Since the iPad launched the internet has been full of speculation about how useful the device will be, who will use it most, and who the target audience is. At this stage it’s probably too early to tell, and it will be interesting to see how iPad adoption spreads over the course of 2010, but we can already make some predictions.
The iPad is simple to use. Big buttons, big bezel, this is a computer designed not to attract geeks but to not put off non-geeks. By paring features right down but boosting the performance immeasurably with the A4 custom chip, you have a computer that the elderly, the disabled and the very young can grasp fairly easily, potentially doing for home computing what the Wii did for gaming in terms of bringing in new audiences.
Businesses too could really benefit from iPads. iPad apps will allow all sorts of new possibilities. Conference speakers can read their notes and control their presentations, hotel and restaurant concierges will be able to check table and room availability while on the move, and business meetings can be expedited with the notepad feature that records all notes, avoiding the need for reams of paper and saving thousands of trees can be saved each year.
The medical sector already uses pad type devices in many areas but smaller doctors surgeries and clinics which have no need for overly complex devices are likely to embrace the iPad as a quick way to make notes or check patient records.
The education sector is bound to jump on the iPad in a big way. At first it will only be one per school, as with the arrival of desktop computers in the 1980s, and this iPad will be passed from kid to kid, as everyone tries their hand at solving a language puzzle or a mathematical equation. Clusters of kids will gather round an iPad laid flat on a table, with everyone getting a good view, and sooner or later all the kids will have them. Easy to control, difficult to break, and light on spam and spyware, the iPad educational market could potentially be huge.
But that still leaves the vast majority of consumers with disposable income, who just want something cool. So what’s in the iPad for them?
It hasn’t been mentioned much in the online debate so far, but I think the strongest killer app the iPad enjoys is simply that unlike a notebook, laptop or desktop, it provides a fairly comprehensive computing experience without needing a desk. It’s a true ‘laptop’ in that you can operate standing up, without having to balance the computer on your palm like an overloaded waiter’s food trays, or you can sit in an armchair and rest it on the arm or your knee. Try doing that with a laptop or notebook and the thing will soon go crashing to the floor.
The iPhone has been a huge success because people don’t feel like they’re using a computer, but something else entirely. iPhone users will frequently sit on sofas while their friends and family watch TV, using apps and updating their social network statuses in a way they never would if they had to get up and sit down at a desk. The iPhone has become a relaxing form of computing where you can be slouched in a chair with no effort to use it, or standing in a crowded train, or the supermarket queue. The only problem of course is the small size limits what can be done.
And that’s the problem the iPad solves. It’s been said that the iPad is no big deal because it’s just a big iPod, but that’s exactly the point. It lets you play games better, read books – something impossible on an iPod or iPhone screen size, it lets you look at new forms of online magazines and comics, while still doing most things your iPhone can, and lets you easily show your friends and family what you’re up to at the same time.
The more people use iPads, the more they’ll think of them not as something to do work on, or a replacement for their desktop, but as an alternative. Sure the desktop is great for real work, or for heavy gaming, or for surfing Flash sites, but if I just want to read the news, check my messages or update my status, why should I leave the sofa while my favourite shows are on?
When TV remotes were introduced people scoffed. Why make something that will only make people lazy? But once people are sitting down and with their family they don’t want to have to go to another room or get up to check their email any more than they wanted to get up to change a channel on the TV. The iPad is to desktops what the remote is to the TV. Sure it doesn’t do everything the desktop does, but it does most of the things you’ll want to do when you can’t be bothered to go to the desktop, and that’s why in the long run it’s sure to do incredibly well.