The iPad.

I have read, in the last two days, more iPad speculation and commentary than any one person should. I watched the keynote, the overview, and several hands-on videos. If it’s public knowledge, I’m aware of it. The iPad is almost exactly what I expected:

I won’t be able to afford one immediately, but I see its place in my house already. That PC I have in the family room? Gone. Banished to some office somewhere to consort with the printer and extra hard drives. When friends come over and need to look up their fantasy team stats, I’ll hand them the tablet. We’ll pass it around like the dusty photo albums of yore. The tactile experience will be immediately familiar and intuitive. When we want to watch a video together, we’ll huddle up; or, maybe, I’ll press a button, and the video will stream straight to my Apple TV.

If I’m completely honest, I was hoping for a bit more. That was probably an unrealistic expectation. What Apple has done is remarkable. They built a device that is beautiful, usable, and, in the grand scheme of things, not that expensive. Sure, they exercise dictatorial control over what appears and when, but is that so bad? I say, with David Hume, a benevolent dictator is better than anarchy nine times out of ten. Having now seen the completed device, I can safely predict I will be buying one at some point in the next two years.

A lot has been said in the run-up to and the wake of the iPad’s release. Some of the people talking are worth listening to, most aren’t. I’d like to quote a few of the best.

Marco Ament:

Nothing about the iPad is obviously revolutionary, but it didn’t need to be: the iPhone OS and iPhone hardware are already revolutionary.

Stephen Fry:

Like the first iPhone, iPad 1.0 is a John the Baptist preparing the way of what is to come, but also like iPhone 1.0 (and Jokanaan himself too come to that) iPad 1.0 is still fantastic enough in its own right to be classed as a stunningly exciting object, one that you will want NOW and one that will not be matched this year by any company.

Luke Wroblewski:

The iPad is not a laptop nor is it a smart phone. It is a couch device, a bedroom device (don’t read that the wrong way), and a kitchen device (swivel it to cook from a recipe you find online). In all these places, a laptop always felt wrong. The iPad is optimized for media consumption: surfing the Web, reading blogs/news/books, watching TV shows, playing casual games, listening to music, managing personal productivity (calendar, contacts) and looking at photos. Expecting it to provide the creation capabilities of a laptop is the wrong frame of reference.

Jack Moffet:

The hardware is just a blank slate. Yes, there are plenty of important considerations that had to be made in the design of the physical form, but what really makes or breaks this device is the user experience provided by the applications.

David Pogue:

Today Apple finally unveiled its tablet computer, the iPad. Thus concludes Phase 1 of the standard Apple new-category roll-out: months of feverish speculation and hype online, without any official indication by Apple that the product even exists.

Now Phase 2 can begin: the bashing by the bloggers who’ve never even tried it: “No physical keyboard!” “No removable battery!” “Way too expensive!” “Doesn’t multitask!” “No memory-card slot!”

That will last until the iPad actually goes on sale in April. Then, if history is any guide, Phase 3 will begin: positive reviews, people lining up to buy the thing, and the mysterious disappearance of the basher-bloggers.

Like the iPhone, the iPad is really a vessel, a tool, a 1.5-pound sack of potential. It may become many things. It may change an industry or two, or it may not.

John Gruber:

Lastly, there’s the fact that the iPad is using a new CPU designed and made by Apple itself: the Apple A4. This is a huge deal. I got about 20 blessed minutes of time using the iPad demo units Apple had at the event today, and if I had to sum up the device with one word, that word would be “fast”.

Russell Beattie:

I think all of us really wanted to see a MacPad, not an iPad.

Not a peripheral gadget, but a primary computing device that can be used by touch if desired. Something that can function on a desktop with a keyboard and mouse, and then be picked up and tossed into a bag, or to be used while sitting down on a couch or in bed with only the touch screen for the interface.

Jeff Croft:

Let’s talk about something that really matters: multi-user support. There is no excuse for this thing not to have multi-user support. This could have been the world’s greatest coffee table device, if it only had support for multiple users. Think about it: the thing sits on the coffee table. Daddy logs in. He checks his e-mail and his sports scores. He logs out and puts it down. Little Timmy logs in. He IMs a friend and plays a game. He logs out and sets it down. Mom logs in. She get a recipe from her bookmarked Martha Stewart page and forwards some totally-not-funny cat video to her best friend. And so forth. This is the new PC.

Derek Powazek:

I also could see the iPad becoming a powerful social computing experience. It’s easier to use a iPad with another person than it is to share a laptop.

The iPad may not turn out to be the missing link in the media ecosystem, but it is definitely a fascinating glimpse into the future of personal computing. I’ve already picked the spot on my coffee table where mine is going to live.

In summary, Apple mayn’t have hit a home-run with iPad 1.0, or they may have. But I’ll be wagering at least $499 they smashed a triple into the corner while everyone else was content to leg out an infield single. Unlike the iPhone or the laptop, the iPad is a social device. It’s designed to be touched and shared by multiple people. When new features (like a front-facing camera or wireless iPad-to-TV video) start trickling in, it’s only going to be more obvious Apple has successfully (and lucratively) predicted the future of family-room computing.

As John mentioned, the grotesquely fast performance isn’t something to be sniffed at. Apple’s custom chip plus a blazing SSD is a potent combination. (See my earlier tweet.) The difference between “slide to unlock” and “boot up” the family computer can’t be overstated.

The simplicity of the interface may be seen as disadvantage, but having now been the unofficial tech support of myriad (it seems) family members, I can tell you it’s not. The difference between “tap to open” and “where did I put that” is similarly large. If kernel-level control of the OS is important to you, you’re not only outside Apple’s target market, you’re the minority of a minority. Most people just want something that works, and that’s what Apple delivered.

It’s far from perfect, however. I could list a hundred features I wish it had. An integrated SD card reader may be first on that list. It’s inconceivable to me that Apple believes a chintzy dongle is a more elegant solution than what is currently offered on the MacBook / iMac line. I can only hope they fix this (and other) flaws in future releases. I believe they will.

Finally, I co-own a web design and development company. How could I not purchase the device heralding the future of websites? I am firmly convinced that not only is this a more efficient and pleasant way to interact with computers than a mouse but that it requires new and different ways of interaction. I am compelled to experience this first-hand if I have any hope of providing worthwhile experiences for people who own this device. Plus, I already have a Macbook Pro and an iPhone … I need to complete the set.

NB: After publication, two more stellar articles were released. Andy Ihnatko provides a brief overview, more from John Gruber, and Joe Hewitt says it’s “exactly the product I’ve been wishing for.”

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