January 29, 2010

More iPad

This started as a comment in reply to Scott's comment on the last post. I began to ramble on (as is typical for me), and after a while, it just seemed too long for a comment so I put it up here.

People have often asked me, "I'm getting a new computer; what should I buy?" Problem is, the people that really can make use of a computer usually already know what they want. So, the people who are coming to me for advice are people who can't really explain what they even want a computer for or what their needs might be. For most of those people, I flippantly reply "WebTV", "Typewriter", or in some cases, "Etch A Sketch". The only genuine component to my reply is that they should just buy a computer from whomever has the best phone support, meaning whoever's going to take their phone calls when they can't figure out where all these new toolbars came from or why the computer that they over-specced to somehow be "future-proof" is now running so slow. I sure as heck ain't taking those calls.

Whenever anybody like that asks me about a computer again, I will completely absolutely seriously reply "iPad" from now on. 99% of the people in that situation would be best served by an iPad. It's not an issue of something else being more than they need. It's more an issue of something else being a downright hostile user experience for them.

This kind of thing would be perfect for my mother. Or my mother-in-law. Or my sister-in-law who just spent large amounts of money on a laptop but literally only does 2 things with it: MySpace and watching Robert Pattinson movies. Or my aunt. Or my uncle. You get the idea.

I think specifically of my Dad who I don't really trust with a TV remote, let alone a computer. He accidentally erases the contacts on his phone every other week because he can't find the one number that he knows he saved somewhere but accidentally got saved to "SIM Card" instead of "Internal Mem". He got an iPod touch for Christmas and he loves it. More importantly, he uses it. He can figure out how to make it work and how to do things with it. It's downright amazing. He could totally use an iPad and be a web surfing emailing internet using fool.

The more I think of it, the more I think that Apple is not trying to shoehorn a device between the computer and the phone. I really think that they are out to replace the personal computer entirely for a huge segment of the market. And, more power to them. I've long thought that the computer was the wrong tool to choose for millions of people, but there really wasn't another tool that they could choose instead for their particular needs. This is the first real alternate choice there.

January 28, 2010


A few people have asked what I think of the iPad, so I figure I might as well write it down here. The answer is "I don't know." I'd have to actually have one in my hand to form a real opinion. If it's anything like the iPhone (and it obviously is), then reading about it is a far different experience than actually picking one up and putting your fingers on it. Therefore, it would be foolish for me to really come up with a concrete opinion without some actual hands on time.

That said, I can answer a few more specific questions, like "Do you think you're going to get one?", and "Do you think it will be a hit?"

I'm attempting to be a more provident provider right now, so the answer to any question asking me if I'm going to spend money on anything is a reflexive "no". However, if I had extra money lying around and was debating whether to buy this or something else it might still be a hard purchase to justify.

On paper, it doesn't seem like I'd really need it. I use my iPhone for many things, and my MacBook for everything else. There is almost nothing that I do that couldn't be done by one of those devices yet could be done by an iPad. Still, the iPad could be more useful at some of the things those other devices do, like surfing the internet on the toilet, for example (there's about 1 hour of my week right there).

An iPad would actually be really useful in church (I'm the executive secretary). I've got 2-3 meetings each Sunday, and I have a big padfolio plus my iPhone to manage it all. I'd honestly really rather do everything electronically, but my laptop would be a poor choice for that. It's too bulky, and I can't use it in the hall or in priesthood or anything. An iPad with nothing more than the built in apps, Pages, and the iPhone church apps that I already have would really already be perfect in my church workflow. If someone makes an iPad-specific app that's more useful for what I do at church, even better. I would feel a little self conscious using it for reading in priesthood or something, but there are already 5 guys in the elder's quorum who use their iPod touches or phones for scriptures, so I'd get over that quickly.

I said that there's almost nothing that couldn't be done by one of my other devices that could be done by an iPad. There's one thing I can think of that neither my laptop or phone could do that the iPad would be perfect for: sheet music. I've got a ton of sheet music, yet my collection is puny compared to others (I've got maybe 3 cubic feet worth. I know people who have rooms of their house dedicated). Still, I can never find what I want because there's no rhyme or reason to the way I've got everything thrown in a cupboard. On top of that, half of what I have is photocopies, so without going through each page individually, there's no way of telling what's what. Imagine an app for displaying sheet music that could also catalog and manage scanned music, import the various electronic score formats, give all the expected options for the electronic formats like transposing and audio playback, and couple that app with an online sheet music store with a wide selection. That would be a dream come true for me to be able to sit down at any instrument anywhere and pull up any music I own, or buy/find what I don't. If someone put together the right combination of app and store, I'd be digging through the couch cushions starting today for the money to buy one of these things the second they're available.

Yes, there already exist electronic solutions for this, but they suck. Hard. The MusicPad is $900, is single purpose, and is too big to really carry around idly. The software is also terrible. There's another package that attempts to replicate the MusicPad's functionality for Windows on any Tablet PC. That's a slightly better value, since you can get more use out of a Windows computer, but almost every Tablet PC would still be too big and heavy and poor in battery life. There's the other problem that the program's designed like a Windows program. What works with a mouse and keyboard doesn't work the same with a stylus and certainly not with a finger. That's the big hangup when you try to take an existing solution and just put it in a new context.

What Apple does is different. Rather than use the existing solution, they really rethink the problem instead. They usually do that in such a way that their solution is unrecognizable and unfamiliar. But, if you try what they came up with, you'll often find that they really have come up with a better way. Does that mean I think this thing will be a huge hit? I have no idea. It's hard for me to come up with a list of reasons why anyone would need one, much less me. But, I would not want to bet against Apple on this one. If they're entering a market, you can be sure that they've really done their homework and they have every reason to think that they'll succeed. If they're attempting to create a whole new market, a market that many others have attempted to define and failed, they must really have some reason to believe that they've cracked it, that they've figured out what's been missing from all these other attempts.

If it was any other company, I'd laugh at them and wait for them to fall flat on their face. But, it's Apple, and they've pulled this off twice before with the iPod and iPhone. So, if you don't want one and can't understand why anyone else would want one, that's fine. But don't think that means that no one will buy it, since Apple clearly knows better than you or I about what people want.

(Further evidence that Apple knows what it's doing: the Apple stock I added to my IRA back in 1996 is up over 3800% since I bought it. Sure would have been nice if I had the foresight to buy more than 5 shares, though...)