by Bruce Webb
The key to understanding why the iPad and similar devices can change the world it to understand that it is not a computer without a physical keyboard, or a multi-media player, or a portable display, sure all of those are built in but they don’t add up to what the iPad really is, which is a magic briefcase full of Gizmos.
What’s a Gizmo. Well the online dictionaries have boring definitions but for my purpose a Gizmo is something that does something for you. A Gizmo generally isn’t big and it mostly isn’t multifunctional, it just does what it does in a fun and efficient way. The iPad is designed to be a repository for Gizmos along with Games and Books and Music and allows you to use all of them anywhere you go. Now it sounds silly to put it this way but it doesn’t have to be, if you were a Building Inspector it might be nice to have one Gizmo to record your findings and another that allowed you to look up the International Building and Fire Codes on the fly, and maybe another to allow you to record your time on the job. And on a dirty, dusty or muddy job site it might be nice to have one in the same form factor as the clipboard you had been carrying rather than some clamshell lap top vulnerable to the environment.
A salesman needs a different set of Gizmos. Maybe a Travel Schedule and Ticket Booking Gizmo, maybe one that displays the companies entire product line with accompanying video and specs. And maybe some things to kill time while traveling, say maybe a Travel Chess Set or a book of Crosswords. But whatever you are and whatever you do it would be neat and at times necessary to always have with you your own collection of Gizmos. Me, I am a simple guy on a typical day all I would need is my Bus Schedule Gizmo, and a Gizmo that would display a full web page while allowing me to touch type posts and comments. But in an immediate past job as a Real Estate/Land Development Researcher it would have been nice to have a Road Map Gizmo for my area, another that had copies of County and City Land Development Codes and another with access to Interactive Permit and Zoning Maps for the various jurisdictions we dealt with. Oh and an aerial photo viewer. Now I had all that capability in my office and sort of via my laptop in my car, but there was very little magical about it.
We could go on. A tourist in a foreign country has a whole new set of needed Gizmos. Currency calculators, Maps, Guidebooks, Brochures, Travel Clock, and a Translation Gizmo and probably no desire to whip out a laptop at the souvenir stand in some street in Montmartre. A college student in turn has all kinds of different Gizmo desires, say movie and club schedules, maybe a University Library Catalog Gizmo, or for an athlete the playbook and training and practice schedule.
And that is the beauty of the iPad, it is not based on a model of the tablet computer, instead it is modeled on the iTouch a handheld Gizmo that delivers dozens of other Gizmo products that the user selects from literally tens of thousands of offerings. If you like, and a lot of people do, you could simply have your iTouch loaded to capacity with games, or songs, or videos, plus maybe a Facebook Gizmo. Or you could load it up with every Reference and Trivia resource in the land and bore all your friends for ever. Or just load it up with books and use it as a pretty-good e-readers, or use it as a repository of maps or photos or any combination of that. Of course along with that you can use it as an acceptable web browser and in a pinch as an input device to any cloud computing applications you have going, but in the end what keeps the iTouch a Gizmo Toy and not a Gizmo Tool is the screen size. I mean you could easily load the entire Snohomish County Development Code on an iTouch but absent a very specialized Gizmo indeed looking something up for a client and then sharing it would be a nightmare.
An iPad is built from the ground up to be a full screen screaming Gizmo Machine. Instead of storing a sub-set of your professional books and tools in your briefcase you simply load them on top of a machine. It is said that the magic of the dancing bear is not how well it dances but that it dances at all. And you can say the same about the traditional lap top computer, they have taught it to dance quite a few steps. The iPad instead IS a dance machine.
Okay I have an iPad in my hand. What do I want it to do for me?
1. I want it to be a full page web browser.
2. I want it to be an acceptable blog posting tool.
3. I want a full page version of the Transit Schedule for my area
4. I want it to play my music.
5. I want it to play my movies.
6. I want to be able to update and share my Facebook Wall with someone in the room.
7. I want a functional replacement for my Thomas Guide Map Book
8. I want a useable Guide Book to Western Birds
9. I want a useable Tide Table and opening and closing date/time for fishing runs and shellfish seasons.
10. I want a photo album of all my nieces and nephews
11. I want one click access to my Investment Portfolio’s current prices
12. I want one click access to Professional Books and Codes relevant to my job
13. I want a repair manual for my car.
14. I want a traveling chess board with interactive capability
15. I want the Oxford English Dictionary
16. I want the complete run of Astounding Magazine from 1935-1942
Actually I would be happy with items 1-3, I am kind of a simple guy, but this is a reasonable set of Gizmos for a simple guy, other people would layer on any number of items. But note one thing. With the exception of the web browser none of this is built around the standard Office Suite. And none of it around Graphic Design. Or Application Development. Or building websites. If I was looking to add some functionality to the above it would probably start with the iLife Suite (which would give me some web tools) and then some sort of Writing Program. And probably add some interactive Language modules to allow me to brush up on my neglected French, Latin and Welsh and maybe add back in Italian. But in any event the iPad is already optimized to deliver all of these Gizmos and more, you just need to possibly pay for some of the actual content
When you buy a laptop there is kind of a sense of ‘Well there it is’, it has whatever software package you ordered, and maybe you go online and order and install some more or try to find the disks so as to reload things. The iPad is not like that. Instead it asks you what you want to do with it and you start by visiting the App Store and browsing among the free and trial Apps. And there are literally tens of thousands of them. Then you simply start adding and rearranging Gizmos that do the kinds of things you want them to do.
At $499 and no need for a contract the price point is excellent or anyone who has reliable access to WiFI, which these days often means the Library or Starbucks and there are certainly enough free Apps and free document sources out there to justify getting one. Plus there are a good number of Gizmos built in to the unit. But I think the question will come to this. Pick up a piece of 8 x 11 paper, fold it down an inch at top and side and ask yourself this: “What are the top 25 things I would like a magic piece of paper to deliver to me anywhere any time?” and then follow up with: “How much of that potential functionality do I lose by trying to access that through the 3″ screen on my phone?” and “How much functionality do I really lose if I left my laptop at home and relied on this on a typical day?”
Finally a little note about sociality. Laptops aren’t social. You are not going to whip one out at a party or at the bar or while hiking with friends, nor are they something you would generally just hand to a friend. They aren’t particularly cool even when you are out on your own, sitting on a bench in front of an exhibit at the art museum with an open lap top just screams dork. On the other hand the iPad with out without its case more or less looks like a small portfolio. If you turned it on and did a quick web search on the artist, it would look as natural as could be. As it would be navigating some narrow aisles looking for treasure in an old book store or antique store, who looks at a guy with something the size of a clipboard in his hand? When people I know are talking around me I like to do a quick look up on my iPhone pull up a picture and then show it, but it is a little awkward sometimes I am walking up to them and giving them a phone which since we are all over 50 means them dragging out a pair of glasses. With the iPad instead I can do the equivalent of laying out an 8 x 10 glossy photo by their elbow. “Look know that’s a (whatever they are trying to describe)”. I think this ability to share, to be able to on the spot pull something up and then physically hand the display to another person or to hold it up for sharing is going to open new horizons in personal computing.
This BTW may make this product the must-have for teenagers. It is right at the same price level of buying them a smartphone and a dedicated MP-3 player and I can see the girls passing their Facebook Walls back and forth as they walk down the hall or sit in the lunch room, its a natural. I don’t know how many High Schools provide Wi-Fi but it has to be a lot, this thing just flat out works in the teen, twenty-something social environment.
So the iPad is big. Not because it is in a category of its own, it was proceeded there by both the iTouch and the iPhone, but because it takes that category to a level of real world functionality that transforms a pretty cool toy into what can be developed by each individual into a lifestyle tool. It simply makes the handbook, the guidebook, the catalog, the manual, the route schedule potentially obsolete, People who bitch about its maybe lack of markup tools ignore the fact that we interact with text and information in all kinds of ways in daily life plus we use all kinds of information Gizmos in the process. I guess we will see how his one goes.