Posts Tagged ‘iPad’

The Year of Hyperbole

Friday, March 4th, 2011
CSSquirrel #82: The Year of Hyperbole

For a man who lives in the heavily hyped, increasingly referenced post-PC era, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

The iPad is an amazing device. The quality of experience you have when using one borders on the luxurious. Although I personally feel it’s better suited for consumption than production, it’s clear that it can serve the latter task. (I’d prefer some better multitasking support in that regard, however.) Browsing the web with one is a dream (until you hit a flash site), and watching videos feels like a guilty pleasure. Having seen the announced changes for the iPad 2, I can only assume it will build on the experience.

I’ve been recently planning on getting some sort of non-desktop computer. Despite being a tech-heavy individual, the only portable computing device I own is an iPhone 3G, which is a slow and devoted servant that doesn’t quite meet my mobile computing needs. I’ve strongly considered laptops, but would prefer less bulk. Netbooks seem like the right size, but once I get there, I start to think form and function… and after my experiences with the iPads of my co-workers, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that a tablet would serve me far better, most of the time. For my budget, purchasing one is a non-trivial expenditure, but it’s increasingly one I’d like to make. And since the current crop of tablets largely don’t feel right to me other than the iPad, I’m thinking that my money will be going to Apple. (I admit to interest in HP’s TouchPad, but haven’t researched it enough to know if it’s going to be a worthwhile contender.)

Even though I’m increasingly sitting in the pews, however, I’m still not ready to drink the kool-aid with Apple’s more enthusiastic supporters.

The comic today, featuring Faruk Ateş as the stand-in for Apple lovers everywhere, pokes fun at the hyperbole surrounding the iPad 2 and hints at some of my reservations regarding our alleged post-PC era. To listen to some of Apple’s more outspoken fans speak, this device is ushering us into some sort of golden era where we’ll recline on couches like ancient Romans, being fed grapes as we laugh about the old days where typewriter-like devices called computers chained us to desks.

We’re not in a post-PC era, folks. We’re not entering one, either.

We’re not witnessing the first automobile in an era of horse-drawn buggies. We’re in an era of cars and trucks looking at the first motorcycle.

Why?

Because the iPad and all other tablets are personal computers. Period.

Although they vary in form from a desktop computer, so does a laptop or netbook. This is just a more extreme change in form, with the keyboard disappearing altogether. But if my mother owned an iPad instead of her desktop computer she’d be using it for the same thing: checking email, browsing the web, watching and sharing videos of cats and sending me messages on Facebook asking me if I’m wearing warm-enough clothes and eating properly.

How she’d interact with the computer would be novel for her, admittedly. And to an extent, where she could do it would also be somewhat novel, but as a person who’s used a latop frequently she’s not going to find the iPad used in too many spaces she already hasn’t had computer access.

Now, for me, if I owned an iPad, I’d use it for much of (but not all of) my home computer experiences. Watching videos. Making notes or casually browsing the web, figuring out where I last saw an actor on a program I’m watching on television. But it won’t replace my desktop altogether just like the motorcycle didn’t make the truck obsolete. Complex graphics-related tasks, multitasking the many programs I use in my daily job, or any situation where I need two monitors to do the same task all represent situations where the iPad wouldn’t be the idea computer to use.

These sort of use-cases are far from ordinary. Most people, like my mother, don’t need a desktop over a tablet. I agree 100% with this assertion. But I’m going to argue that the iPad and its ilk are evolutionary products, not revolutionary ones. What Apple did was take a preexisting form factor for the computer (albeit, a largely unused one) and make it hotter and more relevant. Apple changed the public’s perception on what is a desirable form for their personal computers, they did not create a different category of device that replaces a computer.

Let’s celebrate the iPad 2. Let’s celebrate tablets. But let’s also recognize them for what they are. Personal computers. In this regard I agree with John Gruber. I don’t know what revolutionary device will replace the computer; however I bet that we’ll fail to predict it, will initially fail to recognize its impact on society and application, and that it will completely change our world.

The iPad’s impact is big. But it isn’t the kind of impact I’ve seen people describing it as.

As a parting request: Apple and any other tablet manufacturers out there… please, please, please unchain the tablet from the desktop. Let me activate and sync and use my tablet without any need for a laptop or desktop computer. Only then will tablets be practical replacements for desktops in a home.

Comic Update: Mr. Flash’s Very Bad Day

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Since we are living in the Year of Our Lord Twenty-Ten, today’s comic is so far behind the news cycle that I might as well be discussing the Wars of the Roses if I’m trying to be relevant to current events. Starring Adobe Flash and the Apple iPad, my illustration references a product announced an entire thirteen days in the past (gasp!).

If you can remember that far back into the past, you might recall that the iPad is something to the effect of an iPod Touch nega-Mini, being simultaneously some sort of multimedia super-nexus and entirely incapable of fitting into your pocket. I’m not sure yet if I have a need for a device guaranteed to break my neck while I try to watch adult action films on it. But I’m sure at this point that the iPad has for all extents and purposes killed Adobe Flash.

Right? I’m sure I read that in the Wall Street Journal somewhere.

No? My bad.

As it turns out, Flash shares that quality with Mark Twain wherein the reports of its death are doubtlessly greatly exaggerated. It remains to be seen if the iPad will sell like hotcakes (my bet: it will) but even if it does some people might have forgotten about these little devices we have around the house called desktop and laptop computers.

Remember those?

Well, they still have browsers that can install the Flash plug-in. And if the immortality that Internet Explorer 6 is experiencing is any guide, there’s no reason to believe that Flash is going anywhere anytime soon. Plenty of cartoons, online video, and video games are still being churned out onto the web via Flash.

I’m debating if that’s a pity or not.

When I first started tinkering on the web as a programming platform, my initial tenuous steps into interactive nonsense was with Flash. Over time, the shine of it dulled, and I found my way to the wonders of JavaScript. Thanks to the envelope-pushing features of HTML5, much of what once required Flash is now quite doable with no plug-in. But there are some tasks, including complicated animation, wherein Flash is still the idea authoring tool. I can’t help but feel sorry for the likes of the Brothers Chaps, who’ve toiled over products like Homestar Runner, only to have it not render on the coolest mobile devices since the portable toaster.

I’d rather not have a situation where a given browser decides for me what content I will or won’t view on the Internet. As a consenting adult, I’m pretty sure I have the decision-making power to do that myself. However, the fact is, Apple has made that decision, and likely won’t back down from it, and more devices like the iPad will continue the trend.

If I were Adobe, I’d be looking into how to transition the Flash authoring tool from something that outputs only SWF files into something that produces pre-generated Canvas/JS/CSS code. A sort of interactive Dreamweaver on steroids. That would allow the thousands of developers that use it to painlessly transition into a post-plugin era while still making use of their tool of choice.

Of course, until either Adobe cries uncle or all browsers get on the same page in regards to HTML5 feature adoption (like which video codec to use), all that devices like the iPad are doing for me personally is creating a situation where I have to stuff even more code into the same video on a page; if I want my clients’ videos to show on all available browsers and devices, that is.

That said, I’m not really attached to Flash. If I can get my videos and other rich content without it, then good riddance. Which is, allegedly, what the iPad’s move is leading us towards (or, more cynically, towards iTunes purchases of video content).

Elsewhere: Mark Pilgrim’s “Tinkerer’s Sunset”

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Usually when I mention Mark Pilgrim, it is with a dismayed tone that is meant to paint him as a dastardly villain who is elbow-deep in foul rituals meant to permanently stain the reputation of the HTML5 effort; an implication is made that he is resurrecting some great beast that will swallow the earth whole and enslave our souls.

What I’m saying is that, on average, I’m not a fan of his work.

However, his recent blog post “Tinkerer’s Sunset” clearly states the case of why the direction the iPad is moving the market is a sad affair. A man who learned his craft on an Apple IIe, he’s dismayed at the thought of the next generation of tinkerers, who will have to pay a fee or commit crimes in order to look under the hood of their own computers.

Many claim the iPad represents what the future of computing will look like: tailored, “safe” devices with little room for modification or customization (unless you plan on spending some time in court). Maybe that’s how it’ll be, and there’s little to be said or done. But Mark helps illustrate why that future will be a sad one. Go read his post.

Average Users Aren’t Idiots (We Don’t Live In Narnia and Your Friends Aren’t Talking Otters)

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Ok, the iPad.

Whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

I’m annoyed by all the defense of the device’s failures by my peers who are justifying the shortcomings as features that only mega-geeks want; they say that the mythical ‘average user’, like some strange breed of lobotomized unicorn, is not interested in these issues. (*cough* Jeff Croft’s iPad Thoughts and Jason Beaird’s iPad: It’s not for us are two stellar examples of this ‘average user’ argument *cough*)

Really? Are you patting yourself on the back that much about how awesome you are that you think it’s still 1999 and we’re logging onto the Internet via a series of loud angry screeches? (Oh dialup modems, how I don’t miss you.) Virtually everyone (in America, at least) uses browsers on a very regular basis. Over 350 million people use Facebook. There’s been these little instant messaging programs with names like MSN or gTalk  for a long, long time now. My friend’s grandparents use Skype to talk to their friends in other countries.

What these people lack isn’t a taste for the features we geeks have been talking about. What they lack is the terminology for it. My mom isn’t going to say she wants “multitasking.” She is, however, going to want to have her browser open to look at websites while having access to her IM program to chat with family and friends.

That basic pair of tasks: browsing + chat, does not exist on the iPad. That is a single example that fits the everyday life of millions of people. To tell me that some sort of mythical upper class are the only ones who want to do that is to live a magical life in Narnia, where your friends are mostly talking animals; the majority of which lack opposable thumbs.

One last thing: the App Store. You want to run a program on the iPad? Better hope that Apple wants you to have it. Have fun surfing the Internet without Flash. For better or worse, a good part of the web still runs on it. Apple seems to be pushing farther towards a closed ecosystem, which is the complete opposite of what most of us standardistas believe in. You can’t pretend the device is the replacement to a netbook when it doesn’t have the same breadth and variety of software. Some people celebrate it, claiming the closed ecosystem of the App Store makes it somehow better, filled only with quality software.

Like iFart, which for a time was the #1 app in the store.

The iPad does have a lot going for it (however, the name is killing me.) But let’s not pretend that we’re some rare breed of horse, and that these shortcomings only impact 1% of users. Because that’s clearly a fantasy, and the average person lives in the real world, just like us.