ipad, you pad, don’t we all pad?

If this week’s iPad debut has taught me anything, it’s that the Nook sucks.

No, really. The Nook sucks.

The Tall One received a Nook as a Christmas present this year, and it was delivered to him before the end of January, because he is lucky. The excitement was palpable, but within two hours it had given way to frustration and disappointment. The Tall One had read that the Nook can display any PDF you load onto it. As an avowed Warhammer addict with several dozen codices in his possession, the space-saving potential of such a device was almost intoxicating to him. Alas, the Nook always displays a full page at a time, with no options for zooming in, which makes reading a codex impossible.

Warhammer nerds are crazy anyway, you might say, and the Nook was meant for normal people. Fine. Then tell me why the device is so monstrously slow. A delay between page loads long enough for me to start counting my Mississippis? Absolutely unacceptable. The problem with the Nook (and to a lesser extent, the Kindle) is that e-Ink technology just isn’t ready for prime time. I’ll grant you that it’s easier on the eyes than the unrelenting glow of an LCD screen, but that doesn’t make up for the slow refresh rates, compounded by the Nook’s myriad other missteps: the confusing navigation scheme, dodgy touch panel, curiously slow startup and load times, and propensity for crashing. I seriously doubt that we’ll look back at the Nook as something that defined modern computing.

But back to the Tall One’s Warhammer problem. If he wants a slim device capable of reading and zooming PDFs, he need look no further than the iPhone or iPod Touch. Aside from Apple’s built-in PDF support, there are apps for that. Several of them. The only real problem would be the tiny screen.

Which brings us, at last, to the iPad. This is clearly Apple’s answer to netbooks and e-readers, and that answer is, “They both suck.” E-readers suck because they are an immature, narrowly focused technology, and netbooks suck because they are nothing more than shrunken, anemic laptops. As Steve Jobs said at the start of his presentation, “They aren’t better at anything.” Instead of being built for ease of use or enjoyment, they are built for disposability. Does this sound like a product category with a future?

Instead, Apple has created a device that is built to be enjoyable. For the vast majority of computer users, the iPad does everything they will ever need it to do: email, web, photos, music, video. Most users do not want to bother with file systems. Most users do not want to bother with installing and configuring. This, I believe, is the device that Apple has been building towards since the day it introduced the world to the mouse. A device you hold in your hand, touch with your fingers, and just use. Calling this a “computer” is wrong. Computers started as things that compute, and ever since have had layer after layer of human-friendly interfaces grafted onto them. The iPad feels different, almost as if the interface came first, and the functions came later.

There’s a saying in computational neuroscience: “The hardware is the algorithm.” In other words, the brain does not distinguish between hardware and software. That’s what the iPad feels like to me. Naturalistic, intuitive hardware that engenders naturalistic, intuitive software. That’s the big innovation. That’s why the iPad is going to be much, much bigger than the skeptics think. It’s not a shrunken Macbook or an engorged iPhone. It’s an entirely new era in the way we interact with machines.



  1. Tall One wrote:

    You disagree with the prophets at Penny Arcade! How can the world continue in this fashion?!

    Also the Nook has gotten somewhat better when I found places I could download e-books for free. Still, though, it’s hard to use, ugly, and pretty limited.

  2. GDeeeeZL wrote:

    I never thought that I would have wanted the iPad until I watched the video and saw just how damn cool this device looks and how it further capitalizes upon the touch capabilities of the iPhone and iPod Touch. However, there are some profound limitations to this device in the hardware and price. Spending $499 on a glorified e-reader is already pushing the bar on price, even though a widely cited “study” says many folks would spend upwards of $700 on the anticipated Apple slate device. For about 500 bucks I would want a hard drive that is bigger than 16GB, especially if the device is designed to be a media player and handheld gaming device. There are about 30 apps, 4GB of music (from a library of over 50GB), and 5GB of podcasts and videos I regularly sync to and use on my iPhone. I imagine loading all of this media onto my iPad, and I anticipate downloading at least a dozen (more graphically intense) applications designed specifically for the iPad. Plus, I would hope to download about five or six books for casual reading and I would like to sync about 100 PDF files for my research. My iPad is now full. I can’t imagine after this relatively limited spread of media (i.e., I’m only loading 10% of my music, podcasts, and PDF files) that I would even have room to download the temporary files for a movie rented from iTunes. Perhaps, I should just spend another $200 for the 64GB model. Let’s face it, though, the hard drives in the iPad are the equivalent of USB keys and I can buy an extra 32+GB of this flash memory for only $70 from newegg. Trouble is, I don’t know if I’ll be able to upgrade my iPad on my own to save money, and the iPad doesn’t have even a single USB slot.

    While we’re criticizing netbooks (by the by, I just purchased one for my niece for Christmas and it works beautifully for her academic needs), I remember that we recently put down Windows 7 Starter edition for only allowing 3 programs to run at once. If there were ever a time to debut the updates to run parallel/concurrent applications for the iPhone, it was when Apple unveiled the iPad. We don’t even get the lame three-application limit that so many Windows users fought to have lifted from 7 Starter.

    Lastly, I hope someone develops a very basic file system because I disagree with you that “most users do not want to bother” with them. Maybe we users don’t want to have to deal with system trays and applications running in the background that eat battery life, but these are problems typical of Windows operating systems and not Apple’s OS. If you’re giving me the ability to use the iWorks suite and read books and PDFs on the iPad, I would like to be able to store, organize, and sort these files in folders in the same ways I can have stacks of photos that I can peak into using iPhoto. As a researcher, I would think you could imagine and appreciate the possibilities of organizing dozens of journal articles for reading and note taking for an upcoming publication. I’d rather have folders on the desktop set to my specification than having PDF files embedded in an e-reader application’s library or bookshelf. Maybe this folder system will be developed, after all, but I haven’t read anything of it yet.