iGet It

Ok, I get it now.

I already wrote my last post on why tablet computers will be near-useless devices, though they may sell. [summation: it's the input device, stupid!]

So I won't wade backward into that.

But I get it now. I get the deal with the iPad. It will sell of course, not as well as the iPhone, which was a revolutionary device. It will sell for a while, and then eventually be replaced by something that does the same job.

You see, I underestimated Apple. The one thing that you can be sure of is that they didn't just pull this idea out of their ass. They've been selling high-priced digital commodities for a while now, and they know how to test a product. They know how to design something that people will buy. The failure of analysts and tech commentators (and me, though I'm not either of those) is to think that Apple is a company that designs computers. No. They design products.

Some articles have made comparisons to the iPod as not being an actual innovative product. Nothing new really, except a new shape, and limited feature glut. True. But the big hole filled by the iPod was filled by iTunes.

Back in those days, most people either used Winamp or Windows Media Player to play their unorganized mp3s they scored, mislabeled, off of Napster and its latter day siblings. Both of these are a bit unwieldy, especially for someone who doesn't really know what an mp3 is, other than a music file.

Then comes iTunes. Clean white space, easy to see buttons, and no annoying things like "bitrate" that anyone has to "understand". It connects directly to you mp3 player, which has an identical look and feel, exactly and every time. Furthermore, you can download organized, clean mp3s through the same program. $.99 was a pittance to pay for such ease of use. And this brings us the Apple we know today.

This is all the App Store has done. It's made navigating programs and features on a smart phone as easy as buying an mp3.

And the iPad is just taking it a step further, to "computing". I put computing in quotes, because as anyone who really knows a computer knows, the iPad is not really computing.

And this is Apple's genius. Because I would estimate, off the top of my head, that 75% of computer users do not know how to use a computer.

This week at work, I watched a co-worker almost buy a new computer because a pre-installed Dell program kept crashing. I watched people unable to sign on to webmail for hours try sending faxes instead. I watched my boss try and save the contents of his old computer, which was "ruined" by a broken power plug, try and back up his media files, only to say "fuck it" when he couldn't easily move his Adobe software, because he had lost the product key. I watched a co-worker who actually knows how to use Macs very well screw up his forehead in frustration when I tried to explain to him that drive partitions were not just a "Windows thing".

It's 2010 here, people. Or as I like to call it in such instances, TwenTen.

In the year TwenTen, isn't it time you stopped being embarrassed by nerdy kids who can set up POP forwarding? Shouldn't there be some product you can buy that doesn't get that damn "Facebook virus" every time you have thirty-three browser windows open? Why haven't "they" designed a computer that's not "so goddamned stupid" that it has so-called "file format problems"? In this year of personal computing, I would pay, like, $1000 for something that doesn't suck.

The iPad's innovation is that it's made the entire PC part of the UI. It's thin. There's nothing behind it. There's nothing behind the curtain... just the curtain.

The iPad is the cheaply bound, pasteboard hardcover book of computers. Sure, it's made well, I bet. But it's going to be bought by people who leave their computers on planes, let their kids smear MacDonalds grease into them, and who drop them while trying to find their car keys. It's going to be bought by people who typically render EVEN USER-FRIENDLY MACS useless within a year and a half.

The iPad is the OLPC for the middle-class american adult.

Frankly, it's about time. It's about time we cut these suckers loose. It's funny that computers are trending in the extreme user-friendly direction about the same time as I'm learning Linux prompts. There's a rift opening up, and it's time we cut the cord.

Don't get me wrong. I like helping people who can't use their computers. I don't even make money off of it. But being the go-to guy to fix the email or the database or the printer makes me feel good, and I can teach people a thing or two in the process. But after the sixth time resetting the router, and the tenth time stopping someone from paying $50 an hour to have some stranger break their hard drive, I'm starting to think there are certain people who just need something they can use. You can't follow people around forever, waiting to catch their grape juice as it tumbles towards their keyboard. Maybe it's time we gave these people a glowing, scratch-resistant screen, and let them curl up on the couch to play Internet.

And it doesn't seem a bad device for that. Hey, if all I wanted to do was go online and watch video, then maybe I'd get one. But strangely, I'm one of those people that actually uses a computer for all kinds of complicated stuff. Internet, music, games--my cell phone does that crap. If I'm getting a good processor and large screen, I'm organizing text files. I'm archiving data. I'm piloting efficient networks for my friends and family. I'm harvesting the Internet for usable information, cataloging, and making available to myself for re-use. I'm syncing my life throughout all my devices, not just one pretty one. I'm restoring and recycling old computer pieces, building computing appliances to run my stereo, my alarm clock, my hydroponic garden, and whatever else. I'm learning about how computers work, and experimenting, and trying cutting edge software and information technology. And I'm fixing other people's electronic things when they break. For all of those things, I need an actual computer.

So maybe there is a new device here. There is an Internet portal, designed for everyone who only needs the Internet, but has no use for a computer. And maybe the devious part is, this will let computers function on computing, and portals do the porting.

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