iPad: Avenue to the Attention Age?
The iPad, with an example of the on-screen keyboard displayed
In my previous article, I started to talk about the Attention Age. People are participating with the Internet, rather than just watching and taking. It is also going mobile. Laptops have been around for a long time now. Smartphones have already taken the corporate world and with the help of the iPhone, are moving to consumers. And now, Apple has announced a product that continues the mobile trend. I'm talking about the iPad.
I decided to write about the iPad specifically because I believe it has a clear place for the demographic that dominates the Americana Exchange. I'm 23, so I'm referring to the generation or two preceding mine. The Attention Age is taking off around the world, but until now there's been a semi-steep learning curve for those just getting a feel for it. I think the iPad could bring in the stragglers behind and on the fringes of the movement.
While the iPad hasn't been released, and thus I haven't put my hands on one, it does run the iPhone operating system which I've had much experience with being a first and second-generation iPhone customer.
To catch anyone up who doesn't know, the iPad Apple announced resembles an oversized, more squared-off iPhone or iPod Touch. It is a touch-screen only (no built-in keyboard) tablet computer. It's 9.56" tall by 7.47" wide; with a viewable screen size 9.7" diagonally. It weighs 1.5 lbs. So it's smaller and lighter than the average laptop, and obviously bigger than a phone. It'll fit into a largish purse and obviously briefcases and other bags.
Let's talk about screen size first. An iPhone has a 3.5" diagonal screen. This is also on the larger size for smartphones - my own Blackberry Curve's screen is maybe half that? Compared to the iPad's 9.7", I can tell you which platform either of my parents would prefer. Here's a hint: they both wear glasses for either distance or reading. The iPad also packs the iPhone & iPod Touch's multi-touch (aka multi-finger touch-screen gestures which produce different results) technology so zooming in when needed is a cinch: take two fingers and spread them in opposite directions.
iPad: Avenue to the Attention Age?
The iPad compared to the iPhone (photo via Engadget)
On the topic of multi-touch and touch-screens, another reason I believe the iPad can succeed is because as a touch-sensitive device, it removes any barrier between the user and the content. You touch what you want. Short of telepathy, this is as simple and basic as it gets for navigation. The multi-touch inputs do add a layer of complexity, but with it comes even more accurate and powerful control over the user's interface.
Navigation is not the only thing made simple by Apple. The iPad does not run the same version of Apple's operating system OS X that its desktop and laptop computers use. Instead, it runs a version of the iPhone system. This is both a good and bad thing for various consumers. First, the good.
The iPhone operating system is incredibly simple and user-friendly. Other than Apple's built-in application multi-tasking, you're limited to running a single application at a time. When I used an iPhone, I did not mind this at all. What it saves you is the hassle of application management - having to remember to quit each application, or let it run and eat battery life needlessly. And again, simplicity reigns supreme. There is a single button on the face of the iPad, as is the case on both the iPhone and iPod Touch, and this serves as a home button. The main menu contains icons for each of your applications, and usually has multiple pages to accommodate all of them. Moving between these pages is as easy as taking a finger, and brushing it from one side to the other in the direction of the page flip you desire. Opening an application means touching a finger to it.
Running the iPhone system also means software is supplied through Apple's iTunes
App Store. To start, there are thousands of applications available now in the App Store that were designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Apple themselves claim nearly 140,000 applications already in their store. That is a very large base software pool to build off of, and other than running Adobe's Flash animation platform, which it will not run, there is virtually an app for everything the everyday consumer needs already. However, these are apps built for a 3.5" screen and a less powerful processor, so this seems it would only be the beginning. Developers will be able to take advantage of the iPad’s differences from its smaller cousins, and develop software specifically for the iPad. In either case, you can either download applications directly, or download it to your computer through iTunes and install it when docking with it. I imagine the iPad will have most of its software downloaded directly since having access to wi-fi or 3G cellular networks allows for acceptably fast downloads.
On the downside, the iPhone operating system that runs in the iPad cannot entirely replace the functionality of other laptops or netbooks. Some book field-specific applications are Windows only, although more and more, the emphasis is being placed on Internet-based software. One of these Internet software in particular, Adobe's Flash, is not supported by Apple, namely on the basis that if it were included, the iPad's battery life would be reduced from approximately ten hours to 1.5. However, the general shift to web-based software is a positive that Apple's mobile products should have no problem with.
iPad: Avenue to the Attention Age?
The iPad with the external keyboard & dock (photo via Apple)
The lack of a physical keyboard means that, away from home, typing on the touch-screen is a practiced and developed skill, and you'll probably never get to the point where you want to write chapters for a book on it. There is, however, an external keyboard that docks with the iPad and charges it. It also props it up at an angle similar to a laptop or desktop, so it essentially gives you the functionality of a laptop on a desk. I'm honestly considering getting one to replace my laptop, and that keyboard dock is key in my eyes.
I don't propose that this replace your Windows-based PC machine at work. I see the iPad as a great way for people to interact with the Internet in the new modes that are defining the experience in the Web 2.0 era. And I see it as a particularly forgiving platform, with almost no possibility for malware, very few physical buttons and a large display. Things like Facebook (for sharing pictures with relatives, maybe?), Twitter, RSS feed reading rather than manually going to various sites, all of these can be done on the iPad, and I dare say they're meant for each other. I have my ideas about how user-generated content in 2.0 could work with the rare book field, but that'll be for next month's issue of AE Monthly!
If you’d like more information on the iPad, I suggest watching a video Apple has uploaded to their website which details virtually all of its features. You can find it by clicking here.