tools

iPad: It’s Not About the Tool

Yesterday I said I liked the iPad.

I didn’t qualify it, I didn’t say what specifically I liked about it, but I got some comments questioning my decision, wondering why I’d want such a silly thing, what possible use it could have, and why I’d just lemming along with whatever Apple is pimping without actually looking into it first. Defensive? I don’t know. But for all those who are questioning my sanity, let me explain now.

I’m not planning to run out and buy one as soon as they hit the shelves (though I’d like to try one out, just for fun). I didn’t rush out and get the iPhone either (in fact I waited a whole YEAR!). But the story of the iPad is far more important than the gadget that is going to be in people’s hands come April.

It’s not about the tool. It’s about what it represents. Oh, wait, Suze, are you saying AGAIN that it’s not about the tools? (Snore).

But Suze, the iPad is a TOOL!

Yep, yer darn tootin’ it is. But the iPad is not so much about what it is and what it does (because there are going to be lots of copycats now). It’s about mixing it up a bit – trying out new ways of human/computer interaction. We’ve been strapped to our keyboards and mouses (mice?) for a long time. The iPad gives us something new to think about and experiment with.

But wait, Suze – tablet computers are nothing new. They’ve been around for years! Apple’s not exactly innovating here.

That is true! But 1) there are no original ideas and 2) the iPad is a first iteration of a new kind of concept for a tool. It behaves somewhat differently than tablet PCs. It is a mobile device, not a laptop computer. It’s like the iPhone was to smart phones – it shakes things up a bit. The funny thing is, when a company tries a different spin on a concept, it’s often people who turn around and innovate with it. Twitter is a good example of this – the @ reply feature was originally a syntax that the users came up with, not @ev and his team. The Twitter developers just made it into a feature because it was so darned popular and useful. And ultimately, it made Twitter what it is today (a many to many conversation).

You see, the way it works is, companies like Apple create the new technology, and people decide how to make it useful. It’s a tool, yes. But mostly it’s a behaviour changer.

But Suze, change is scary!

Ugh. Tell me about it. Why would I want to change the way I’m doing things now? I’m quite content with the status quo. The way I use computers hasn’t changed much in the past 10-15 years. Keyboard, mouse, point and click, maximize, minimize, CTRL-ALT-DELETE (when I’m on my PC ;)). It’s been pretty productive, in spite of my repetitive stress shoulder injury and early-stage carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s been great to have to clunk out my big ol’ laptop at client meetings, wait for it to wake up from endless sleep, plug it in after the battery dies in 20 minutes, and try to noodle around on the touch pad fast enough that I don’t bore people to death (because my wireless mouse died).

The point is, why wouldn’t we want to see if there’s a better way? Seth Godin said that “If you’re not upsetting people, you’re not changing things.” New stuff is scary to most people. They don’t want to try because they are afraid it won’t work. But not trying at all means you’ll never know if there’s a better way.

I say it’s time we had something out there to mix it up a bit. Let’s give it a fair shake. See if it works. If it doesn’t, we’ll see how Apple works to improve it (or how someone else makes a better one).

Ok, but Apple is still the Evil Empire. I’d never buy anything of theirs.

So don’t! Lots of other people still will. And eventually, someone else will come along with a new thing that you do like. As for Apple’s proprietary nature, I think it’s not so bad. I’ve been an iPhone user for a little over a year, and have had an iMac for 3 years. We also are the ones who have the Apple TV (in case you were looking for it). I buy music and movies from iTunes, I download apps from the App Store, I use Final Cut and iPhoto. The truth is, I’m already invested in Apple. My stuff resides there anyhow. So a tool like the iPad isn’t a far stretch for me. I can load it up with all the same stuff I’m used to having (with the exception of Final Cut, but that’s not what the device is designed for). So for folks like me, something like the iPad might be instantly useful. For others, it might be a way for them to get in to the scene.

Ultimately, you have the right to buy or not to buy. To use the technology or toss it aside. But what I’m asking is, give it a chance to see if and how it’s going to change things before discounting it as more shill from the Evil Corporation.

Mark my words (or I’ll be eating my words)…I think there’s a lot to pay attention to with the iPad. Don’t think about the tool itself. Think about what it means to innovation, moving forward, and how we’re going to interact with machines in the future.

The thing about trailblazers is, there’s nobody ahead of them to fight the tigers.


One Comment

  1. I want to use the Ipad, or an Ipad-like device (preferably with a much more open platform), to empower shortening time to realization of collaboration. Ideas can be captured in real time and in an accessible format and communicated.

    It is a device that is no more cumbersome than a netbook, but has close to the portability a pad of paper. Whereas taking a folding electronic device into the boardroom is seen in some circles as taboo, the pad bridges the gap between hand-held device and the laptop. The Ipad is small enough not to obscure a person’s face, yet is larger than a cell phone.

    As workplaces encourage employees to formalize corporate knowledge and contribute ideas for the enterprise (breaking down silos), organizational culture is changing. The Ipad can make e-collaboration platforms ubiquitous.

    In turn, this can help management realize that employees need not be tied to cubicle workstations to be productive.

    Also, that device will facilitate organizations like mine to reduce the use of printed decks for presentations. Will we be paperless, no. Does the Ipad give us an alternative, yes.

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