Everything you know about computers just changed.
With its introduction of the iPad, Apple is likely to transform the way you do everything from read the newspaper to prepare business presentations. You might not experience these changes this year or next, but several years from now, you will likely look back on your current computer, even if it’s a brand-new model — yes, even one from Apple — as an archaic system that was clunky and frustrating to use.
The reason for this can be summed up in one word: touch.
The iPad is controlled with a 9.7-inch, touch-sensitive screen, and it heralds a transition from using a mouse and a keyboard for typical computing tasks to touching, tapping and gliding your fingers on a silky glass screen. Anyone who owns an iPhone or iPod touch, Apple’s other devices with a so-called “multitouch interface,” knows how wonderfully intuitive and intimate the experience can be, especially when compared to a hulking desktop machine.
The iPad signals the moment when computers changed from being bulky products tethered to desktops and power cords to thin, portable devices you can carry in one hand and slip into a backpack.
It might be easy to dismiss the iPad as a toy — as nothing more than an oversized iPhone or iPod touch — and certainly it won’t be sufficient for many business professionals, especially those requiring specialized software or big screens, at least in its current incarnation.
But two elements of Apple’s iPad announcement made clear the company’s ambitions to have the device function as more than a plaything. One was its reworking of three Office-like Macintosh applications — Numbers (for spreadsheet), Pages (for word-processing) and Keynote (for presentations) — for the iPad. The other was the iPad’s ability to connect to Apple’s wireless keyboard, or to purchase a docking station with its own keyboard. Taken together, these mean the iPad will be more than capable when it comes to preparing documents, designing PowerPoint-like presentations and crunching numbers.
For me, and for others likely to be among the iPad’s early adopters, I expect the iPad will likely relegate our other computers into devices used infrequently, and possibly only as glorified hard drives used mainly to store songs and photos and as a hub for our phones and iPads. I was planning to buy a new MacBook, but now I’ll just buy an iPad and use my MacBook, well, as a way to organize my files and use applications not available yet as web-based products or iPad apps.
The iPad may also be a lifeline for struggling media companies — in particular, book publishers, newspapers and magazines. That’s not because the iPad introduced any magical way to sell their content, but because millions of consumers will have an all-purpose computing device they can hold in their hand and display soon-to-be-invented ideas of what books, magazines and newspaper can be. That “soon-to-be-invented” part is the key, as it remains an open question whether slow-moving media organizations will have the business acumen, as well as the creativity and resources, to deliver wow-inducing publications (think video and audio, as well as easy ways to annotate and share content) that readers will be willing to pay for.
With an iPad magazine (or, for that matter, a book or newspaper), you’d be getting far more than text. A magazine-like layout would be interactive, controlled with your fingers. Tap the screen, and a video clip starts to play. Touch a photo, and it zooms to fill the screen. Glide your fingers along the screen to move from page to page. Activate the microphone, and you could add an audio annotation. And you’d be holding this in your hand, just like a “real” magazine. That will be worth plunking down the cost of a subscription.
Now, does this mean you should rush out to drop $499 (or more) on an iPad once it’s available? Not at all. In fact, you may never buy Apple’s version of a tablet computer; others will likely mimic its innovations, and do so, perhaps, in devices that are cheaper or better. But just as Apple transformed the music industry with the iPod and iTunes, and the phone industry with the iPhone, these changes are going to be find their way into our computers. The apps, the multitouch interface, the simplicity and ease of use — all of these are vast improvements over today’s computers.
But it’s the “touch” that really sets the iPad apart. A computer, even a lightweight notebook computer, always feels somewhat cumbersome. But a touch-screen interface feels natural, like it’s an extension of you; it’s more akin to holding a book, or a pen and notepad, than operating a computer. And that’s a meaningful, even revolutionary, change.