It seems like everyone and their mother was a little underwhelmed by the iPad. I’m in the same boat, but something in particular was really gnawing at me. Something that indicated Apple seemed to be losing touch with the audience, losing that magic intuition for what people need and want. Windows.
Not windows in the sense of Windows, Microsoft, etc. but windows, as in overlapping, tiling, click and drag, close and resize, etc. More than anything, that’s what I wanted to see on the iPad. After the ‘ghee whizz!’ of being able to surf the web on my iPhone, I found that I barely ever used it for surfing the web. Ok, so I was refreshing Engadget like all the other Mac fanboys earlier today, and I look up movie reviews or restaurant numbers, but other than that, I don’t really use it as a content browsing machine. The biggest issue is that so much of the content I find worthwhile ends up here, on this blog, or bookmarked and saved for later, or at least saved to my list of “Things I’ve Read.”
I was about to resign to the old, “This isn’t aimed at me,” “I’m a power user,” justification, but then I stopped and thought about it for a minute. Is that really true?
The classical desktop metaphor spawned the idea of “paper” lying on a desktop - the original idea was that these windows could be shuffled, and like the edge of a piece of paper peeking out from under a pile, we could pull those “papers” to the front. This is an interesting metaphor, and one that was very successful in getting the masses “used” to using a computer.
But as the years have gone by, I think it’s impacted our work flow. Certainly, as I wrote this, I jumped around to look up the windows (computing) page on Wikipedia, jumped around a couple of those pages, opened up a few of those sources, and then hopped on to a Google search, before switching back over here. Whoops, let me go hop back to Wikipedia to get you guys a link to that… Part of the wealth of the web is the ability to quickly hop around and educate yourself in a ten minute stretch about something you previously knew nothing about. And you can leave what you were doing open and waiting for you. Sure, Nicholas Carr blames this all on Google and wonders if it’s making us stupid and psychology professors freakout about our multitasking brains (see: Gary Small, Clifford Nass), but the fact remains, this is something people are choosing to do. Steve Jobs surfing the web on the iPad was not how I surf the web. There’s less of linearly hopping about the NYT, and more rabid Levy flights - I find myself opening five of those articles on the front page, letting them load, and skimming them before finding one interesting enough to read.
But enough about me. Is this how other people use the web? I suspect so, though I don’t know. But what I can say is that for the majority of people, the web has gotten a lot more social. What does this have to do with the iPad? Well, essentially, people might not be hopping between web articles or trying to post it to Tumblr, but they’re certainly flipping between the content they consume and Facebook (apparently, a more popular medium than email). Even something simple that we don’t really think about is IM: I always have Adium open, and I suspect that’s true of a lot of young people. Check out this Pew Internet Report from 2004 that says 46% of internet users use IM. Forty-six. In 2004, no less. And what about iWork for iPad? When was the last time you made a slide show without importing statistics, quotes or images from the web?
And that’s when it hit me: the overlapping windows thing, it’s less about me, and more about an effect of computing: it’s all networked together. That email I send has to do with the IM conversation I’m having, which is turning towards the webpage I just clicked on, which I found on my Twitter client, that just compelled me to change the song I’m listening to… Apple made the decision to make a machine that is a great multimedia device. A beautiful screen that let’s you focus on what you’re looking at, without all the other “distractions.” But those “distractions” are part of the modern day viewing experience. And while Steve is leisurely strolling through the NYT, clicking page by page, keeping his audience holding their breadth as the page loads (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 seconds of staring at a white page), all the Apple fanboys were surely furiously clicking “refresh” on Engadget while flipping back and forth to Twitter and IM.
Oh, and did I mention the thing doesn’t even do Flash?