iPad guesswork one year later

In October of 2009, the New York Times published a piece about the excitement around the prospect of next-generation tablet computers, especially from Apple. By then, rumors of an “…expanded, souped-up iPod touch” were gaining momentum. I recently re-read the article in hopes of comparing what people wished for vs. what they received. I was surprised at how much the paper got right.

Writing for the Times, Brad Stone and Ashlee Vance noted that, up until then, the tablet market had been largely unsuccessful. Several Windows-based devices had shipped, but most found homes in the medical and financial industries. Niche devices and a more traditional OS couldn’t meet the gadget hound’s wildest dreams: a tablet to save the newspaper and book industry, play video games, improve the Web experience and “…[expand the] world of mobile applications.”

The main hurdle was eventually defeated by Moore’s Law. As Forrester Research‘s Paul Jackson put it, “Software engineers got ahead of the hardware capabilities.” Once the hardware caught up, the previously mentioned problems — a niche market and adherence to an OS initially developed for desktop machines — disappeared as well. Today, Apple’s A4 chip, Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, multi-touch displays and battery life that was unheard of just a few years ago allow a novel OS to appeal to a huge number of users.

The Times suggested that apps previously built for the iPhone would run on the forthcoming tablet, which was true. They also correctly guessed that developers would begin re-working existing apps to take advantage of the tablet’s large screen.

Finally, an unnamed former Apple engineer was quoted as saying, “I can imagine something like the iPhone with a much bigger screen being a gorgeous device with great capacity, but I don’t know where I would fit that into my life. Those are the debates that have been happening inside Apple for quite some time.”

One year later, there’s still no single answer. Rather, it’s a personal question with personal answers. The iPad, we now know, is a portable computer. If you were to ask five people, “How does your computer fit into your life?” you’d receive several similar and dissimilar answers:

  • Internet and email
  • Online shopping
  • Managing my small business
  • Editing video
  • Playing games

That list could go on and on, but the point is that there’s no one answer. Even as an individual, I use my computer for all of those things and more. It all depends on the time of day and what I want to do.

The answer is just the same for the iPad. What is it for? Well, I use mine to browse the Internet, cook in the kitchen, play games, manage my finances, earn a living, entertain the children, look at photos, etc. In other words, it’s a computer and that’s how I use it. The novelty of its appearance, functioning and so on seems to require re-categorization or a highly-specialized usage scenario. Of course in many ways my iPad is significancy different than my MacBook Pro, but in others it’s quite the same.

The iPad is a computer that people use to get things done, whether those things be professional or leisurely, meaningful or fanciful, necessary or not. As time passes, that conviction will only become more pronounced.