Why the iPad critics are wrong

Ever since Apple’s announcement of their new iPad device, there have been a plethora of critical articles and blog posts about how it’s a device that doesn’t measure up. It doesn’t multitask. It doesn’t let you openly install apps. It doesn’t have a USB port or an SD card slot. It doesn’t even run Flash! Above all, the main complaint seems to be this: it’s not really a computer.

What those authors fail to realize is that they are complaining that a drama is not funny, that jazz is not country, and that red is not blue. Fortunately, there have been a few authors who “get it”.  There is In Praise of the iPad: A Contrarian View over at TUAW, and The iPad Big Picture over at Daring Fireball. But this post on the Seattle PI, The Apple iPad, explained to geeks (ironically posted on a blog called The Microsoft Blog) is probably the best one I’ve seen on the subject. I think the article sums it up very well in the last few paragraphs, starting at, “All of which brings us to an interesting corollary: I predict that in this decade, we’ll see a split in computing, on the same scale as the microcomputer/mainframe schism of the 1970s.” I think he’s right. I switched to a Mac a few years ago because I finally realized that I was working too hard to get my Windows computer to do what I wanted it to do. As a tech geek, I liked computing so much I didn’t realize I was doing it. But as I got older, and frankly after a good wander through an Apple store, I realized that I had pictures and movies and other work left undone because I was too busy upgrading this component or that component, installing drivers, installing updates, running virus scanners, defragging drives, etc etc on and on and on. And I realized I didn’t like doing that any more. So I bought a Mac, and amazingly most of that maintenance has simply…well, it’s gone away. I don’t have to do it anymore. On the Mac side, anyway. Interestingly, I still have to do some of that stuff on my Windows dual-install (it’s only there for the games, honestly). The dichotomy has never been more clear to me. And I never could have seen it before.

Now, a device like an iPad or even an iPhone – I see that some people are resistant. It can’t multitask. It can’t install open apps. And I’ve complained about that stuff too, because the tech geek still lives inside me. But I much more easily recognize that those are just wishes on my part. Fact is, those are smart moves ultimately. They are not computers. They’re not meant to BE computers. If you want a computer and only a computer, they are not the product for you. Since I have a computer, I’m fine with these products because I don’t need every device of mine to be a computer. So I love my iPhone. It is a lot like a mini-computer, a “handheld” if you will. But the restrictions placed on it are perfectly appropriate given what it really is – a very fancy mobile device. Since I have a computer, I use that for actual computer work. But if I’m browsing the web, answering e-mail, listening to music, looking at pictures or watching movies, I’m quite happy to do it on my iPhone, and I love the mobility of it all. The iPad will be like that times 10.

And that’s all from the perspective of someone who LIKES to tinker with computers. We hard-core computer geeks represent a very small percentage of the population in that regard. Think of the rest of the masses, like our moms and dads, sisters and brothers, grandparents, people who don’t know about the tech side of computers and frankly don’t want or need to know. They just want stuff that works. I’ll recommend an iMac to my mom in a heartbeat. I hesitate to recommend a Windows box, and I know I’d end up working on it for her. She just loves to browse the web and do e-mail – I’d easily recommend a iPad for those purposes. Fact is, she doesn’t really even need a computer, so devices like this are perfect for her.

It’s a different paradigm, but I think it’s a good one. I’d love to have a couchside device that isn’t really a computer, because if all I want to do is shop at Amazon or do some Facebooking, I don’t need a full-fledged computer for that. And I’m glad that I’ve finally hit that realization, after 25+ years of hard-core computing.

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