I’ve had my iPad for a short while and am enjoying it immensely. Anecdotally speaking, I’ve noticed that people who don’t immediately understand how they would want one wind up taking them back to the store or, if they didn’t purchase one, sometimes even get hostile (sometimes, even when they should know better because, say, they teaching in the digital media field).
There’s no question anymore that this is a successful implementation of a computing typology that is fundamentally different from either a laptop or a desktop. A tablet computer that is ready to go at a moment notice is great for looking up recipes in the kitchen, for reading a newspaper or a book in the subway, and perfect for taking notes in lectures. It’s much less intrusive than a laptop, which can’t be held in one hand when standing and creates a barrier between the individual and others in a seminar or classroom. The multitouch interface works much better on the iPad than it does on the iPhone. Of the two, the latter seems like the unit I can more easily live without.
I take immense pleasure in being able to haul around hundreds of books in a device that weighs less than a copy of Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism book and occupies less space. Highlighting isn’t available yet, but it will be soon and with it, full-text search. At that point, the transformation of academic books into immaterial objects will be just a matter of time. I used to care a great deal accumulating a library at home, but if I can have one with me in my bag, then which is more useful?
Still, don’t get me wrong. If a comparable product emerges from another vendor, I will defect immediately. I’m no great fan of the walled garden of applications that Apple has created, nor am I a fan of their "Father Knows Best" attitude toward the user. But everything so far is still vaporware or much less capable, so I’m stuck with the iPad for now.
As promised in the title of this piece, there IS a fatal flaw to the iPad, only it’s fatal not to Apple but to the media. There has been a lot of noise about how the iPad would give the media one more chance to survive. I was dubious that the iPad would play Jesus to the media to begin with, but now that Apple has banned applications developed by Adobe’s Flash Packager for iPhone, it’s game over.
Where a periodical previously would have been able to develop an issue in Indesign, distribute it in print and over the net, convert it to Flash for non-Apple devices and use Flash Package for Apple devices, now the latter are inaccessible unless the media developer hand codes the application. This is much, much harder. At the Netlab, for example, we would have loved to produce periodicals, pamphlets, and books to read on the iPad using a workflow consisting of Indesign, Flash, and the media packager, but now this is impossible. I’m not lamenting this too much. It’s disappointing, but our material will appear on the Web and as PDFs.
I see no great reason to complain. The Netlab doesn’t make money off its publications. But what about commercial periodicals? They’ll have to struggle to monetize content on the iPad and that difficulty—precisely at a time when they’re struggling just to stay afloat—will prove fatal for many. The rapid pace of creative destruction moves on.