iPad is the latest in a range of new multi-purpose, multi-use gadgets making their way to market. For those looking to qualify the iPad as a laptop, or a book reader, or a gaming console, you’re missing the mark. Frankly, you’re missing the point. It’s a multi-purpose device that seamlessly converts to all of the above. What makes the iPad exceptional though, is its ability to transform into any one of these tools instantly, in an authentic way, at the same time making the tool it’s imitating virtually obsolete.

The iPad can become almost anything you want it to be at that moment. Ready to cook dinner; it becomes a handy cookbook. Want to play a game; it becomes a powerful game console. Need to catch up on the day’s events; it becomes a comprehensive newspaper. Done using it; place it on the mantel and it becomes the coolest picture frame in your house.

What makes this possible is its form factor. The iPad is designed to be similar to the shape and size of an 8×11 sheet of paper and that makes it near universally recognizable. Its size and shape, particularly in portrait mode, is more cognizant of how we read, write and digest information. Landscape mode is better for video, one reason why displays have gotten wider over the years, so switching back and forth between modes enables the iPad to be authentic in the form it’s being used — making it familiar to almost anyone. You may think to yourself “I already have games and books in my laptop”, but that’s not the point here. With the iPad it’s authentic. It feels natural — real almost. Never before has one device contained so much versatility, and with a device that can do great almost anything others used to do well — you’ll begin to see how the original tools could simply disappear.

Admittedly, the iPad is most similar to a Laptop. It provides so many differences than a laptop though that this connection is a far reach. For instance a Laptop is heavier and a lot bulkier than the iPad. With the iPad you can pick it up without having to readjust the way you are sitting. You can also carry it around, while still using it, with hardly any discomfort. It also takes significantly less time to boot. With a tap of a button it’s on and ready for use. Additionally, since it’s smaller and lighter than a laptop it’s a lot more portable. You can take it on the go easier than a laptop. To understand this, think of the difference between grabbing your laptop before you head out and grabbing a book.

It’s also more enjoyable to use. Swiping your fingers to navigate rather than using a mouse is more natural. Since you are using your hands to swipe, tap, and flick it’s also easier to maneuver. These natural gestures are another reason why it feels so authentic when in the form of different tools. This could also be considered a fault in some cases. Typing on an iPad is more difficult than on a regular keyboard. The buttons on a keyboard are intentionally made to press down allowing for physical feedback, since the iPad has no moving parts, that feedback is somewhat missing – causing it to feel a bit unnatural in this and other use cases. This is a minor complaint though, because, although it might not be great for writing a book, it’s perfect for reading one!

As an aside, over time the touch screen keyboard will most likely feel more natural as we get more accustomed to using it. Also, you don’t have to worry about keyboard keys breaking, getting dirty or going missing.

By and large, the iPad is best suited for digesting small bits of content or performing small tasks over short periods of time. The one place you will likely perform dozens of small tasks throughout the day is your home. I believe the real magic occurs here, with the family, in casual, sometimes inconspicuous ways.

If you don’t have an iPad in your home it may be hard to understand the point I am trying to make here. But consider, if you will, what the computer did for the workplace in the 80’s and 90’s. It brought about massive change that made the work day easier and more productive. That’s what the iPad does in your home. The wonder of this device isn’t that it does one thing well; it’s that it does many things really well. The iPad has been described as an empty sheet of paper. I think this is a very appropriate description. It’s also been described by a colleague as “a $500 empty sheet of paper”. Yes, that may be the case, but many priceless works of art are nothing more than water on paper. The value of it is not the paper, but what that paper ultimately becomes.

But with all of its great attributes there is one area where the iPad cannot compete with the Laptop. Because of the iPads form factor it isn’t good for long, arduous tasks, which is why it performs so poorly in the office. In this setting it devolves into a virtual paperweight. For people that typically have dozens of software running to accomplish their work, the iPad simply can’t keep up. Once in the office building the iPad becomes a cute gadget that’s way out of its league. This may be a personal argument though. I’ve heard from some people that it’s great for meetings to present sketches, take notes, and to use as cue cards. I’ve yet to be convinced though.

It’s sometimes frustrating to read about what the iPad is or isn’t. “The iPad is a huge iPod Touch” or “The iPad is an e-reader”. Viewed from this perspective — in the form it’s being used as at that moment — and you’re likely to find its many faults. It’s better to think it a versatile, ultra-portable PC with a multi-touch screen. And much like a PC it’s not perfect for every situation. What you’ll find is that it’s great for typical everyday use and that ultimately you’ll reach for it before you reach for anything else. The key here is that you’ll use it for many more reasons than you would your Laptop, Cell phone, PC, Game Device, Book Reader or other devices that you own. Each day you’ll find new applications for its use. Sooner or later you’ll wake up and realize that it’s made dozens of other things in your home disappear. Now if there’s one trick we all know and love it’s the disappearing act. Viewed from this perspective you will see that it truly is a “magical” device.

Continue the conversation by sharing your comments here on the blog and by following us on Twitter @CTCT_API

Leave a Comment