Through the great generosity and curiosity of my friend and colleague Elliott, I’ve recently received an iPod to experiment and experience for the next few months as I set out on yet another sailing season from here in New Zealand. In the few weeks I’ve this new tablet device I’ve only been able to spend a few hours using it and more time loading it up with some apps and content while I have a good internet connection so I can enjoy using aboard as I sail north again to Niue, Tonga, Fiji and westward. However there are some initial reactions and experiences with the device itself which I thought would be worth sharing before I start reporting on my experiential learning of apps and content and I log more hours on the iPad.
As has become customary with the release of any new Apple product there is no shortage of coverage of the iPad and I will try add some of my perhaps more unique perspectives and uses, not to merely add to what others have reported. If I do add to observations of yours or others, I do so only to emphasize that which I think is of most significance to your potential use of an iPad or the predicted tsunami of other tablets about to be unleashed upon us all in the coming months and years.
One thing I’ve confirmed is that for most of us, the iPad and other similar form factor tablets are NOT going to replace any of our existing devices such as a laptops or smartphones. iPads and tablets are designed for a very different set of uses and environments and trying to force it to be something it is no has usually been the root of those who I have talked with that didn’t like their iPad as well or found it less than ideal. It would be like trying to use your convertible sports car to move some furniture, it might be possible but you’d be much better off using a van or a truck. The iPad is therefore a very significant milestone in that it is creating a third and separate device category and one that I think most of us will want and benefit from enough to be willing to add yet another device, cords, etc. to our lives.
In my case, the iPad does not even replace my Kindle eReader, but rather adds to the ways and times I read my content and the types of content I am able to read on a handheld device. The Kindle for example is still my preferred book reading device as it provides me with the best reading experience. However one of the first apps I loaded up was the Kindle reader for the iPad and I definitely use it when it is closest at hand or when I don’t have a good reading light such as on night watch on this sailing passage I’m on right now from NZ to Niue. Amazon has done a superb job of creating what is for me a brilliant total eReading experience, not just a device with such things as the ability to read my Kindle content on my laptop, my phone, my Kindle and now my iPod and to have all this seamlessly synched up so I’m always wherever I left off independent of what device I was last reading. And something I’ll cover in a separate posting is that the iPad makes for a killer magazine eReader and it takes but minutes using something like the new Wired edition for the iPad to convince every one I’ve shown it to here in NZ.
However the key factor that makes this a primary device for me is that I finally have a device for the situation I think we spend a lot of time in which might be called relaxed mode of consuming content such as text, video and audio, and for light interaction and creation. How many times have you winced at the weird ways you have to contort yourself to read and use your laptop while reclining or curled up on on your couch or lying in bed? How many times have you overheated your lap with your laptop? And how often have you squinted at your tiny phone screen trying to read a map or see more details of a picture or video? Even when we are at a desk or table we are often in a more relaxed and “lounge” mode. For example I often like to read while I’m at the eating table, alone not with others I might add, and in this more relaxed mode the iPad makes for a great reader IF you have a holder to keep it upright for easier reading.
For me and I think many others, the iPad is just right for when I’m in this more relaxed mode, catching up content I need to read, watch or hear while sitting in a comfy chair or on a train or airplane. What is emerging then is that we have three digital examples of the need to match the device do the job and situation at hand. Laptops and phones we’ve been using long enough to have figured these out and now the iPad and others to follow are going to help us understand when they are the right tool to choose.
One of the more interesting behaviors I’m noticing with the iPad is that it is also much more “social” in two key ways; it is much less physically intrusive and much more something you want to share with others. It is less intrusive in a meeting for example, rather than having everyone blocked by the screen of the laptop in front of them. Just as we do with paper and pen notebooks, having the tablet either flat on the table or in your lap enables more intimate person to person interactions and a more comfortable note taking position. Even more intriguing and valuable though is that as I’ve watched my own and observed and talked to others about how and where they are using their iPads, you are much more inclined to share it and pass it around. There is much less a sense of my it being a very private device and content such as your laptop or that sense that you are reading someone else’s mail. In the Wired for iPad magazine app I mentioned earlier for example they have built in a feature that when you are sitting across from someone and you want to show them something you’re reading, you just intuitively flip the iPad on it’s horizontal axis so that the screen is now facing the other person and it flips the screen rotation so it is right side up for the other person as you point out what you wanted them to see. And the iPad seems to have a built in intimacy to it in that almost everyone of any age or background automatically wants to hold it, touch the screen, move things around and the net effect is that it dramatically bridges the gap between people and the device.
Yet equally you are not going to want to trade your laptop or your phone for your iPad or tablet just yet. As great as the multi touch screen is for manipulation of images and the like it is not well suited for input devices such as typing or drawing without an external keyboard or stylus. Nor do you have have the peripheral devices, ports or power you often need when using your laptop. And due largely to just sheer size the iPad is is much less mobile and you are not going to always have your iPad literally at and in hand at all times everywhere you go as you tend to with your phone.
These differences and different usage situations seems to be surprisingly intuitive to most people I’ve been watching based on where they keep and use it. For example when I’ve been on video calls and the topic of the iPad comes up and they want to show it to me, every one has had to get up and go get it because it wasn’t right there with them at their desk or laptop computer. When I asked where it was they usually said by my reading chair, couch or in my bag/pack by the door. Similarly few people seem to be driven to want to have a holder for it in their vehicles to replace their mobile phone holder.
These fundamental differences seem to sort themselves out for most iPad owners I’ve talked with about what device they take with them for different situations. Walking around or in the car the choice is most often the phone. At their work desk and for more input intensive uses it’s the laptop and for on planes and trains, at home, out for coffee, etc. most are now finding that they first want to have their iPad. No doubt a bit of novelty of the new toy and wanting to show and share with others has some influence on this, but I think we’ll see these trends continue to evolve and become the norm. Just like we don’t tend to consciously think about whether to choose our phone or our laptop for a given situation, the choice of the iPad will become similarly intuitive.
I’m also paying attention to the behaviors of myself and other iPad users for new techniques, habits and how we want to interact with this new form factor. For example something I’ll write about more in a future posting is the new ways in which we scroll through content and how we orient our thinking to note the difference between scrolling or paging horizontally to get to different sections of content such as we do with books and magazines, versus how we have become accustomed to scrolling up and down to get more content such as on a computer screen and on the web.
I’ll also be commenting on some of what I think is missing and getting in the way of an even better experience on these tablets. The iPad for example is still begging for a stylus and “ink” for things like hand written notes, drawing and sketching and applications where more precise input than the end of your finger is needed. Finger painting can be great fun but not when you want to write more than a few words or draw a quick napkin sketch as I so often find myself wanting to do when using my iPad. I also think we’ll start to see hybrids and mutations that may bridge the gap between laptops and tablets with things like some of the proposed “convertibles'” where you can attach and detach the iPad from a hinged base. When you just want basically the screen or iPad you grab that and when you want a holder, a keyboard, more peripherals, ports, etc. you insert it back into the folio or hinged base and you have a laptop.
What is clear already to me is that this is a new category of device and one that will last, grow and evolve. Most exciting to me personally is how much the iPad and it’s brethren augment learning. When I add up all the characteristics, features and trends of iPads and tablets, the new behaviors such as how it tends to be more intimate and social, and how I have already started to use it, I’m immediately struck by much this device augments and abets my lust for learning.
Now that I’ve set sail on the long passage to Niue and the start of another series of sailing adventures I’ve got my iPad loaded up with content and apps and will be reporting back to you in future articles on more of my uses, critique and impressions. Given my rather unique circumstances I’ll be including some of my uses in this setting such as mapping and charting, and how well it works in my extended times of limited or no network access. Please let me know if you have questions about any of this or want me to try and comment on specific applications or features. I especially look forward to learning more from the rest of you share your experiential learning on your iPad.
Snowflake Effect cub reporter for the Masie Center
On June 16, 2010 at 05:00 UTC about 700 nautical miles NE of New Zealand sailing to Niue