The Computer for the Rest of Them

If you’re a software developer, designer, or a high-tech computer user—Apple doesn’t care about you.

Oh sure, Apple wants you to write, design and create software and products for the Mac, but you are not the target audience for the iPad. I’ve read so much negative backlash about Apple’s latest device and all I can think is, “These guys just don’t get it.”

As software developers, we thrive on complexity. We have dozens of applications lit up in our Docks. As I’m writing this, I have 20 applications running, each with one or more windows open in four virtual workspaces using Spaces.

I’m a geek. I love this stuff. I even know all the keyboard shortcuts for switching apps and spaces and windows. I am a software developer with an engineer’s brain. I am not the person Apple was thinking about when they built the iPad.

So who did they build it for?

The rest of them.

Have you ever watched someone who is not a geek use a computer? I have. My father-in-law lives with us and I’m his support tech, so I get an up close and personal view of the anti-geek at work. Here’s a typical session for him:

  • He clicks on Mail to look at his email;
  • He reads a few emails and closes the window with the red dot in the upper left corner;
  • Then he clicks on Safari and looks at some websites in one window;
  • when he’s done, he closes that window with a click in the upper left corner.

He doesn’t quit any application. As many times as I’ve told him that he can simply hold down the Command key and press ‘Q’ to quit, he clicks the red dot. He doesn’t try to multitask, he doesn’t understand overlapping windows, and he gets very confused when he moves a window by accident and it doesn’t show up well on his screen.

When I showed him the video of the iPad though, he said, “I’d love one of those. It looks so much easier for me to use. My sister could even use one of those.”

For my father-in-law and millions of other people, clicking to run an application on the iPad, pressing the Home button to leave it so another application can be run is perfect. Millions of people spend all their time focused on one app. They read email, or browse the web, or live in Facebook, and the iPad gives them exactly what they need to do those tasks. The fast new Apple A4 chip inside makes changing from one task to another quick enough that there is no need for multitasking—especially with people whose eyes glaze over when you start explaining the concept behind running multiple applications.

The fact is: Real people don’t try to multitask, so they don’t see the iPad lacking this ability.

Personally, I love the idea of the iPad because I do all my RSS feed reading on my iPhone. When I take a break from writing software and working on my computer, I find a comfy place to sit and read on my iPhone. If I can grab my iPad instead, I’ll save eyestrain and my iPhone battery while improving my casual time. For me, it’s a no-brainer. I want one.

Is the iPad perfect? Nope. I think it needs front-facing video at least, but I do agree with John Brownlee that Apple probably left this out because it would make you look fat. This is the first generation of a new type of computing—the computer for the rest of them. Expect amazing growth in this space over the next couple of years.


24 thoughts on “The Computer for the Rest of Them

  1. benr75

    You nail it. My email and instant messenger blew up yesterday with tech friends blasting the device for not being exactly what they wanted. They don’t get it.

    This is the machine I want to give to my Mom. This is the machine that you don’t have to know anything about computers to use.

    Now, this brings up an interesting point and what I see as a flaw, you can’t update it over the air. The device requires that you have another computer to sync with and install OS updates.

    Overall though, this device is going to sell like hot cakes. I can’t wait to start development on our first iPad application!

  2. Mike

    Well said. I think you’re right on.

    I look at my parents, who currently use a Mac mini, and think that the iPad has everything they use and nothing they don’t. For example, I can only imagine that the loss of the file system would be a godsend in reducing their frustration.

    Combine this with the fact that they still use dial-up for Internet; a limited $15/mo 3G connection is not just affordable, it’s an upgrade on their speed.

    As you say, iPad can’t become my primary computer, but it can probably become my parents’ and many others’.

  3. David McDonald

    Excellent summary of (what I agree) is Apple’s main marketing drive, now for most of it’s product line.

    I really have to laugh at all the hardcore geeks dissing the iPad. It’s really simple folks, if you don’t get it Apple can’t MAKE you buy it, so move on.
    – going to Tweet that 😉

    Having said that I’m an aspiring geek too – and I so will buy this when I can get it. It’s a keenly-priced laptop replacer for most of what I use my laptop (& iPhone) for.

    And I do hope that keyboard dock works with the iPhone too.


  4. Kimiko the Furball

    Thank you for such a great post! I agree, the iPad may not be for everyone, but to those that wants a device that just works and that does the thing they care about, it’s purrrfect.

    I don’t care about multitasking on my iPhone. That’s why I use my iMac and MacBook for intensive things like web app development and Cocoa Development.

    Sure, the forward facing camera would be nice, and there is evidence (as far as I could see) that such a camera is coming.

    I’ve found a great number of business uses for the device in addition to all the things that would make my life so much easier.

  5. Anonymous

    The only point on which I disagree is a “real computer” is still necessary to maintain the iPad. That’s the only reason I didn’t immediately suggest my mother ditch her acrylic iBook and get an iPad. Were it not for that, the iPad is perfect for people like my mother.

  6. Jensen

    I agree, Kevin! Apple is not about pleasing the hardcore user who cares mostly about how many features are in the device. This is all about rethinking what a computer should be (and should be good at), and in that spirit it’s much better for Apple to leave some features out in the beginning (such as multitasking) and really work on nailing them (no task manager to quit misbehaving processes!) instead of implementing them in too complex a way and turning it into a buggy desktop-OS like system.

  7. mike3k

    Closing the application when you close the window is the ONE advantage of Windows. If more developers would have their applications quit when the last window is closed, it would avoid that issue. Maybe it could even be a system preference.

  8. ShogoDoddo

    I agree Kevin,

    I immediately saw several applications for my family members (and in-laws). We will be getting rid of the family SUV shortly which has an expensive (for the time) Sony DVD player with headphones etc.

    Why not replace (for the next vehicle) with a iPad, load it with movies, books and games for the kids and take it with you on the journey. Bonus, its not bolted into the vehicle and comes with us to our hotel room too. Evenings entertain sorted in the hotel.

    (Whats that noise … its the silence of kids reading or listening to a movie and enjoying themselves and us adults in stress-free peaceful-land) win-win.

  9. Kevin Hoctor

    @mike3k I don’t see that as an advantage of Windows.

    Closing an app when a window closes only makes sense if you are not using an application that can have multiple documents open. It’s annoying to have to restart an app on the desktop just because I closed one document so I could open another.

    The iPad’s (and iPhone’s) focus on tasks keeps this from being an issue.

  10. Matt Martel

    Great points all around! The fast switching of focussed tasks will be a superior experience for the vast majority of users. The so-called multitasking of android and other smartphones is way over-rated. Geeks may wail, but the consumers will benefit.

  11. Phil Nash

    I certainly agree with the sentiment. However, and as you even alluded to, it *is* for geeks too. There are uses for it even now – although not for everyone – but as dedicated applications arrive we’ll see where this thing is really headed.
    And of course some of the “missing” stuff will get added.

    Personally I’m working on an app for it that I’ve been waiting five years for the right platform for. “>A little more info on that on my blog here.

  12. Mark Reid

    Well said. My wife currently uses a MacBook and while she’s pretty knowledgeable about computers she doesn’t really need everything one offers. I can see her being able to use an iPad pretty much everything she does on her MacBook and think she’d find it more enjoyable too.

    iPad is going to appeal to an audience that doesn’t yet own computers or don’t want a traditional computer. The only downside is that according to Apple’s site the iPad requires a Mac or PC.

  13. jrk

    You’re right!

    The iPad is nothing for me – I’m a developer. But it’s just THE device for my mother. I’ll buy her one to save me the tech support time 🙂

    Well I’ll buy one for myself too but only because I’m developing apps for the iPhone. Otherwise I wouldn’t spend any money on it. it’s just the computer for the rest of them.

  14. Stoo

    iPad is to the PC/Mac world what the Wii was to the games world. The introduction of the the Wii and the Wii-mote has grown the user base quite significantly with people who thought the controllers were too complicated but like the idea of just waving a stick around. The iPad will do the same.

    My belief is that the majority of people who purchase it will not be hardcore Mac or PC users but people who want the convenience a PC offers(mail, web browsing, calendar) without having to worry about double clicks, multiple apps running at once, directories and files, viruses, accidentally deleting something vital etc.
    The price of the iPad relative to a full laptop/desktop system is similar to how the Wii compared to the other consoles.

    Nintendo were gasping their final breaths when the Wii come along and is now outselling the XBox360 and the PS3. Not that Apple are in the same position but it represent a huge opportunity for growth for both Apple and 3rd party developers.

    One catch may be 3rd party software. On the Wii there hasn’t been a great deal of success for 3rd party developers. Nintendo titles sell like hot cakes, but everyone else is having a tough time selling to consumers of the Wii, this, I think, is because they(we) don’t understand the new demographic. Hopefully the same thing won’t happen to developers for the iPad.

    It is indeed exciting times!

  15. Anonymous

    The problem is that they still need an additional computer as well as the ipad

    The ipad still needs a PC/mac to sync against itunes. Perhaps you can download your music straight to the ipad and just keep it that way…. but then you have no backups.

    Remember that if you buy music on itunes, but then lose it, you have to buy it again.

    In short, it’s not “an alternative to a pc/mac” – it’s “in addition to a pc/mac”

  16. Kevin Hoctor

    Yes, the iPad does need a base computer, but I can see households having a desktop Mac (iMac or mini) and using the iPad most of the time for content consumption.

    It replaces the notebook computer that is often added to a desktop.

  17. John Gallagher

    I think the iPad could indeed be a base machine for, admittedly, a minority of people.

    My Mum and Dad struggle operating a VCR, but I’ll never forget when I first showed my Dad my iPod (old school with the click wheel). He was operating it within seconds.

    For a long time I’ve never thought they could operate any computer that’s currently on the market. With the iPad, for the first time there’s a device that I think they could actually get some use out of without being just frustrated.

  18. forsooth

    (a notebook can have enough power and functionality to replace a desktop (my notebook is my desktop), but an ipad can’t.)

    if people don’t get multitasking, will they get maintaining your ipad via another computer and everything that entails – well, maintaining that computer – ?

    as long as you need that other computer, you’ll still be tech support for the rest of them.

    but it’s a step in the right direction. perhaps only the second major step after the gui. is that exaggerated? dunno.

  19. John Lianoglou

    My only point of mild contention is the opening paragraph: Apple does care about these pro and expert users; it’s simply that such needs are satisfied by Macs (desktops and laptops).

    In fact, it is my opinion that Macs particularly excel at delivering value to this advanced user group.

    So I would instead suggest that the best way to frame that is that Apple wasn’t thinking of addressing the needs of such people when designing the iPad.

  20. powderpig

    Hi Kevin,

    This isn’t related to this post, but it is your most recent and I just wanted to share my excitement – I’ve just used your trial for moneywell, and it fits all of my needs but two – I have to be able to download investments and export to turbotax. The iPhone would be nice, but the investments are the stopper. I hope this happens in 2.0! Great program so far.

  21. graphicaliber

    Where people experience the benefit of multitasking on mobile devices is when they open Pandora, or, and want to keep listening while they check their email, or play a game, or browse the web. A few months ago I jailbroke my phone, and was impressed, so was every non-tech-geek person who had an iphone that I showed it too. Then a few weeks ago I got the ATT NexusOne (an Android device), which does multitasking, has widgets, and even Flash soon. Again, the non-tech people with iphones get the difference when they see it for themselves. Apple has fallen behind, especially compared to the Google apps on Android. I’m confident that Apple will make some strides later this year with iPhoneOS 4.0

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