The iPad Cometh

I’m not buying an iPad this weekend, though many of my friends and cow-orkers are. I tend to trail the edge of technology adoption anyway; I’m quirky for a programmer that way. For me it seems like the iPad is rife with potential, but there’s not a lot I’d truly use it for from the beginning.

Here are some things I don’t expect to use the iPad for:

  1. Reading books and comic books. To me, most books and many comic books are things to be enjoyed over and over, to be collected and shared through lending and borrowing. I own many books and comics which I expect to enjoy for decades to come, and I have my doubts that the evolution of technology is such that I’ll be able to read an e-book I buy today again in 20 years without going through some sort of annoying upgrading process, due to format changes (never mind DRM issues, if any). Reading literature on a device seems better aimed towards disposable works. To be sure, there are some books which I regard as disposable (this one, for instance), but that’s not the case for most books.

    Of course, many readers may consider most books to be “disposable” in this case. (Debbi gets most of her reading material from the library, the long-time gold standard of disposable literature.) Even the classics are disposable to someone who doesn’t plan to ever read them again. But I’m a collector, so I’m just not the target audience for e-books and e-comics.

  2. Programming. One can program for the iPad, but not on the iPad. More to the point, for me, most of my programming outside work these days involves writing complex Ruby scripts to process baseball statistics and my library of Magic cards. That uses programming as a tool to get some information out the other side, rather than to write an application which is itself the tool; it cuts out the middleman, so to speak. I could imagine rewriting all that stuff so that it runs on the iPad, but it’s not likely that I will. Especially the baseball stuff, which is pretty narrowly tailored to my own quirky needs.

    Programmers are an exception to Frasier Spears’ commentary on the iPad in this way; for us, programming often is a part of the “real work”. But the point is that programmers are not the core audience for the iPad, and I think one reason behind Cory Doctorow’s ire is that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t accept this.

  3. Writing and blogging. I don’t see myself writing fiction or essays or blog posts on an iPad: Why use the on-screen keyboard or buy an external keyboard when I can just use my Mac? Will it be as easy to do word processing or use WordPress on an iPad as on a laptop, and if not, will that be a significant barrier? I dunno.

    The question of whether the iPad is mainly aimed at content consumers, or whether it will also work well for content producers, is I think an open question. At the moment my impression is that it leans toward the former, but I can imagine the balance evening out over time. Consequently, I can see myself changing my mind about this one more easily than the above two.

On the other hand, here are some things I do hope to use the iPad for, sooner or later:

  1. As a drawing input device. I expect we’ll see apps which allow the iPad to be used as an input device like the Wacom Cintiq in pretty short order, connecting your iPad to a Mac and using it to control Photoshop or other drawing apps which are too resource-intensive to run on the iPad themselves. (Of course, in the long run, why need to even connect it to your Mac? But I doubt we’re there yet for many purposes.)
  2. Playing innovative games. Computer games have been pretty stagnant for the last 10 years, in my opinion. First person shooters, real-time strategy games, simple arcade-style games, they’ve each made incremental advances over time, but nothing that’s blown me away. The last time I played computer games which felt truly new were MYST and Riven back in the 90s. Sure, they were at their core puzzle games, but they were also immersive experiences in exploring a world. I would love to see a thoughtful, immersive game experience enabled by the iPad.
  3. Reading newspapers and magazines. Speaking of disposable literature, I still subscribe to the daily newspaper (the San Jose Mercury News) in print form, and I even save the funnies every day for Debbi to read. I’ll probably keep doing so, but I could see subscribing to other periodicals – especially niche ones, or ones I don’t plan to keep, such as science fiction magazines – and reading them on an iPad. (And yes, I’d certainly pay for them.)

I have no doubt I’ll buy an iPad eventually (perhaps as soon as this summer). This is just my personal and ruthlessly-practical way of looking at it.

The iPad is already a fascinating device from a social-engineering and technological-evolutionary standpoint (if it weren’t, there wouldn’t be all the controversy surrounding it), and the science fiction fan and casual futurist in me would love to write about those aspects. However, the Apple employee in me thinks I should probably stay out of it. (I don’t think anyone really listens to little ol’ me, but there’s no percentage in risking the Internet Hordes unexpectedly descending on my blog and reading more into it than I intend.)

And on that note, off I go to my fantasy baseball draft, which I manage using the aforementioned Ruby scripts on my MacBook Pro.