The Apple iPad is a beautiful, desirable un-computer that is designed for living, not working.
Unlike a netbook, which anyone could argue is a barely-usable version of a laptop computer, the iPad is a much more focused, and therefore a much more streamlined, machine. By focusing on the quality of the user interface, Apple has made staying in touch with your social networks via the Web and e-mail a truly enjoyable interactive experience.
Apple has also made perhaps the first truly exciting, big-enough book interface, mobile game experience and mobile movie player. Unlike a smartphone, it'swell... not a phone. You can't speak into it, you can't put it in your pocket and you can't text with it (except as e-mail). You will still need your phone for those purposes.
You were probably going to do that anyway, so let's stop comparing it to an existing device.
The iPad is different from other devices on the market except for Apple's iTouch -- its prequel. The news here is its size and the experience. The extremely beautiful display, speed and multitouch interface create a "why-hasn't-it-been-like-this-before" experience. If you want to show friends your latest pictures, they are beautiful; if you want to e-mail a colleague, it's simple and fast.
And it's kinda fun: You can surf the Web, read the New York Times, watch videos, read a book or enjoy a feature-length movie. And you can do it anywhere on a screen that is big enough so that you never feel like you are giving up anything.
Let's face it, when composing tech reviews, it's easy to find bullets missing from any feature list. Conversely, it's equally difficult to credit a device for super-performance on user experience criteria. How much is the experience of sound-isolating earphones worth to someone who cares about music? How much is the experience of Google-simplicity worth to search engine users?
The answer is: a lot. at least to certain users, but not for everyone.
Remember, Apple has never made the "everyman computer" and the iPad should be considered Apple's next experiment in pushing the boundaries of a "connected life".
Apple's iPad is not trying to replace your laptop for work purposes; you already have a decent multitasking tool for that now. The laptop is not a great device to "live" with -- all of your work is in that thing. So it's a constant work reminder.
We predict the iPad will find its way into some people's lives as a new third device. If you use an iPad, you will start to view your laptop as you might a minivan " as a necessary utility requirement if you have children.
You may start viewing your phone as the work leash it has become, and you may want the different experience offered by the iPad, an entertainment-oriented consumer experience that feels more like a driving a convertible BMW than the car you now drive.
Scott Stropkay is a founding partner at Essential, a Boston-based consulting firm that helps corporate leaders create innovative products and services in consumer, healthcare and commercial markets.
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