I pre-ordered an iPad this weekend. Apparently so did a lot of other people :-) Do we know what we're getting into? Probably not. You can always tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs, right? Version 2.0 will probably include a hologram generator, matter replicator, or something else that makes the current version little more than a really nice picture frame.
But we forge ahead anyway, not really knowing quite what to expect. Will it just be an over-grown iPhone/Touch? Will it be something that's a little bit more? Or something that's a whole lot more?
I cast my vote with the "whole lot more"—eventually.
There's already a major shift in the landscape as cellphones and their progeny become the primary internet interface for many people in many contexts. It's a powerful pull away from the traditional desktop monitor/keyboard interface.
But cell phones, even with their little thumb keyboards, can only do so much. You need a certain amount of screen real estate for any serious reading, viewing or working. So the iPad is just a bigger iPhone, right?
I think the iPad has the potential to redefine how we interact with computing devices in general. Think about it: no mouse, no stylus, no fixed keyboard. Want a Dvorak keyboard? Or a customized layout for a sophisticated application such as Final Cut or Logic Pro? It's just code. But for that matter, you really only need a keyboard for text entry.
We're looking at the beginning of the true direct-manipulation interface. No more wiggling a spatially disconnected mouse or scribbling on an eternally blank tablet with no feedback. I think the effect of such an immediate, in-your-face interface will be pervasive and long lasting, in ways that we're only just beginning to imagine.
There's an old story about requirements gathering that says you can't gauge the needed capacity of a new bridge by counting the number of people who swim across every day. In winter.
But once the bridge is there, a whole new ecosystem is created. New opportunities, new possibilities emerge from the new context. And I think that's exactly what we'll see with the iPad.
Over the course of time this style of multi-touch tablet device will probably replace the standard keyboard/mouse/screen arrangement for most consumers most of the time.
There are a couple ways this can happen:
1) It becomes an immersive front-end for direct-manipulation web apps.
2) It becomes the UI device for your desktop (now moved into the back of the closet), replacing the keyboard, screen and mouse.
3) Processing power on the device itself will grow to replace the laptop.
As soon as my iPad arrives, the first thing I'll do is check out our titles in ePub format on the nice big, bright screen. That right there will relegate my Kindle to the drawer.
Then as an experiment, I want to try using a VNC client (Remote Desktop) to control a full-power desktop computer over WiFi. With enough bandwidth, that could be a lot of fun. Imagine the full power of your eight-core desktop away from your desk.
But this is of course just my opinion. For a nice set of perspectives on the iPad, see the iPad Roundtable article in the February 2010 issue of PragPub magazine, available online at http://www.pragprog.com/magazines/2010-02/ipad-roundtable.
And there may be a dark side as well, as Chris Adamson writes in his article in the March issue: http://www.pragprog.com/magazines/2010-03/nice-apps-if-you-can-afford-to-write-them
Interesting times, indeed.