Casual Computing

Casual Computing

I remember when Apple released the iPod Mini. I wrote about it. At the time, people complained that it was underpowered and overpriced. The iPod Mini became Apple’s bestselling iPod.

Yesterday, Apple announced a new product, the iPad. Already the whining has begun about how no one will use it and they can’t possibly see how this device will fit into their lives. And I understand completely the thinking. I have a smartphone. I have a laptop. I don’t need another device. Nope, I don’t. But it’s not about need.


Just like with the lower capacity iPod Mini (it had 4GB of storage for $249; normal iPods had 40 times that amount for an extra $150), people are only looking at bullet points. I am willing to bet that people will find a place for the iPad in their lives once they walk into an Apple store and touch one.

I do a lot of reading on my iPhone and my Kindle. The problem with each is that one is better at one kind of thing than the other. An iPad, theoretically, removes the Kindle as a need as a reader. That I can browse the web or use a dedicated app of some kind? Gravy. I like the Kindle. I like it. I do not LOVE it. I liked cell phones in my past. I LOVE my iPhone. This is what Apple does. They build devices you love.

I hate to mention gender here, but I think it’s important in Apple’s history. The first iBooks were routinely loved by women. The orange, blue and gray models were funky, fun and unusual. They looked out of place in your office. But they sold. Heather’s first Mac purchase was a 2002 iBook. The iPad is not something that is a “serious” computing device in the sense that I strap in and “get busy” for hours on end. The use case I see is that an iPad (or two, especially at the lowest price point) becomes something that sits around the house and you pick it up and use it for 10-30 minutes at a time. Might be used as a reader, photo browser, web browser but only for short bursts. I do see it as a better way to read websites in bed. I do this now with my laptop (and I imagine I’m not alone) and I hate that I can’t slouch or lay on my side and surf the web easily. I try to do this with the iPhone, but it’s so small I have to hold it up to my face to read stuff. After more than a few minutes, it’s not too comfortable. While the iPhone has saved me and paid for itself many times over in productivity gains and in bailing me out when I need to do something remotely and can’t use a laptop or desktop machine, it’s not the best reader in the world. However, it does have a touch interface and that’s very nice when reading. The iPad is a couch/bed/slouch device. It’s a sit back and relax device. It’s not a productivity enhancer or new way to take your office on the road. It’s just a device to hit a couple of sites, play a round of a game or two and then go make dinner. One commenter said something similar on my post yesterday.

When I travel and use my iPhone on the plane extensively (and even if I don’t), I have to do so with an external battery pack, because using the iPhone as a reader/gaming device/iPod on a plane often means having little battery power when I land. Given the nature of our recent business moves, this has become critical. It would be more comfortable to replace the Kindle with an iPad and be able to read from that, saving my phone for actual phone usage when I land. You might think I’m nuts, but it’s just how I travel. The other thing is that opening a laptop in a coach seat on an airliner is next to impossible these days, especially with anything larger than a netbook.

Which reminds me that people who do serious computing with a netbook are not the target for this device. I really think that the iPad may have a similar attraction to women looking to buy a Kindle or a laptop for more casual use. It’s nutty to think about “casual” and “computing” in the same sentence, but gamers said the same thing about Nintendo’s Wii. Pros looking for a new form factor portable tool are likely not the target. Nerds are not the target. People who read or want a less formal computing experience are totally the target.

One side note: I’ve loved being able to take photos on my iPhone, edit them in different apps on the phone and then upload them from the phone to flickr. In particular, I love TiltShift Generator for it’s interface use of applying blurs. I imagine that apps like TiltShift on the iPad will open up new, fun ways to use the device that we can’t see yet. Whether those will compel fence sitters to buy an iPad remains to be seen.

Finally, another thing that separates Apple from a lot of companies is that Apple isn’t afraid to kill a product and replace it with something it thinks is better. 18 months after announcing the iPod Mini, Apple killed it and replaced it with the iPod Nano. Since 2005 there have been five product revisions to the iPod Nano, almost all of them changing the form factor and feature sets. The iPad is the first generation of hopefully an interesting and increasingly more useful product line.

Will I buy one? Yes. When? Soon.