Special: The iPad Will Be a Game Changer

by on April 3, 2010

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, today is the day that many are getting their hands on Apple’s iPad. Already, a number of reviewers have given us their preliminary thoughts. Beyond the hype, speculation, and excitement, I really think that April 3, 2010 will mark a shift of computing, just as January 24, 1984 did.

Apple had released the Lisa before the Mac, although it was more expensive and slightly different. The Mac was cheaper, more accessible, and just a friendlier product. In some ways, this is parallel to the iPhone/iPod touch and the iPad, although the iPhone and iPod touch are big hits and, in many cases, cheaper than the iPad. My point is that Apple is taking a technology they’ve already had, modifying it, and changing computing. The iPhone and iPod touch are great mobile devices, taking the place of previous versions of smartphones, PDAs, and MP3 players (take that, Palm!) and Gizmodo has a rather lengthy analysis.

In many ways, when I saw Apple’s iPad guided tours, that was the “ah ha!” moment, as the iPad in theory is a cool device. However, looking at how one interacts with Safari and the various iWork apps, my first thought was, “Why hasn’t someone done this sooner?” At that moment, my mouse just felt clunky. I own an iPod touch and a number of our staffers have either iPod touches or iPhones, so I’m familiar with the iPhone OS. It’s quite capable (even before jailbreaking), but I never thought of replacing my Mac. The screen’s too small to use for long periods of time, and typing is still faster on a real keyboard. That being said, I’d love to have something a little more convenient than a MacBook Pro if I just need to take notes or get online—having a computer than can edit HD video with ease is great, but probably overkill for a lot of tasks.

Where the iPad shines is that it is the appliance computer idea that the Mac was supposed to be all those years ago. You buy one, you start using it, and there’s little maintenance. I have a TiVo and just about anyone who comes and visits can use it without any explanation. Computers aren’t like that—if you’re familiar with Windows, Mac OS X may take a bit of getting used to. The iPhone OS doesn’t need that adjustment step. You pick what you want to do and you go about your business. For those who aren’t familiar or comfortable with computers, there isn’t the confusion of when to click, double-click, or right-click. There isn’t much to really worry about as far as where things are stored or keeping track of your file system. The iPad is the computer that gets out of your way.

Unfortunately, there is one fatal flaw with the iPad—it’s still dependent on another computer. For many, an iPad would be able to replace a computer for everyday tasks, but you still need a computer to set it up, load music on it (apart from iTunes purchases), and update the operating system. The iPad (at least right now) cannot print directly from every application either. These two things will make it dependent on a computer (for the time being). That’s not to say that someone could set up an iPad for their parents, grandparents, or children and handle the very basic maintenance, but with the power and design, the iPad could operate autonomously.

I could never go iPad-only, as I need specialized software such as an FTP client, HTML editor, video editor, and more, but for the majority of the population who just need basics, the iPad could really give traditional computers a run for their money.

There’s no doubt that the iPad will be a hit, and we’ll see catch-up products from competitors. Just as the geeks who bashed the iPod and iPhone when they initially came out and now own both, those who are trashing the iPad will probably want one in a few months. The idea of an iMac with a touchscreen is a bit awkward, since your arm is up in the air for any given time, but something that could sit flat on a desk could do the trick. Additionally, I would love to see iPod touches and iPhones get the ability to output VGA video (at least) and work with iWork files, like the iPad. Imagine being able to do a presentation without having to take your laptop—it’s in your pocket!

I think many around the Web are thinking the same thing as me today. The iPad represents the future, and it has been under our noses for the past three years. Mark my words: if Apple gives the iPad the ability to work without a computer, it could replace the MacBook as a low-end computing offering for many in the next year or two.

This post has been filed in Articles and Special Coverage