iPad – Future of Computing vs Best Coffee Table Book Ever

The iPad sits in front of me looking back at me in its inimitable style.

The LCD touchscreen, all-in-one computer behind it stoically wonders about my committment. The IPS LCD monitor to the left is also lost in thought – comfortable in its status as best looking display it never thought it would run into a screen that had both IPS and touch.

To the left are a Kindle DX, a Sony Reader, and a Nook. All three of them look up expectantly – the same worried look a young child has on the first day of school – Will my parents forget me and never come back?

The iPad as the Future of Computing

John Doerr was a VC investor in Amazon, Google, Compaq, Netscape, Symantec, Sun, Intuit, and Friendster. He has a $100 million iFund which invests in companies making iPhone Apps and he considers the iPhone to be ‘the next PC’.

He’s written about the iPad at Techcrunch in a post titled The Next Big Thing. He feels the iPad is the 90s all over again (Netscape, Amazon, eBay, Google, etc.). He believes so strongly in it he actually made a power point presentation. Here’s a transcribed slide -

Old World                       New World

Windows GUI                Touch

Point and click              Swoosh of Fluidity

Artificial, Indirect            Direct, Natural

WYSIWYG                      WYTIWis

Mouse                             Magic

That slide does not stand alone. We are also gifted with an explanation -

  • From the Old World of the traditional, tired window interfaces… to the wonderful new world of TOUCH.
  • From the Old World of Point and Click to the new SWOOSH of Fluidity.
  • Instead of old, artificial, indirect interfaces, the iPad is direct and NATURAL.
  • Instead of WYSIWyg – what you see is what you get – it is WYTIWis. What You Touch… IS what IS.
  • Instead of holding a MOUSE, you’re holding MAGIC.
  • If the iPad really is the Future of Computing, for the love of God, PLEASE stop talking it up to unrealistic levels

    Here’s the truth – The iPad is a good device. It really is a larger iPod Touch and it does some things amazingly well. It’s also not the ‘ready to transform everything’ device that John Doerr and Steve Jobs are claiming it is.

    Every time they oversell it they raise expectations and we might soon have people going in expecting the iPad to be Che Guevara and Simon Bolivar rolled into one.  

    Things that give the iPad a chance to be something special down the line

    In 2 to 3 generations (of the iPad) the iPad could definitely be something special. It still won’t be the messiah for computers it’s being painted as but it’ll be very important. Here’s why -

    1. It makes things painfully easy.  
    2. It really is beautiful and fun to use.
    3. It does some things very well – surfing, email, watching movies, playing casual games.
    4. The Apple people are going to buy it in droves and help bring economies of scale into play.
    5. Sooner or later the Tablet paradigm will have a decent shot at going mainstream – Chances are Apple will be best placed because of their marketing and psychological advantages combined with the quality of their products. 

    Why is everyone overestimating what the iPad has done so far?

    Perhaps because we haven’t had anything huge happen for a long time.

    Apple brings out the iPad and an industry starved for a product that fits their model of ‘innovation’ jumps at it. To the point that they forget that lots of companies have tried tablets in the past. History is written by the victors so you can be sure if the iPad is a success Steve Jobs will be credited with dreaming up the Tablet concept.

    There’s another possibility we’ll discuss in the third section.

    What if the iPad really is the future of computing?

    Good for Apple. Good for all the Apple supporters.

    They seem to really believe the iPad is a revolution while most other people don’t really care – Perhaps if the iPad really does revolutionize computing and find its way into each home the Press will stop writing about it and spare us.

    The iPad as Best Coffee Table Book ever

    The strongest use case for the iPad is as a device that’s lying around the house and which people can just pick up to amuse themselves -

    1. Watch YouTube videos in the living room.
    2. Check recipes in the Kitchen.
    3. Take to bed and read a book.
    4. Put up as a photo frame in the living room.
    5. Check email quickly before dinner.

    Not sure if that’s revolutionary – However, it’s certainly helpful.

    There’s value in being the Entertainment device – But is there a revolution?

    A revolution is something that changes things for the better. Hopefully that’s what we mean by revolution.

    1. How is it a revolution if people start doing more of consuming and less of creating?
    2. How is it a revolution if everything flows through Apple’s closed eco-system where book descriptions are censored because Apple didn’t like certain words?
    3. How is it a revolution if the only way to connect the device to other things is via Apple accessories?
    4. How is it a revolution if iPad Apps cost $5 or more than the corresponding iPhone Apps?

    The iPad isn’t making people more independent or better aware of their choices or even getting them to read more and become smarter. It’s turning them into consumers and buyers.

    The iPad as screening device for people willing to pay for content and become consumers

    Here’s the real revolution the iPad is creating -

    1. TV turned people into consumers.
    2. The Internet threatens to turn consumers back into people who think for themselves. 
    3. Rather conveniently we’ve had a recession so consumers are morphing into savers (in addition to learning to think for themselves).
    4. Apple’s products are crucial because they encourage the consumerism mentality and turn people back into consumers. 
    5. The iPad is a really good test – Not only is the device more expensive, the content is more expensive too.

    To top it all off the iPad makes creation and inventive thinking and freedom difficult – There’s nothing you can do on the device except what Apple and Content creators want you to do.

    • It’s not very convenient for writing a lot or for working. 
    • It’s not open or interoperable so you’re not going to be able to play around with things. 
    • There isn’t very much active thinking left.

    All that’s left is to consume – buy and play mindless games, buy and listen to music, watch TV, watch YouTube, and entertain yourself.

    iPad as a consumer creating machine

    Here are the pluses everyone fixates on -

    1. People want their machines to be simple and Apple makes simple machines.
    2. People want pretty things and Apple products are free.
    3. People want to have to not worry about understanding things. Exactly what Apple facilitates.

    However, we also get the creation of helpless consumers -

    1. Do people really want their computers to be completely controlled? No, but they go along with it.
    2. Do people want to do less creating and less active participation? No, but the devices are tailored for consumption and not creation.
    3. Do people want to get locked in? No, but they like the products enough to get locked in.
    4. Do people want to have no idea of how things work? Perhaps.
    5. Are people happy to be spoonfed? Perhaps.

    If you were to design a device that reduced how much content creation and free thinking people did and encouraged them to focus on consuming – the iPad and iPhone are pretty close to what you’d get.

    Perhaps some portion of people are meant to be consumers?

    There is no good and evil here. People are happily turning themselves back into consumers. Good for them.

    It’s hard to walk away -

    • TV is so much more exciting than writing something yourself.
    • Playing a virtual game is so much easier than exercising or actually going out and throwing a ball around.
    • Browsing Facebook and playing social games is so much easier than actually talking to real people and making friends.

    25 years of training and a culture of consumerism since the 1950s (introduced by TV advertising) isn’t going to go away just because of one recession. There is bound to be a segment of the population that prefers to live their lives as consumers and there’s nothing wrong with it.

    It’s just misdirection to call it a revolution. The iPad is not the invention of the personal computer or the invention of the wheel or the invention of penicillin. It’s just a really smart device to get people to focus on buying and consuming content.

    How about some real revolutionary technology?

    Here are a few things the press don’t write enough about -

    1. The independent space companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin. 
    2. The solar power companies and other new energy technologies like Bloom Energy’s Fuel Cell. 
    3. Advances in Clean Water.
    4. Things like nanotechnology and genetics. 

    It’s hard to look for real revolution when your thoughts are clouded by worries about your immediate survival. That’s why the Press find the iPad so revolutionary – for them it is. For all of us it’s just a really good technology to embrace consumerism again.

    Epilogue

    My main computer represents work and the eReaders represent positive entertainment – perhaps even entertainment that makes me smarter. 

    Their worries and concerns are misplaced. A device built to pass the time is not a threat to my love for them.

    People will be up in arms at my classifying the iPad as mindless, time-pass entertainment. For me it is. 

    It’s a great device – However, the iPad is focused on getting me to part with my money in return for things that mostly waste my time. Perhaps life is a spectator sport – perhaps playing ‘social’ games on the iPad and watching movies and browsing YouTube and Facebook is worth more than going into the real world and creating real things.

    The App Store is this direct channel where hundreds of thousands of people are dying to waste a few hours of my time – just so they can get a few dollars for their app. That’s what YouTube is too – A contest – How many people’s time can you waste?

    That’s why the iPad doesn’t have a camera – there’s no money in letting people take their own photos. They’re supposed to let some fashion and lifestyle magazine show them photos of a life or body they can aspire to instead of living their own.

    3 Responses

    1. I’ve been following your site for a few weeks now, and I really enjoy your posts. This analysis is perhaps your most thought-provoking. Great stuff, keep it up!

    2. I’ve liked it :)

    3. BTW: the amount of content/articles/analysis you create every single day is simply insane … but worth reading anyway…. :)

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