Why the iPad is Significant

Original Apple iPad

The reason Apple has been so successful with their devices is that their products solve problems. The iPod (coupled with iTunes) solved the problem of music distribution and portability. While the iPhone solved the problem of mobile Internet access and smartphone usability. Just like its close cousins, the iPad solves several longstanding problems with data portability and usability.

A computer for everyone

While many will see the iPad as a consumer electronic gadget, at its core it’s a computer. It just doesn’t look like a computer. The iPad is what Microsoft Bob dreamed of being. It’s a computer that’s easy enough for a child, but also has all of the functionality that people expect from a computer.

The functions you can do on the iPad include, but are not limited to, email, web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, media playback and manipulation (including music, videos, and images), and calendar and contact management. And as developers start to write software for it, it will soon do everything a desktop computer or notebook computer can do.

The significance of the iPad is not that it mimics a computer, it’s in the fact that it doesn’t mimic a computer, at all. The software and user interface have been designed in a way that anyone can start using it without any training whatsoever. It’s also a computer that no longer requires technical support. The device either works or it doesn’t. There’s no longer the need for certified computer technicians or company IT staff because the iPad simply works.

Intuitive and natural interaction

The keyboard and mouse are being replaced right before our eyes. The iPad still has a virtual keyboard, and an optional physical keyboard with a dock, but the main user interface is controlled through finger gestures.

The user interface is designed to do what you would expect it to do. Beyond the most simple functions, like button pushing, the iPad user interface allows you to swipe, pinch, and rotate objects. If there is a stack of images, and you want to get a quick sample without selecting all of them, you touch the stack and slightly expand your fingers. If you want to put away or close an object, you pinch. If you want to turn a page, you swipe.

What is gone are invisible keyboard commands to remember, and being at the mercy of a mouse. Instead of using and moving an external device to manipulate objects, your hand becomes the device. There is no more device (mouse) middleman, just the natural gestures of your fingers against the objects on the screen.

Lifestyle portability

Traditional computers—desktops and notebooks—may be able to access and view libraries of data, but there isn’t an easy way to share that data conveniently and naturally. For example, if you’ve been reading an interesting blog entry or article, and you want to share it with a family member, you have to coax them into either coming to your desktop or get them to hold your large seventeen-inch clamshell notebook computer. Neither is ideal. With the iPad, you can easily hand the device to them, and they can hold and read it just like they would a regular book or magazine.

The same is true for traveling. Holding and using an iPad in a car, at an airport or anywhere else will provide the best experience for consuming media. With the long battery life, form factor, and lightweight, it can easily replace traditional books, magazines, and newspapers. While at the same time, providing the same rich multimedia experience traditionally experienced on a computer.