The iPad Available Tomorrow
Well, maybe "available" isn’t exactly the right word, since they’ve already sold a crapload of them via pre-order, so many in fact that they may have already burned through their first manufacturing run; they’re currently on a 10-day back order in the online Apple store. Still, the iPad does technically launch this Saturday: that’ll be the first day you can see one (and if you’re lucky, buy one) in an Apple store.
In addition to having sold millions of dollars’ worth in pre-orders, the iPad is already a huge success in another way: it’s caused many big sites to start offering standard-format video instead of Flash-only video. As I’ve been complaining here for years, Flash is complete and utter crap on Linux and Mac, running slowly, with jerky video, hogging the CPU, and causing browsers to crash. This Vimeo video for example uses 100% of the CPU and is totally jerky in Flash, but clicking the "Switch to HTML5 video" link results in smooth video and ~25% CPU usage (this is in Chrome/Ubuntu).
I’ve always considered it a feature, not a bug, that the iPhone didn’t support Flash; now with more and more sites supporting HTML5 video, that’s clearer than ever. We have Apple to thank for breaking Flash’s stranglehold of suckage on web video.
Who is the iPad for?
Since the iPad was announced a couple of months ago, many geeks have been opining that it sucks for one reason or another. Lack of Flash support was one reason, though clearly that’s mostly irrelevant now. Lack of 3rd-party multitasking is another issue, though it sounds like the iPhone OS 4.0 software update may provide that. Then there are things like lack of USB ports, no memory card slots, etc.
But those are mostly geek issues. It’s stuff that the average person doesn’t know or care about. And clearly, as with the iPhone, Apple’s target market here is not geeks, it’s the average person. Geeks want perfection; the average person just wants something useful that works well.
The iPad makes sense if you think of it as an appliance rather than a computer. Computers are complicated, with all the messy business of software, configuration, wires, peripherals; the iPad has none of that. It has "apps" instead of software; very little configuration; wireless instead of wired connectivity; and no peripherals for most uses. And perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t have these alien interfaces we call "mice" and "keyboards" -- instead it uses a much more natural touch-based interface.
To geeks and anyone under 30, mice and keyboards are hardly alien. But most people aren’t geeks, and there are huge numbers of older people for whom alien is exactly how they think of computers. My dad for example won’t touch a CD player, much less a computer. CD players and similar devices tend to have tiny screens, a bunch of tiny buttons, and horrible interfaces. And computers with their mouse/keyboard/screen interfaces and loads of messy windows are something that he simply has no interest in trying to learn. But an iPad, with its big bright screen and text, its windowless one-screen-at-a-time interface, and its natural touch-based controls?
I have no doubt that he would resist the idea at first. Maybe we’ll have to have mom get one, and leave it lying around the house for him to see. But I can’t help but think that a super-simple device allowing him to discover the internet, read books and newspapers, and -- well, that’s plenty to start with -- might be really useful for him.