Apr 10

Searching for meaning in iPad

What could possibly follow an entire week of iPad-related posts — but yet another. Bear with me please. Just one more.

Now that I’ve had a week to chat it up with fellow iPad owners, probe those who have resisted temptation and those who are so far temptation-free, one reaction to iPad stands above the rest to me: an awful lot of people just don’t have a clue how they’d use it.

This is stirring an ancient memory.

Back in Apple’s earliest days, when they were promoting the steam-powered Apple II, the company had a similar problem. While that newfangled personal computer thing was intriguing, people simply didn’t understand how it fit into their lives. So Apple ran an insert in major magazines with the headline “Will someone please tell me what a personal computer can do?” (or something close). Inside, it listed 100 uses that would blow your mind — like writing a letter, storing recipes, shooting aliens, wild things like that.

Obviously this is a very different time, and people are infinitely more sophisticated about technology. They don’t need an education about the kinds of things they can do with an iPad. But iPad does shake up the time and space factor. Many can’t quite tell how it fits into their lives. In effect, they’re asking “Will someone please tell me when, where and why I’d use an iPad?”

This is a perfectly human reaction. It’s positive in the sense that it confirms how new iPad really is. That lost feeling can’t help but fade as more imaginative apps appear, and as real people (not reviewers) begin to share their personal experiences.

My only concern: a campaign that only features people sitting on a couch doesn’t answer too many questions. I hope the message gets richer.

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  • neilw

    Great topic. I’ve long (well, since January) thought that the clarification for this question would come from the early adopters who would blog like crazy (e.g.: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/4/11/856114/-My-iPad-as-a-tool) about “when, where and why” they use it. Then it would start to “click” for more folks are on the fence. The final wave would be the previously untempted, who are swayed by seeing all their friends using theirs. This is of course a sunny-day scenerio where the product achieves long-term success, which at this point seems likely but not assured.

    A more decisive ad compaign could help clarify. But here’s the big question: does Apple really *know*? All they have to go on initially is the experience of the handful of their own executives, which is not exactly a good cross section. Appearance of new iPad-specific “killer apps” could also help shape the answer.

    I hope that Apple will indeed tackle this in future ad campaigns, but fortunately (for them) they can ride the wave of early adopters for a while until they really figure it out for themselves.

    Having played with one briefly (loved it), I think I have a good idea how I’d use it, but still remain unclear how it would fit in among my other devices.

  • Is it possible that you’re over-thinking (or over-hyping) this, Ken?

    As you may remember, I’m not an Apple fanboy — I own an Apple TV, which is an almost completely useless appliance that does little more than burn electricity, and an iPhone 3G, that I love, but also frustrates me with its sluggishness.

    I was initially in the camp that was completely underwhelmed by the announcement of a giant iPod Touch, but having had a 60-second play with one and more time to reflect on how it might fit into my life, I believe I really WOULD use it primarily on the sofa, for all those times when I want to look something up on Wikipedia/BBC News/NYTimes/YouTube/IMDB, add a movie to my Netflix queue, quickly check email or Facebook etc., but don’t feel like going to the home office and waking up the laptop.

    It won’t revolutionize my life — it will just make it slightly more convenient. I’ll probably get the base 16Gb model without 3G connectivity when the price inevitably drops to around $350 in about 3-6 months.

  • andrewTee

    Great stuff, thanks Ken! Yeah, I think the problem now isn’t just “when do I use it?,” it’s “when do I use it instead of my iPhone or MacBook?”

    Put it another way… your 3G smartphone does things your computer can’t do, and vice-versa; hence they both have a place in your life. What does (or could) the iPad do that neither existing device is capable of? About all I can figure is, it lets you access data-rich media when you’re standing or walking… a laptop for those without a lap.

    Obviously there’s more to it than that, since consumers are spending millions on iPads and competitors are spending billions on their own tablet PC’s. Like you, I’m just dying to see how this all shakes out.

  • ken segall

    Overthinking? Moi? I’m actually in your camp, as I use iPad as a coffee-table device for my family and guests (who are in great abundance now that I have an iPad). But from what I observe, that’s but one use. My iPad worked darn well for me while traveling. Also, I don’t think that this is an instant revolution. It will take time. I have to believe the touch-screen, no-visible-OS, get-all-apps-online model will lead to even more capable iPads, and ultimately change laptops and desktops as well.

    Not sure it’s that cut and dry, since iPhone does many things that your computer does also, but makes it easy to do them anywhere. It’s probably not that iPad has to to do things you can’t do elsewhere, it’s probably more like being mobile without compromising, and (once the cool apps arrive) doing things that are far more sophisticated than iPhone. When I do my email or use the Internet on iPad, I feel like I’m getting a real computer experience. I don’t feel that way when I use my iPhone, though the convenience obviously counts for a lot.

  • As a take-off from the “If you’re lost . . ” in the image above, and just in case you’ve lost your 1941 edition of the Nautical Almanac, this iPad application is sure to please:


    As for positioning the iPad, one thing I haven’t tripped over yet is “128 bit computer” – LOL. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a MegaFlop spec on the iPad yet either.

    FWIW, I wasn’t all that jazzed about the iPad when it was announced. “Just a bigger iPod Touch” was my first reaction. Then I started thinking about it and decided to go see one. Well, that was it – I walked out $800 lighter and have been enjoying it thoroughly. I think one of the biggest aspects of it’s appeal and ultimately it’s adoption is the speed and simplicity of the GUI in combination with the larger screen. The iPhone/iPod tends to limit your imagination, whereas the iPad seems to open the mind to all kinds of potential applications – but only after you’ve seen and played with the iPad a bit.

  • Scott Morgan

    I do agree that as more apps come out, more about what is possible will be unveiled. I love that no one knows what to think but everyone seems to agree the possibilities are endless. This is what I call a “Ground Breaking” product. When you can simply customize the iPad with just an app that makes an individuals life more productive or fun you are on to something.
    I work from home and love the fact that this is a simple to carry and use device that can handle everything I need to run my business. I have my iMac at home for bigger projects and now this for meetings or even travel. Most of my travel is quick trips so this fits perfectly.
    I love when a device such as the iPad opens doors to places we didn’t know exist and creates a whole new level of creativity and learning. The elements app should be required for all high school and college students. Apps like that alone should spark new interest in science and math and hopefully push education to a new level of learning for students and teachers alike. We are in a new digital age and now is the time to jump aboard.

  • ken segall

    Well put. I will be very surprised if the vast majority doesn’t feel the same positives you do. I agree, the potential for college is astounding. The idea of replacing stacks of books with an iPad, including all those color illustrations, being able to bookmark and take notes, having a battery that can truly last for days, is just too cool. Not hard to imagine iPad being your entire life in college. I’m sure other uses will be revolutionized to the same degree. At this point, it’s the blank canvas that is so exciting.

  • Chase Iyer

    ken, you might be interested in knowing the answer to why all iphone ads always show the time at 9:42 (and the ipad’s time is set at 9:41)…


  • Being a college student, now for the last 17 months straight – I never would have thought about it ‘being’ my textbook(s). I think I might actually have to go out and buy one; just curious whether I can write that off on my taxes as an education expense.

    Thanks for the Ah-hah moment, Ken.

  • @Chase:
    So, in regards to the new MacBook Pro line, just exactly what do you imagine Apple will talk about for 40+ minutes leading up to the big reveal: “It’s the fastest MacBook ever”? Let’s see, there’s the bigger disk drive, the higher res screen, bigger memory, finally a media slot (SD only), and the nVidia upgrade (very intangible), humm, I must be forgetting something, right?

  • ken segall

    Yes, I saw that story the other day. I love that. Never knew.

  • OmariJames

    The iPad is for rich people who have 500 dollars or more to give to apple to get a slab of technology they can lay around the house and let their dog chew on.

    It’s not like…. an iPod touch or anywhere nearly as close to an iPhone. It’s an extention of an extention which in most cases not needed for daily function as a phone or full featured/netbook computer is in today’s world.

    The ipad is an accessory a lot of us can do without until apple does something extraordinary with the ipad next year. As of now , the ipad is not worth the buy for the average non-techie geeky.

    Sent from my iPhone.

  • Josh Sklar

    Just don’t bring it into Israel or you’ll regreeeet it:


  • Chase Iyer


    I guess Ken did a great job with MBP post right after this one: