Apple unveiled the mighty iPad last week after a targeted carpet bombing of pre-event hoopla, far too many misfired “leaks” and eventual lukewarm excitement. Of course, the people who were unable to devise the device immediately went to work, spending unnecessary time and brain cells shouting from their favorite mountaintop called Twitter, making fun of the name and comparing it to lady stuff...
Geeks are funny creatures. If this device was called an "iTab" they probably would have made soft drink jokes - All that talent and occasional genius is sadly wasted on a single, albeit funny observation instead of trying to figure out some undocumented and innovative uses for the thing. Trust me, as soon as someone starts waving real development cash at the naysayers, they'll be singing the praises of the “innovative” and even “magical” iPad; salivating to build apps quicker than you can bark the word “Pavlov”...
For those who are interested in actually using the device, it really doesn't matter what the thing is called - as much as what it can and cannot do.
The iPad has a couple well-documented drawbacks:
- iPad doesn’t do Flash (more about that later). This means no Hulu, YouTube or other currently Flash-enabled video sites for you on the iPad Safari Web browser...
- iPad doesn't multitask, so you can't listen to music while penning your brilliant blog post, notes or novel. This is a “deal breaker” for the countless hordes who apparently planned to brutally smash their trusty old iPod on the way out of the Apple store with their iPad. The truth is, people have grown accustomed to hoofing around several devices in their backpacks, shoulder bags and/or pockets. Despite our Utopian dream of "one device to do it all," as technology changes and new things are devised to keep us from having actual conversations with other live humans, there will always be another “thing” to stuff into our ever expanding satchels o’ plenty.
The iPad's strength isn't that it plays music, movies, games or that it surfs the Flash-less Web. The iPad gets it's real mojo as a comfortably-sized, compact and usable device that doesn't require an attached keyboard, a mouse or a constant power source to input notes, data or, more importantly, read published materials. Everything else it comes loaded with, simply helps to justify the price point. The iPad could really show true muscle for students, teachers and classrooms and by eventually saving and/or enhancing the suffering magazine publishing business. But to do this effectively, Apple needs to cozy up to college kids to make the iPad truly a thing of “magic”.
So, while we're waiting for the iPad to do a keg stand at a college dorm near you, here are some things that Apple and it's partners should concentrate on to help the iPad live up to it's promise:
- Create an exclusive network for students. College textbooks should be available via a subscription service on the iTunes store so you can burn those oversized, overweight, overpriced books like Guy Montag and plant some trees. As a specific textbook’s information is enhanced or corrected, it should automatically be updated, just like your iPhone/iPod currently informs you when a purchased application has been updated. Software developers for the iPad should focus on applications that will make lecture note taking and sharing, as well as commenting on digital textbooks simpler. Imagine downloading a textbook for your class and having the benefit of seeing the best notes from a global network of past students. To avoid reading irrelevant notes, a system could be put into place allowing students to rate other students notes, making only the useful stuff rise to the top.
- Expand the iTunes store to include magazine and newspaper subscriptions asap. Save that dying, ink-laden, forest-chomping horse as fast as you can. Obviously publications will need to embrace HTML 5 for any video content, so start brushing up, if you're planning on developing for a future publishing industry.
- Allow musicians to plug in. With GarageBand already part of iLife, in the future I hope to see musicians with guitars, iPads and a dream sprawling out in Prospect Park writing tons of crap they can sell to their relatives on iTunes with the help of TuneCore.
- Advancement and advocation of the HTML 5 specification. Apple has been very clear: they refuse to get into bed with Flash. They view Flash as an uncontrollable source of application crashes - not to mention a bandwidth and processing hog - and as a designer and developer who has worked with Flash, they are partially correct. Many of Flash's novice developers know only a little about the scripts and techniques required to deliver the most processor-efficient experiences. ActionScript, the scripting language behind Flash has been massively changed and enhanced over the years, leaving the true Flash programming to true programming wizards who have worked with it since the introduction of ActionScript 1.0 with Flash 5 in 2000. The future promise of HTML 5 has begun to make the use of Flash increasingly irrelevant and unnecessary for simple video and audio players. Even Hulu will come around as well if first the audience - and eventually their advertisers request it. This prospect of course, sours the folks at Adobe. They will run myriad ads over the next couple months attempting to convince the masses of the perceived inferiority of the iPad because it doesn't have Flash. But it's really just fear.
- Shhh...the word on the street is that the iPad may have a camera. In fact, the Software Developer Kit (SDK) for the iPad currently has "Take a Photo" as a programmable menu item, so maybe the dream of video conferencing or even augmented reality with the iPad will come true (or not)...or some Mountain Dew-gorged developer at Apple has just gotten a “mouthful of fist” from Steve Jobs because they forgot to remove the "take a picture" menu item from the iPad SDK...
Apple has a history of using current devices to test out and eventually surpass the last one. Look at the history of advances that have been made to the iPod since it came out in 2001. I’ve got 4 of them, each with enhanced features.
Just like the iPhone was a jacked up phone with a serious music player and a savvy integration into a robust online store, the iPad jacks things up further, but in a slightly different direction. Who wants to seriously read books or watch movies on your iPod or iPhone? You can right now, you know. They've been testing out the iPod and iPhone as an eBook reader and video player to lead us like slobbering zombies to the iPad. Whether the vast Apple audience realize it or not, we support their innovations by historically testing them and upgrading our devices to the next big thing.
Regardless, is the amount of chattering, twittering and blogging out there an indication of how quickly the masses will line up for a shiny new iPad?...