Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What the iPad is not quite doing (yet)

Every designer I work with seems to think that the iPad is ubiquitous. It's not. No one in my neighborhood has one. My doctor does, but they keep it at home, as the living room convenience device. Of course, something like half the people in the department I work in (as well as my previous co-workers, who I still keep in touch with) have an iPad, Galaxy Tab and/or eReader. Traveling through airports and spending time on planes, I see a lot more of them. And I've started seeing trends.
When the iPad was first rumored in it's final guise, there were numerous comparisons to the Star Trek PADD, or Alan Kay's Dynabook for the more learned and differently-nerdy. These comparisons seemed apt at the time, and I still see them. But watching the use of the various tablety devices, Media Tablets and especially the iPad is not a paper notepad replacement. And it's not apparently even about to be.
Earlier last week, I was in an all hands meeting. About 200 people (and seriously at least 50 have tablets of some sort). Those that were even brought, were in bags, or under chairs. They were with the laptops, as something unsuitable to be used in a meeting. And don't think this means that everyone was paying attention. Most people took notes. They just did it by pulling out a paper notebook or notepad, and writing with pen and paper. Over the rest of the week I kept my head up more, and looked for other behaviors. Indeed, tablets are used in spare moments alone, or in small rooms. They are used a bit as ambient devices, are used to consume content or look things up when the main computer is occupied. A few people here use them as their primary email computer when they come to visit our team room. But they are never kept out during a meeting when the laptops go away. I asked a few people why. Frankly, most of these people are /huge/ Apple fanbois. You can't ask them anything about the device and get a useful response. The first good one was from the person on our team with a Galaxy Tab. She was using it in the meeting... and she was just doing email. She said that typing with the virtual keyboard is too slow to take notes. I reluctantly got a few iPad owners to say the same thing. I had been pulled into that meeting with minimal warning, so didn't have my tablet, or even a notepad. So I took notes on my phone. The hardware keyboard was the killer app here; I have failed to use my previous mobile handset, with an on-screen-only keyboard to do this. But in other meetings I have used my clunky tablet PC to great effect. Handwriting recognition is approaching handwriting speeds, and if you don't live-convert, it's even faster. There's no page flipping, etc. and you just write and draw what you want.
Apple might agree with this assessment. Over the weekend, a patent was found for a stylus for iPads and presumably other capacitive devices they come out with. I think the implementation looks dumb, and maybe is just to get the patent fairy on their side; an inductive tablet pickup (from Wacom could be easily fit behind the screen, and add pressure sensitivity to boot. But I digress. Even Apple has, at least in the back of their head, a concern that the iPad can reach a broader customer base, and be a creation tool, not just the oft-argued consumption tool it seems to be, despite arguments to the contrary.
There also seems to be something about the size and glowing-ness of the iPad that discourages use as attention of the outside world goes up. A fun observation I've made is waiting to board the airplane. There are a lot of people for any single flight, and pretty much all of them have computers, and a lot have tablets. What I'm seeing is:
ConditionIn use or in-hand
No employees at the gateHeadsetsLaptopiPadeReaderMobile-
Gate agent arrives-LaptopiPadeReaderMobile-
Gate agent announces boarding soon--iPadeReaderMobile-
Previous flight is unloading---eReaderMobile-
Waiting for your zone----MobileBoarding pass
Waiting to get your boarding pass scanned-----Boarding pass
No. No one uses paper books or magazines, except on the plane itself. Anyway, there seems to be a general worry that the iPad is too distracting, and too fragile. It gets put away not much after laptops. The relatively fewer Galaxy Tabs and Archos things I see are not much better. They last only another minute and a half. There also /seems/ to be something about the standby nature of eReaders. I never see the idle screens on those; they are pulled out of bags with a page displayed, the people read them, flip pages, continue reading and just shove them away. Not enough data here, but I suspect there's something to be learned with this as well.
So, lest you say I am just anti-Apple (and I do get accused of that when I ask these question), I am not really. I just don't think that any device is perfect, cannot be improved upon, and cannot be competed with. Were I hired to build a media tablet, or software for one, my competition would be Moleskine, and other trendy notebooks. Everything traditional converges to mobile, which then steals it's market share. Everything else is converging into mobile devices, one way or another, so I find it hard to believe that paper is not on our near horizon. The iPad, or Playbook or Xoom or anything else that's not just me-too can easily do a lot of this. I eagerly away the near future.


David Pitkin said...

Another criteria in this area of thinking of airline travel is battery life of devices and FCC regulations. I for example save print material for runway and takeoff since it is allowed and potentially could be a longer time.

shoobe01 said...

I didn't want to get into that, but if I was working with any eReader team (or tablet, for that matter) I'd get with the FAA to see if there's a way to certify that my device is totally safe when in airplane mode, so my customers can use it like paper, during takeoff and everything.

Not a huge market, but a dedicated one.